Jazz interview with jazz trumpeter and composer Nicolas Folmer. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Nicolas Folmer: – I grew up in Albertville, a small town famous for the Olympic Games in 1992 and now for the jazz festival “Albertville Jazz Festival” that I co-created in 2015.
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the trumpet? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the trumpet?
NF: – It was a matter of opportunities and meetings when I was a kid. Three trumpet teachers and also other very nice persons gave me the passion of music ,the values of sharing, the pleasure to play.
It was first a question of pleasure to play in bands and make music together without style considerations. When I was a teenager , I started to study music seriously and I meet Pierre Drevet, a very important trumpet player and teacher in France , also an arranger and composer. His natural charisma made me dream of playing like him. At the same time I saw Wynton Marsalis in concert in Vienne Jazz Festival. Later, this concert was broadcast on French TV, I recorded it and learnt each note, each solo of this concert. At that time I had transcribed so many records to learn music.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
NF: – Whenever I can, I question other trumpet players I admire about their playing, like for example: Clément Saunier, who is , to some extent, the“Maurice André” of our generation , soloist in the “Ensemble Intercontemporain de Paris”, and a magnificent virtuoso. He is not a jazz player, but his conception , his capacity to analyze our instrument is very accurate and comprehensive.
I also try to imitate musicians who marked the history of jazz, from Louis Armstrong to Michael Brecker , by transcribing their solos. It’s important to do that with different instruments, not only with the instrument that you practise. I have also been taking singing lessons for a few months now, in a conservatory; first for the sake of opening my mind to other music styles, and also for the opportunity to work with Chantal Arnaud, who worked as an assistant with Lauren Nubar who teaches at the Julliard School of New York. She makes me work on resonance, on how to listen to myself and many other issues that I can transpose to my horn.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
NF: – I regularly and thoroughly practise classical trumpet methods: Jean Baptiste Arban, James Stamp , Clark , Collins, Shlossberg.
I also imagine my own exercises to work my technique and improvisation patterns.
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?
NF: – In my chord progressions I use the principle “inverted retrograde musical modes” , or concepts and licks/patterns coming from Michael Brecker , Herbie Hancock, Kenny Kirlkland or Dave Liebman . My simple advice is to transcribe solos and study harmony via Camille Lendvay, George Russelor again Dave Liebman. But to begin with, we must have a thorough knowledge and training in the blues, that goes without saying, but also in the other traditional and classic forms of this music.
I always try to find a harmonious balance between tensions and resolutions.
JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
NF: – I don’t see it as a risk, on the contrary, I see it as an enrichment, I assume my different influences and try to weave them into my own personal voice; the most important is to keep yourself from plagiarism … of course!
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
NF: – For example, think about Pixar movies.
You can have different levels of reading and interpretation . Kids and parents like these movies because they don’t understand the same things and the adults are able to go deeper into the subject. Humor etc…
In music it’s about the same, to me.
If you listen for example to “Daphnis and Chloé” by Maurice Ravel.
The more you are educated the deeper you can go inside .
But a person who listens to music for the first time will be touched in his soul, for sure!
A creation that satisfies you is when the intuitive sphere and logical sphere of your brain are able to work together.
JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
NF: – Even in jazz concerts , you can have very different types of audiences. In jazz clubs, you usually have an audience who is pretty much educated and who wants to listen to some open music with long improvised sections. But in too many festivals now, I am sad and concerned when I see that little by little improvisation is losing ground, especially with the featured (and most popular) bands who are supposed to give the artistic direction of a festival.
I think it’s because as Jacques Attali wrote in his book Bruit: “music anticipates the evolution of human society”. Taking time to go to a concert and being able to accept that you don’t know everything of all the music that you’re going to hear (because of improvisation) is unfortunately not very much in tune with the prevailing values of our consumer society.
Ages ago nature and the cycle of seasons used to set the tempo of time. Then with the onset of industrial and mercantile capitalism we started counting time in terms of working days but today, with the supremacy of financial capitalism and financial globalization, colossal amounts of money, totally disconnected from reality, are traded in time units inferior to a second. Everything has become so hectic, fast and short !
When you go to a jazz concert, neither the public nor the artist control time. The moment of improvisation is “unique”, is shared between people and the artists and is beyond the control of any profit-making industry or business.
This conception obviously goes against today’s dominant ideology. To me, it is paramount to explain to the audience or at least say a few words about what you are going to play, and it appears that listeners are often far more open-minded than we think if we give them a few keys.
The other point is that if you choose to come to my concerts, you are often acquainted with my way of thinking. So, I just have to be myself and play with my heart.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
NF: – My most emotional gig was in Paris in 2017. Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at the Lincoln center big band were playing at the “Philharmonie of Paris”. I called his French agent Jean Noël Ginibre and asked him if it would be possible for me just to say hello to Wynton after the concert.
Wynton said to him “tell Nicolas to come play on stage at the end”. We played an A Blues, eye-to-eye. I felt his kindness by the way he was looking at me and I was so close to him that I could feel the vibrations of his sound! That was a thrilling experience. I play jazz today because of him for a large part , and I was really touched and honored to be invited. I must confess I was a bit stressed at the same time. I will never forget this intense moment.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
NF: – I think jazz standards are a part of our common culture. When they come to jazz music, sometimes they start with “pop jazz” music or playing in “fusion” bands but after a while, they want to go deeper and beyond, they educate the way they listen to music . It’s exactly the same with wine …
As Mister Jelly Roll said “ everything can be played in jazz, as long as you know how to do it”. Today, you can adapt new standards by taking tunes from pop music and make jazz with it.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
NF: – I live in a time different from Coltrane’s and in a country with a different culture; we don’t have the same background and I didn’t have to cope with the same issues as he himself did; music is for me a means of expressing what I’m experiencing in my personal and social life, but I also try to give some kind of musical account of the way I see the times I’m living in.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
NF: – No business considerations. Just music and sharing.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
NF: – I am listening to “the Singers Unlimited “ a cappela. I love their arrangement of “Michelle “. I often listen to it just before going to bed, it relaxes me and makes me feel peaceful. .I love Bonnie Herman’s voice.
JBN.S: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
NF: – It depends on the project . It is each time a personal challenge and a game, the pleasure to meet new people who make me grow up.
I’m very concerned with ecological issues; I am currently writing a piece around this idea that today mankind is facing the most critical moment of its history and is compelled to make crucial and vital decisions.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
NF: – I think I would choose the 70’s!!! … of course!
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
If you could change one thing in the press world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
JBN.S: – Thanks for answers. I would have jealousy pulled out of journalism, which AAJ has in front of our websites …
Interview by Simon Sargsyan