Jazz interview with jazz vibraphonist and composer Dierk Peters. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Dierk Peters: – I grew up in the suburbs of Hamburg, Germany in a big family with five siblings. My older brother and sister were playing the guitar, the piano and the flute, as well as my mother giving me access to her vinyl collection. I remember being drawn to music since my earliest childhood – listening, dancing and finally playing it myself. My mother finally send me to choose an instrument and start taking lessons at age six or seven, and the instrument of my choosing were the drums, with which I sticked for the next 10 years.
JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
DP: – Ever since I started playing the vibes I think I had a pretty concrete idea of what I’d like to express with it. At that time I was, and of course still am, deeply in love with the music and sound of John Coltrane, and his soulful and huge sound and phrasing were what I heard in my head. The closest anybody got to that on the Vibraphone is Bobby Hutcherson I think, but with an entirely different esthetic than mine. Throughout the years I was mostly inspired and therefore influenced by pianists and saxophonists, so I think my ideal of having a very warm and fundamental tone, and playing with a pianistic approach is very different from Bobby’s, although he is definitely my greatest hero on the instrument. Getting closer to my ideal is finally also a technical and economical issue, because the equipment I needed to get there didn’t exist yet. But now I finally found somebody building instruments for me, and I found the Mallet brand and recipe I was looking for, which leaves me finally struggling with this discrepancy way less than before. Stefon Harris has been of great help for me in finding clarity of what I am looking for and helped me to ask myself the right questions.
JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
DP: – It’s complicated to define a steady practice routine, as it happens to be ever changing. When I approach the instrument I start freely without any concept or agenda, just playing what I hear to get into that zone I need to focus. This always leads me to something that inspires me and to examine in depth. Sometimes that is a specific harmonic function, color or shape, a rhythm or a new sound, as an extended technique, which I then try to evolve and manipulate and finally try to fit into my thought system I developed, to be as flexible and intuitive with those devices as I could possibly be. For my rhythms it is a lot of verbalizations. I am just trying to literally tell stories with my melodies, so the obvious way to do that is to mimic spoken word.
JBN: – 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?
DP: – For my harmonies I like to think of gravitation. There’s always a stable core and different layers of color around that. The further I am moving away from that core, the more careful I have to be in finding logical tension resolutions and play simpler material. Around that idea I developed my concept and approach to harmony in writing and playing. The clearer the movement and idea, the more dissonant the harmony can be without loosing the momentum or sounding too bulky. For me harmonic beauty lies smooth voice leading.
JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
DP: – I’m not sure what those unwanted influences might be. I just want to make honest music and I am not trying to impress or please anybody. I am just a sum and a filter for all my influences, and I don’t think there are things I need to censor. The only influences I am actually trying to prevent from finding their way into my music are licks. When I end up playing the vibraphone and not myself, ergo playing what I already know, it feels like implants that disturb the natural flow. The same applies for composition. Using a motive or a progression, just because they work somehow, distorts the potential natural logic any idea asks for.
I kept my role pretty much within the collective for a balanced sound, for those soundscapes to arise. Right now I’m working on music for a smaller ensemble, a quartet with piano/synth, bass and drums, where there’ll be more space for me as an improviser.
JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
DP: – My former professor I studied with in Cologne, Tom Van der Geld, had a beautiful picture for that question. Musicality is a balanced triangle of Soul, Intellect and Ears, where Intellect implies all the cognitive- and the ears all the physical skills you have to develop. For me that means knowing something, but not being able to imagine how it sounds, it won’t be part of you and your soul, so you won’t be able to make an honest statement. For me the intellect enables us to physically train something, we wouldn’t intuitively be able to do, and the way we let our taste be our guide in using those devices on the bandstand, ideally in a fully open and unreflected way, opens the window to our soul to the audience.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
DP: – I hope I give them what they want by not compromising my artistic vision and statement. For me that is what Jazz is, this beautiful utopia, where we musicians let our spirit free to connect with our audience’s and go on a journey together, beside all possible differences. Pressure from any side, may it be esthetically, economically, disrespect or false expectations, can break this very delicate and vulnerable connection. It needs openness and honesty on both sides.
JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
DP: – In the past 15 years of my professional career I experienced so many beautiful, inspiring and humbling moments, it’s very hard to put an emphasize on a single event.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
DP: – By exposing them to the music I guess. The standard songbook might be very old, but many people still relate to it and keep those songs alive. I think they are a great vehicle for musicians to meet and play together, but of course nowadays there are also so many other streams and scenes in the music, which have nothing to do with Jazz Standards. Most musicians write their original music, deeply influenced by the music of our time. I never had any bad experiences with young audiences, especially when they didn’t know what they were exposed to. They identified themselves with different nuances in the music, depending on their musical taste, and were always blown away by the energy of improvised music. After telling them it was Jazz they listened to, many were very surprised, because the music’s prestige is exactly that – old music for smoky gentlemen clubs. Not the music is the problem, it is only the promotion of it as an antiquate and academic art form. I think the real spirit of Jazz can never be outdated and will always be relevant as a counter part or reflection of popular and classical music.
JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
DP: – That is too great a question to be answered in a few sentences, if it can be answered at all. But I can relate to Coltrane’s thought. For me music has always been the driving force for basically everything. It always is, or at least is deeply connected to every point of departure and arrival and the solution for most of my problems. And I’m convinced that I chose this path because I had to, I have to make music to survive.
JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
DP: – The music market has changed drastically and rapidly through the Internet. I welcome the new possibilities for self marketing and access to basically all the information and media. Unfortunately there is a big threat through monopolies taking over roles of labels. I can only wish for it to find a direction where the artists would actually benefit from their work, and loud promotion wouldn’t be confused with artistic relevance.
JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
DP: – Lately I’ve been listening a lot to Jakob Bro, Harry Nilsson, Craig Taborn, and basically their whole discographies. The new record by Joe Lovano ‘Trio Tapestry’, Paul Motian’s ‘Lost in a Dream and Kaja Draksler’s ‘Punkt.Vrt.Plastik’ have been in my heavy rotation as well.
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
DP: – I find myself this beautiful utopia in music, where there is eternal peace, empathy and no corruption, just beauty and compassion. This basically is all the world needs, and could be formulated in a thousand messages.
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
DP: – I really would’ve liked to live and work in New York in the 60s I guess, for the most obvious reasons. It seems during that time the musical spectrum expanded if not exploded and opened doors for new genres, fusions and esthetics. And the style was great too.
JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
DP: – I really enjoy answering your questions, as they make me think and reflect, rather then just stating where I live, where I studied and with whom I have played. I can see that you care about the music, and I’d like to meet you in person and hear more about your history and musical taste.
JBN: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
DP: – I’ll keep those thoughts with me on my way forward, and they already inspire me to practice, write and listen.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan