Jazz interview with jazz pianist Dirk Flatau. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Dirk Flatau: – I grew up in Haltern, a small town in the very west of Germany. The great thing about Haltern is that we had and still have a very diverse music scene, with a lot of bands playing all kinds of styles, hard rock, metal, punk, blues, progessive and singer/songwriter music. Even though I went on to some new things in the meantime, all this music, my family and friends in Haltern had and still have a big influence on me.
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?
DF: – When I was seven years old, I wanted to play the piano. There were some teachers who motivated me, but also at some times I was about to stop with music because of other teachers. Today, it is up to me to motivate myself, so there is nobody left to blame, and that’s good.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
DF: – I always liked to aim at reduction in music. I get easiliy annoyed by too much noise in the street and too many words in a conversation. So maybe this is where my sound comes from.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
DF: – In fact, I don’t have any practice routines. When I listen to music, the first thing that matters to me is whether it touches me or not. And if that happens, I get interested in rhythms, harmonies and melodies. Then, after a while this may influence my compositions and my playing, but most of the time it feels like I don’t have any control over these things.
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?
DF: – Yes, again I would say it is an output of what comes in. At some times I might write music and realize afterwards that it has probably been inspired by great artists like Eric Satie, Anouar Brahem or Thelonious Monk. But in the moment I am writing or improvising music, I am not conscious about this.
JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
DF: – Actually, I would say that I love disparate influences. In fact, the members of my band Abisko Lights come from many different musical worlds: Our drummer Benjamin Wellenbeck has just released a great self-produced hip hop album, our cello player Tabea plays in several classical and baroque ensembles, Hannes on bassclarinet is involved in Tango and Klezmer ensembles and as a composer and arranger in film and theatre music, and our bass player Thomas Kolarczyk is the leader of his own modern jazz quintet as well as a sideman in several jazz and pop bands.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
DF: – As I said, my basic influences come from rock and pop and other music which aims directly to the soul. But I also like music which tickles my brain, for example by odd meters and unpredictable harmonies and compositional structures. But in the end, I think music should not be a game for music experts, but should be a way to show yourself and share feelings and open a space which everybody can connect to.
JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
DF: – This relates a little bit to the last question. With my band, I have played at many different places so far. Jazz festivals, clubs, bars, churches, theaters, dance events and two weeks ago even at a funeral. So yes, I like to give the people what they want, as far as they appreciate and listen to our music. I am always glad and so many times surprised when this happens and people of all generations and even children can connect to our music. Some people ask me after a concert: „I loved your music, but was this jazz? And if not, how should we call it?“ This shows me that people listened and were at least somehow fascinated and inspired by the stuff we do.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
DF: – Well, the latest experience that comes to mind is the funeral where we played. Several people told me afterwards: „I want my funeral exactly like this!“ Even though it may sound strange, we took it as a big compliment and honour. For me, that morning was a wonderful event where totally unexpectedly a lot of feelings, believe, trust, thoughts and memories of a whole group of people came together. It took me a while, but the next day I thought: Yep, this is music, and this is what I like to do. Bring people together and share the spirit. That’s it.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
DF: – It depends how you look at the standards. They should not be a pure exercise or, even worse, a way to compete with other musicians. I am a big fan of the American Song Book from the 20s to 60s and especially the original sheet music, for instance the scores of Gershwin, Rodgers&Hammerstein and Irving Berlin. But I would recommend every young jazz musician to try to find your own way of playing or composing. Of course this is hard and uncomfortable, but after all it is the job you have to do if you want to be an artist. And unfortunately, most of the jazz professors and teachers at our music schools don’t tell you about this, maybe because they are afraid themselves!
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
DF: – To put it in a nutshell: Music is Love, Love is Music!
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
DF: – I would stop Spotify, YouTube, Facebook, Instagramm and all this other nonsense online stuff, which rather harms us musicians and steals our time more than to help us. Also, I would advise everybody to throw their Smart Phones into the garbage. Apart from that, the musical world is totally ok. For me, great live concerts and good recording productions are still the best thing you can do as a musician.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
DF: – I had the great pleasure to listen to a band called „Minua“ from Switzerland lately, which was a great live experience which I can recommend to everyone. Some of my favourite albums at the moment include Norwegian trumpetist Mathias Eick’s CD „Ravensburg“ and the latest album of Anouar Brahem.
JBN.S: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
DF: – Big question, big answer: Let’s imagine we are all queens and kings, let’s not feel like victims and slaves, no matter how much money we have in our pockets. Let’s use the freedom we have to open up spaces and be generous. It is just a game to imagine, but I would be glad to contribute a bit to this view with my music.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
DF: – At the moment, with the book „The World Of Yesterday“ by Austrian author Stefan Zweig, I already feel like travelling back in time without a time machine. The time Zweig describes (basically the first half of the last century) seems so close to my actual life and my thoughts that I don’t see a reason to actually be there. Would be great to meet some of the artists at that time though. So only if I were forced into a time machine, at the moment I would maybe go for: 1913, Berlin.
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
DF: – Ok, why not: What is your favourite album at the moment?
JBN.S: – Thanks for answers. More, more … but only Jazz, Blues and classic musics, do not pop…
JBN.S: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
DF: – Well, first of all thank you for your questions, which made me think about my music quiet a bit. It is good to know that there are people around who take music seriously. Hopefully we will present our next album in the near future, and I am looking forward to talk to you again!
Interview by Simon Sargsyan