Jazz interview with jazz trumpeter and cornettist Thimo Niesterok. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.com: – When you improvise, do you know where you’re going? Is it a matter of taking certain paths and certain directions?
Thimo Niesterok: – It’s a matter of knowing which sound I want to create: Which style do I want to follow, which kind of phrasing and tone? It’s about who I have in mind when I play – Armstrong, or Sweets Edison, or Clark Terry, and so on.
Based on these ideas, I can improvise on a tune and from there I transform it into my own statement.
But the most interesting thing about it is that – as you usually play with other musicians – you have to recognize their ideas and directions as well, and make a decision whether to follow or not. That’s why jazz is so much about communication!
JBN: – How do you prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
TN: – It can be a gift to have disparate influences colouring your music. That’s how every kind of progress was made in (music) history.
But it’s different if you want to play a certain kind of music – then everybody should be able to „speak the language“ of the style, no matter which style it is. Based on this, you can add any influence you like!
JBN: – What’s the balance between intellect and soul in your music?
TN: – I think, the intellect only helps us to understand what’s going on in music, and maybe to make some clever decisions to make it sound better.
But real music always comes from the soul, it’s something natural. So, studying music to me means to understand music in intellectual terms like harmony, melody, rhythm and so on – and from there I go and make music from the heart.
JBN: – There’s a mutual connection between audience and artist; you’re Are you okay with giving the people what they want?
TN: – Different people want different things – but in general I guess everybody wants to be touched somehow, and entertained. If I can do that with my music, that’s beautiful!
And why not play some nice songs as well that people might know, so they can hum the melody?
JBN: – Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
TN: – The first times I was playing with my personal heroes. When you start playing and these great musicians just make you sound the best you can … There’s no greater gift than a band like that!
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are date back half a century?
TN: – For me it’s not at all about the repertoire or the style. It’s about the question “Is the music alive?” A musician who honestly plays something he or she loves, will always catch people of all ages. (“It’s not what you play, it’s how you play it” – Mary Lou Williams)
Furthermore, some parts of the jazz scene (musicians or supporters) don’t make it easy for young people to come closer to jazz. There are hierarchies that don’t want any changes at all, clubs that haven’t done anything new in their program for decades, and there is a phenomenon that I have seen many many times: Go to a jazz club when you’re younger than 30 and everybody stares at you as if you were an alien.
It’s art, so you have to bring it closer to the people. Discuss, show, explain, let them try out and experience it!
JBN: – And lastly, with you being a teacher, do you find it difficult to write music yourself?
TN: – Both, teaching and composing need some of the same aspects of your personality: being creative, reacting on ideas, being open-minded and extremely focused.
Besides, you learn a lot about yourself while teaching.
Nevertheless, the process of composing is very unique. There are times when you can write ten good songs in one day, and then you don’t pick up the pen for half a year afterwards. It all depends on so many different things.
When it comes to teaching, I feel that I have to keep the balance: You need a lot of energy if you want to be a (good) teacher, and still you should have some energy left to play well and to write music when you need it.
JBN: – How important is it to you to have an original approach? Can you comment on the bridge (correlation?) between being a musician and being a composer?
TN: – It’s one of those things that you think a lot about when you start studying at a music conservatory. When I came to Cologne Conservatory I really WANTED to have an original sound and so on.
Well, over time you realize that you mustn’t want it, you have to let it happen. The mixture of music you’ve listened to up till now is you, all the moments and things and relationships you’ve experienced – it’s you. All the books you’ve read, the way you live your life – everything’s you. So, if you just follow the sound which is inside you, that’s your original approach. And there’s no greater thing than letting out this inner voice and put it into art.
For us who improvise, we are composing whenever we play a solo. There are composing aspects that we don’t focus on while improvising, because we simply don’t have the time. And there’s no way to correct things or to change passages afterwards to make them sound better.
But often composing starts with an improvisation for me. I might find a nice melody or chord progression and then build a song with it.
JBN: – Do you have an idea of what it is you’re trying to say or get across? Is it an idea or is it just something that we feel?
TN: – It’s the old question of: “What does music tell us?”
I personally don’t think that I can tell a certain story that everybody can understand, like “Hey folks, my hamster died last week. His name was Murphy and he was a great pal!”- only with my instrument.
The musical language goes deeper, and touches something in us that we all feel or know. Honest music which comes from the heart of the musician will always touch people, may it be a native folk song or a symphony or a jazz song. And then even people who are not into this special kind of music will feel it.
That’s the thing I’d like to “say” with my music.
JBN: – What are your visions of your future? Do you know what will happen? (Was willst du hier sagen)? If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
TN: – I know that I’d like to do as often as possible: play concerts, go on tours and do recordings. “As often as possible” also includes the idea of having a balanced life and a good network of friends and family and enough time to take care of it.
One major problem that definitely needs a change is the issue of payment in music business. I am talking about streaming services that make it almost impossible to earn money with your recordings because Spotify and Co. pay the artists so badly. But there’s no way without them – it’s the future. So we really need a fair payment system now.
Another thing is that more and more jazz clubs and festivals lose their financial support and can’t pay the musicians fairly anymore.
We all have to think about the value of music, both recorded and live, and do our best to support the great cultural offer that we have.
If only that came true, I’d be happy!
JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
TN: – When it comes to jazz there’s a lot of Armstrong I enjoy listening to these days, but there’s also Ruby Braff and some of the living heroes like Jon-Erik Kellso and Duke Heitger. But I also spend a lot of time listening to classical music now, I love Bartók’s and Mahler’s orchestral works, as well as Brahms’ chamber music and symphonies.
The tonal language is overwhelming and the connections between classical music and jazz are countless.
JBN: – What is the message you choose to convey through your music?
TN: – As I said, it’s touching something inside us, something that we all share.
JBN: – Let’s go on a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go and why?
TN: – I’d love to visit the time of the beginning of jazz. There are no recordings of the first 10-20 years of jazz music, so I’d love to hear Buddy Boldon, early Louis and all the great musicians from New Orleans.
Only for once – to be honest, it’s good to live today.
JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now you may ask me a question.
TN: – What’s your impression after all these interviews you did – What is it like to be a professional jazz musician and what parallels do you see to your work as an author?
JBN: – Тhere are smart, intellectual musicians, there are complete fools. Such musicians are mainly placed on the Bad musicians page.
JBN: – So, putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
TN: – To use Clark Terry’s words: Keep on keepin’ on. Besides all the work our lives hold in store for us and all the things we have to think about, we should not forget to live. So, let things happen!
Interview by Simon Sargsyan