Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Manuel Dunkel. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Manuel Dunkel: – I grew up in Vantaa which is a neigbor city of Helsinki, the capital of Finland. My dad played little a bit of vibrafone and organ (home model) when i was a kid and he also listened some jazz records at home.
JBN: – What got you interested in picking up the saxophon? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the saxophon?
MD: – When i was 9 my parents proposed me to attend to a class at school which had emphasis on music. Every pupil had to pick up an instrument and my dad suggested me to choose the soprano saxophone. I remember being fascinated by the sound of saxophone already back then. At the school my saxophone teacher was Antero Pirskanen – a great man who tauch me the basics of how to play the instrument. When i was teenager i studied at the Oulunkylä Pop & Jazz School where i had a chance to play also in a big band for the first time. I started to play tenor saxophone when i was around 13. At the school my saxophone teachers were Jussi Saksa and legendary finnish saxophonist and flautist Juhani Aaltonen. At that time music for me was another hobby among others, but luckily my dad took me to several concerts to hear giants like Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins. I still remember how rich and appealing Dexter´s tone was! In 1988 when i was 16 i heard Michael Brecker live with Herbie Hanconck. The concert was amazing and really turned me more seriously into music. In 1990 i entered Sibelius Academy jazz program, where i had very fine teachers like Sonny Heinilä, Jukka Perko and Jukkis Uotila among many visitiors from USA. Saxophonist Rick Margitza visited a couple of times at the school and ever since his playing made a huge impact on me .
JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
MD: – I got a sound from the saxophone quite naturally already when i was young. Soundwise my main influences were Dexter, Coltrane and Brecker. Dexter and Brecker both i heard live when i was a teenager and their sound spoke to me on profound level. Of course later on i had to do a lot work on how control the sound, articulation etc. Part of the saxophone sound is also finding the right mouthpiece & reed combination.
JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
MD: – Although the rhythm is the most important element is jazz, i have always practiced more harmonic and melodic ideas. I believe that my time feel has mainly developed by playing a lot with other musicians and listening to great players. When i practise the rhythm i go through simple motives, simple polyrhythms and use sometimes metronome.
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?
MD: – Throughout the years i have praticed (and still do) various patterns and intervallic relationships. I generally, if you play a single line instrument in jazz like saxophone, i think it is important to be able to play interesting lines whether you are playing be-bop or contemporary jazz. I try to use patterns in a creative way. Finally patterns can be useful tool in order to create a certain sound. When i´m improvising i try to keep consonance and dissonance in balance. Most of the time i use dissonance by purpose.
JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
MD: – I think for a musician it´s good thing to be open for any good music! Different influences go into subconcious and sometimes they can come out for example as an useful idea for a composition or how to express a phrase in a certain way. But sometimes bad and hectic backround music can disturb me in shops and in public places.
JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
MD: – I think any good music includes both these elements. The balance varies depanding on genre and style. For example Béla Bartok´s music includes a lot of compositional information and intellect, but his music speak to me on very profound emotional level. Or for instance Chaka Khan´s extremely expressive singing includes a lot of soul, but also plenty of details and intellect regarding the phrasing etc.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
MD: – I don´t really think about it much. A jazz concert at it´s best includes communication and strong energy between the audience and artist. I play and compose from my heart and if i reach the listener’s heart i´m happy.
JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
MD: – In 1995 Michael Brecker played as a soloist with the Umo Helsinki Jazz Orchestra, a big band which i´ve been a regular member for a long time. At the rehearsal Michael asked me to play a melody on one of the tunes instead him. The melody was a bit complicated. I managed to play the melody and after that he turned to me asking: “Would you like to trade some eights with me on this one?”. My answer was of course “Yes!” – once in a lifetime chance. In the concert the trading went well and it was truly exciting moment for me and and for the audience too. The concert was released as a CD in 2005.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
MD: – I believe there will always be new musicians who are fascinated by the beauty, exciment, freedom and challenge of jazz. Young musicians want to learn the old standard tunes, because they are great and timeless songs. New generations are curious to express themselves within the old standard tune repertoire in a fresh way.
JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
MD: – In music there can be a spiritual level and Coltrane reached that level in his music and playing. Music can truly evoke the listener’s deepest emotions. Personally i feel that my responsibility here is to create as beautiful music as possible and to be a good man.
JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
MD: – As far as i know the financial support for jazz in many countries and cities is not what it should be. Even a small raise would help jazz organizer and promoters to organize more concerts.
JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
MD: – Often i find myself listening to Coltrane, Dexter, Miles etc. For me there´s still so much to learn and enjoy from the masters from -50`s and -60´s. I also enjoy listening to contemporary players like Mark Turner, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Rick Margitza. Recently i have been listening to also some works by Béla Bartok and Anton Bruckner.
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
MD: – I leave it to listener. It´s difficult to define, but it would be wonderful if my music and playing touches the listener in any way. My aim is to share my life expriences and emotions trough the music to listener.
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
MD: – I´d say New York City in late 60´s – early 70´s. Hearing live at a club enviroment some of my favorite musicians and big influences like Elvin Jones, Woody Shaw, Steve Grossman, Joe Henderson and Miles Davis. At that time jazz music was evolving (again) in very creative and exciting way.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan