Jazz interview with jazz drummer & composer Terkel Nørgaard. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Terkel Nørgaard: – I’m born and raised in Copenhagen, Denmark and grew up with a brother who played trumpet up until high school. He played big band fx which I found very interesting, I ended up playing in the same big band when it was time for me to go to high school. Our mom & dad are both educated in music, both into teaching and educating school teachers in music for about 40 years. My mom got a background as a classical singer and my dad comes from both classical music, especially choir music where he has been composing, conducting and arranging different choirs over the years, and been into fusion rock from the late 60’s and forward. So there has always been a lot of different music around and I grew up with two pianos, which is actually what I started out playing before the violin at age 5 and the drums at age 7 (the violin I quit after 1/2 year)…
Actually my granddad who also was a music teacher, did also compose and had a special eye for trumpet players, like Bix Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong.
I started playing the drums ‘cause I saw one of my dads former students playing drums at age 5 or 6. He just looked so cool with he’s Steve Gadd-kind of setup and played so nice. He had a grate approach and I just felled in love with the instrument right away.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
TN: – I think you can develop your sound on your instrument if you keep curious. If you listen. Both to what you play but also to what you doesn’t play.
I got heroes on my instrument that I adore and listen to when I think my sound needs a shape up, but mostly when it doesn’t. I just like to listen to them. But that shapen up can also be inspired by other instrumentalist and other sounds in general. Sounds from the city, sounds from the sea, sounds from the forest and the sound of the wind. Sounds that you know, and that instantly creates a certain feeling inside you. It’s your memory that starts to work, ‘cause you think of something and react because of it. I do that on the drums. I react very much on emotions, from what the drums a telling me and the sound I create while playing them. But also from fx what Ralph, Søren and Jesper plays on the album, I react instantly and chance my sound back and forth in the moment, so the music can live and breath.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
TN: – I really try to work on something that I cannot do, though it’s not that easy. But I push myself and try to always get better and better. Technique wise, sound wise, groove wise, solo wise etc. There’s thousands of way in doing this, the most important is that you find your own way where you can feel that you develop and improv as an artist and instrumentalist.
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?
TN: – Right now? I don’t now really. I prefer a lot and listen to a lot different kind of music, both very easy harmonic-wise but also pretty difficult.
In a few of the compositions I might use the dissonance to create a tension that can be released shortly after by a harmony both in the harmonic and the rhythmic layers, but the tracks was written very open, so we all had a a certain amount of freedom. I believed that with these 7 tracks on the album, I wanted to create forms and structures that at the same time make you feel free even though you play over a 2 bar loop with a locked tempo and 4 harmonies in total. If you make a minimalistic setup something very big often comes out of it.
JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
TN: – That’s really difficult. I feel sometimes that I’m trying to sound to much like my heroes. I think that feeling never will go away. But, I got better trying not to think like this all the times, and just listen to the music, the drums. If I listen close enough they will guide me to what’s could be called my own sound, even though I don’t know if I have my own sound yet. As long as I feel comfortable with what I’m playing I have defeated my greatest critic.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
TN: – I try to use intellect to hopefully make some deeper soulful music.
JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
TN: – I’m really grateful and humble for all the great reviews and reactions that this release created. But I did this music because I wanted to do this project, I wanted to write music for Ralph, and I didn’t write the music to give what the audience wants (what do they want?). I need to follow my dreams and if somebody likes what I’m doing it’s fantastic and therefor I’m so grateful for all this. One can only hope that other likes what he or she is doing, but it’s never the gold in the creative proces for me.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
TN: – I remember back in August 2008 in New York. I followed Billy Hart around in town and took some lessons with him, which was fantastic and very inspiring. Billy is truly one of my heroes! We were at Smalls and I heard his quartet the night before at the same venue, so before they started the set he walks up to me and tells me that since I knew the music from last night I should play the first couple of tunes in the first set! I literally was in shock, of course I did not know the music, I did not know the names of the tunes, and wasn’t ready for this at all. But Billy just left alone on my bar stool like a nerve wreck. Minutes went by, the band was backstages and I was thinking about leaving the club, because I was going to make a fool out of myself. It felt likes hours, but might just have been 15 minutes or so, and suddenly the band walks on stage and Billy stood in front of his drums. I thought he was going to announce me and ask me to come to the stage, I could already see myself die slowly behind the drums, but luckily he said something very wise, very Billy Hart-ish (which I unfortunately have forgotten), and sad down a played like there was no tomorrow with his awesome quartet (Mark Turner, Ethan Iverson and Ben Street). The concert was fantastic & I was so relieved. Later on when I tell this story to colleagues, fx from New York, they tell me that Billy is famous for doing this to test young drummers. Well, this wasn’t actually the first time he did this to me… Love Billy!
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
TN: – Every time you play a standard something new is going to happen, especially if you keep having a curious mindset. The standards are great, they’re the backbone of the American Jazz that is used in the rest of the world. And I started out as a young drummer listening to standards and still plays them, so if I can, everybody can get interested in jazz.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
TN: – I think that what I do as a human is very much connected with what I compose and play and visa versa. It’s all connected and for me it cannot be separated.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
TN: – I have no idea.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
TN: – At the moment I’m listening to anything from German instrumental beats (Wun Two fx), MNDSGN from L.A., Brasilian music like Jorge Ben and Gilberto Gil, Fela Kuti, Eddie Gale, the danish beat makers Shatter Hands and Jeppe Wolmer, and several more stuff.
JBN.S: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
TN: – I have never thought about a message, besides that I wanted to do the music that makes me more stronger as a person and as a musician. Something that reflects in me, and if others also can reflect in my music I’m very honored and defiantly achieved something bigger.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
TN: – I would really like to compose more music, make more projects with different groups, different setups, different genres and get them recorded and released. I wanna develop myself and try to do my best in getting better and hopefully surprise myself in creating new music.
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
TN: – What inspires you?
JBN.S: – Thanks for answers. The fine jazz music!
JBN.S: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
TN: – This interview made me reflect on subjects that I haven’t talk about before as a musician and composer, for that I’m thankful.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan