Jazz interview with jazz pianist and composer Thomas Hufschmidt. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Thomas Hufschmidt: – I grew up in Essen (western part of Germany). My father was an organ-player at the local church. So, from the age of 5/6 years I was influenced by church music mainly Bach. When I first time listened to Beatles, at the age of 8, I remember myself freaking out. Later on, in my teenage years, I went to different concerts in my hometown, like the heavy bands Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, The Who etc. In addition to that, I also listened to Fusionbands like Chicago, Blood Swet & Tears and then I was fascinated by Herbie Hancock`s album Headhunter, Return to Forever by Chick Corea and Weather Report.
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the piano? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the piano?
TH: – There was always a piano in our house. Therefore, I always had the possibility to play the piano every day. At the age of 6 I improvised and played some beat songs by ear. I would consider myself mainly an autodidact. I had lessons in classical by different teachers (not very successful). At the age of 18 I became more serious and the idea of becoming a professional musician came to mind. At this stage of my life I got a crash course in piano technique und harmony by my father. Some years later I had a few lessons with Don Friedman in New York and Vermont, Walter Norris and Richie Beirach in Germany.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
TH: – Over the years I checked out musicians I like and transcribed music from piano players like Red Garland, Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Lyle Mays, Kenny Baron, Kenny Kirkland, Gwylim Symcock and many more. I analysed and transposed in different key voicings, riffs or solo lines that I like. Since two or three years I have been watching YouTube-videos, where I perform with different bands. I recognized, that I am satisfied with parts of my performances while other parts could be improved. Therefore, I try to change something in my playing to get a better structure, sound and phrasing.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
TH: – Left Hand plays a certain rhythm pattern or an ostinato, while the right hand plays some scales or solo lines. Practising turnarounds in different time feels. Quarter notes, eight notes, sechsteennotes, triplets, shuffle feels, afrofeels. Playing Scales with different accents and some more exercises.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in?
TH: – General I try to avoid the typical Jazz harmony-progressions like II-V-I or turnarounds. I don`t want to sound like all the other pianoplayers. When I arrange a standard song like But Beautiful or Lush Life I check out some reharmonization technique or some strange sounds, that create a certain atmosphere and fit the harmonic structure. I think an important fact is the first idea to start a song. Sometimes I have a colour or atmosphere in my mind, I play the first part and when I have a good flow it leads me forward.
JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from colouring what you’re doing?
TH: – I like different influences.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
TH: – It
s important to work on this balance. You need the intellect, to have the control and a certain knowledge about skills like time, phrasing, hamony etc. But without a soulful playing, music dont touches anybody. Sometimes I had the experience, that simple music played very soulful can be very fascinating. For me it`s boring, when music is only intellectual.
JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
TH: – I think it depends on the situation. Often I have to do some general business gigs. I try to satisfy the public and give them what they expect. When I play a concert in a club, festival or concert- hall, I surprise the public from time to time. In a bluesy tune for example, I start my solo with some blues-patterns, then I play some outside melodies or strange chords. The song is probably moving in a new direction. I think, that keeps the music open and personal. You have to feel the spirit in a club or room and give always respect to the audience
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
TH: – Years ago I was invited to be part of a 20-peace ensemble to perform Escalator over the hill by Carla Bley. The first rehearsal started with a song and the intro was played by piano only. So I had to play some bars alone as a background for the singer. Carla Bley, who directed the project, took a faster tempo as it was usual. So I failed. She counted in again and I failed a second time. The third time I managed it more or less but I was totally nervous. After a while we took a break and Steve Swallow, who played the bass, came to me and gave me the tip to play not what is written in the sheet note by note. I should take the freedom to create my own version of the chord-structure. I felt comfortable now and much more self-confident and finally it worked out fine.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
TH: – We have a treasure of beautiful Standard tunes and there are many different , interesting arrangements. Jazzmusicians like Herbie Hancock, Brad Mehldau or Paul Anka released productions with jazzy arrangements of Pop- & Rocksongs. I think the jazzmusicians have the ability to create interesting music for a young audience. But many of the young generation general don
t get in touch with Jazz. I think, there is a need for a new strategy for marketing- and distributionconcepts. And I think many Jazzmusicians have an oldfashioned image, because they are not openminded and dont make up their mind, about the audience and the presentation.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
TH: – Music is my spirit. In the hard time of my life it gave power, confidence and my balance back.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
TH: – A better payment for the artists and more public attention.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
TH: – I`m listening to a production with new arrangements of Baden Powell and Vinicius de Moreas songs , that I finished with some musicians from Brasil and Germany and that will be released in some month.
JBN.S: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
TH: – Message is a big word. I`m happy, when people spend 40 minutes to listen to my CD or spent two hours and have a good time, when they visit one of my concerts.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
TH: – I don`t know. I like the way, I realize my life now.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan