Jazz interview with jazz contrabassist and composer Eva Kess. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Eva Kess: – Hi Simon, thanks for having me. I was born in Berlin-Schöneberg in the 80ties, then we moved to the south of Brasil as my dad got a guest professorship in philosophy in Porto Alegre, and then we moved to Switzerland, to Bern, the capital. My parents used to sing children songs in German, Swiss German and English with me and my brother. In Brasil we also learned songs in Portuguese and my grandmother told my mom send me to ballet classes. The interesting thing is, that in this dance school in Porto Alegre every child also had to learn tap dance in order to develop and incorporate a sense of rhythm. Later on in Europe I continued to dance and started to play the classical piano. After 12 years of learning passionately classical piano I discovered the double bass when I missed the bus after dance class. When waiting at the bus stop I was hearing very beautiful music and followed it. It was a double bass quaret and literally blew my mind..! For the first time in my life I perceived the double bass consciously and furthermore made me realize the enormous versatility of this wonderfully sounding instrument! You can play melodies, middle lines, rhythmic patterns tapped on the instruments body or on the strings, you can play with bow (arco) or with your fingers (pizz) and of course you can play rhythmically and melodically interesting groovy bass lines! I started to take some classical bass lessons and shortly after discovered JAZZ. Well, the rest is history..!
JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
EK: – I like being asked about sound as it is the most important element in music. Listening to records and live concerts and focusing on listening consciousely to the bass helped me to develop my vision about how I want to sound as a bassist. Every bassist sounds different and the bass has a huge influence on the timbre of the whole band. The band has to sound balanced. Mostly, I was and am playing and practising acoustically in order to get and keep my sound. I only use amplification if there is no other choice. Practise time is 100% acoustic. The player is the most important element. I know of bassists, when on tour, they can play a not so good instrument and still sound killing! That means it is about you, about your vision of sound and about your left hand!! Then there is the instrument, the strings and the amplification. But the most important thing is the bass player!
JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
EK: – Hm.. I’m not a routine person – sometimes I wish I was – but of course I deal daily with music in all of it’s forms. I had the chance to get amazing education. Our rhythm classes were exceptional. We learned a lot about polyrhythms and we also had “rhythm and body” classes with the Cuban drummer Julio Baretto where we were dancing and clapping all sorts of rhythms. I really liked it as I come from dance originally and I always try to incorporate rhythms and develop a certain feeling for each one of them. Time is very important in Jazz. You have to develop a strong sense for it. Metronome exercises can help. The metronome can be on 1,2,3,4 or on 2,4 or only on 3 or on 4+ etc. You can play around with it and challenge yourself.
JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
EK: – Hm.. actually my music as well as my life are containing so many different influences, musical styles, languages and places where I grew up that this might be what actually makes me and my music unique. It might be the way how I’m dealing with all of it. I’m simply embracing many different musical styles like different forms of jazz from free jazz to BigBands, classical music from different centuries, various styles of brazilian as well as contemporary music etc. and probably some other musical styles and I craft my own thing out of it. Usually, I work as long on a new composition until it feels round. – My composition teacher Guillermo Klein once told me “you really don’t try to imitate anything”.
JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?
EK: – First of all you really need to love music, then most other things fall in place naturally. Every day I’m dealing with music in many forms: practising, composing, listening to concerts and records, reading about music and other topics, envisioning projects, daydreaming, writing dossiers and applications, communicating with other musicians… Music is the main ingredient of my daily life. Taking a conscious break like walking in the forest, exercising or spending time with family and friends is very important too. You also need to have a life in order to be and stay artistically inspired.
JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2020: <Sternschnuppen – Falling Stars>, how it was formed and what you are working on today.
EK: – I am very happy about the project as I can live many of my passions through it and it incorporates many elements that are important for me in music and life. In September 2018 I decided to write music for string quartet and piano trio. I chose to feature the strings, because I love the sound of string instruments – my instrument, the double bass, is a string instrument as well – and the endless possibilities when it comes to string writing. As a rhythm section player the whole groove part is also a matter of the heart for me. The next thing is that Jazz is such a flexible and wide field in which you can easily incorporate influences from any musical style you wish. You just need to know how to make it happen. In the case of “Sternschnuppen – falling stars” I made a special Jazz project with elements of classical, freely improvised and brazilian music happening.
JBN: – Ism is culled from a variety of lives dates with various performers over the course of a few years. Did your sound evolve during that time? And how did you select the musicians who play on the album?
EK: – “Sternschnuppen – falling stars” is my 4th record as bandleader / composer and there have been various other projects in my past that I have participated in. For this record, as well as all my others, I follow the same two rules: The musicians have to have a certain level of musicianship and they have to be nice people. ”Sternschnuppen – falling stars” is a little bit different, as there’s a lot of written music that I have composed: the score contains 123 pages. The world of Jazz touching the world of classical music, blurring the genre boundaries. Therefore, I have jazz musicians as well as classically trained musicians in the band. Every instrument has got written solo parts and some have improvised soli. That means my musicians need to be able to read music as well as being able to get along in an improvised music setup. All of the musicians have experiences in both worlds – improvised and classical – and simultaneously, everyone got challenged by learning new things and expanding their repertory when we were rehearsing the music that I have envisioned and created.
JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
EK: – Good question. Both is important and one without the other simply doesn’t work. It is a bit like a love relationship. When there’s only intellect or only soul it doesn’t really work, there needs to be both and it needs to be balanced. And for me personally preferably both on a very high level. : )
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
EK: – Yeah, of course I am playing for the audience and for my fellow musicians and not for myself. Simultaneously, I’m one of the musicians that wants to perform on my personal highest level weather there are 3 or 300 people in the audience. But as a bandleader I’m very aware about the fact that a nice audience can motivate the players a lot to give their very best. And yes, the relationship between audience and artist always goes both ways, like all other human interaction as well. Most important to me is the receptivity of the audience: An open attitude to let yourself being bathed in the sound and being open to experience the music and enjoy the moment.
JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
EK: – Our studio session in September 2019 at the Hard Studios in Winterthur was really nice! We had a pretty good vibe as a group, the studio team was highly efficient and super kind and we got an amazing sound engineer. I also liked the post-production and going into details. – Better than me talking about my music is listening to it and let your imagination invent your own stories! It can be listening to the record or to a live concert. We already have two awesome concerts in Switzerland confirmed, that I am very much looking forward to! October 23rd 2020 we’re going to play in the BeJazz Club in Bern, one of the finest Jazz Clubs in Switzerland. And on December 3rd 2020 we’re playing at noon in the advent Calendar of the Bernese Church Heiliggeistkirche, where all sorts of people are going to be in the audience. This is going to be fun!
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
EK: – How can you make young people interested in classical music where a lot of the music is several centuries old? – Jazz standards are beautiful and exciting music and going to a jazz concert can be something really enjoyable, relaxing, exciting, inspiring and hipp. Besides the standards there are many living composers writing Jazz music of our times. In Berlin there are several jam sessions and concerts full of a young audience that considers Jazz to be completely en vogue. Furthermore, I am on a platform called “NumberOneMusic” and am getting weekly messages from mostly young people saying they love the music from my previous 4tet record – Eva Kess Group “Flying Curly” – and it was way better than what was played in most of the radio stations these days.
JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
EK: – Oh man, the meaning of life.. are you serious? : ) I am a philosopher’s daughter, Hegel etc. but for having a serious opinion about the true meaning of life I’m afraid, I might be too young. I imagine figuring this out over time. What I can say for now is the following: I love to create music. It makes me feel happy and fulfilled. The opening tune on my new record “Sternschnuppen – falling stars” is entitled Ikigai. This Japanese concept means “a reason for being”. Like having a direction or purpose in life, „that makes one’s life worthwhile and towards which an individual takes spontaneous and willing actions giving them satisfaction and a sense of meaning to life. Ikigai closely reflects the inner self of an individual, and has been associated with health and longevity.“ (from wikipedia) – The New York based Cuban composer and pianist Manuel Valera inspired me to join his “a tune a day” composition challenge in the middle of March 2020. That means currently, I am challenging myself by composing a tune a day. It doesn’t need to be perfect or long, it is more about the creation process on a day to day basis. And I am truly loving it! There are so many ideas inside of me, I am actually a bit surprised of myself. These days I can simply sit down and write a new tune.
JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
EK: – Hm.. generally I believe there is balance in the universe, it’s like a natural law. Balance is going to be restored. – But maybe the thing with music streaming.. I wish for people to buy CDs and LPs again. The money on the streaming platforms goes to the platforms and not to the artists who have actually made the music. It is not a fair trade. (The only fair trade that I know is the platform BandCamp.) The composer Maria Schneider made a lot of research about this topic and therefore has a lot to say about it and I guess her current production “Datalords” refers to this big problematic.
JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
EK: – Gosh, usually my list is quiet endless with all the influences and interests that I have combined with my eagerness to explore new music. Generally, I listen to a big variety: newcomers, my friends, established musicians, legends. But as I am writing a tune every day these days, I am currently more in a phase of output than input. This week I have listened to my friend Thana Alexa’s new record “ONA”, which is truly awesome music!
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
EK: – My music – so far – is instrumental music and mostly l’art pour l’art. It shall give the listener a nice and interesting experience. I don’t think every piece of music has to have an intended (political) message. I discovered that me being a female double bassist and composer is surprisingly still a statement in itself, even in the year 2020. So I told myself to simply continue being myself and to write melodies, grooves, harmonies and basslines. – If you want to listen to music with a political message I refer to Thana Alexa’s “ONA” or to Ryan Keberle & Catharsis “The Hope I Hold” or to Kurt Weill’s “Der Jasager” (literally The Yes Sayer also translated as The Affirmer or He Said Yes).
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
EK: – I’d like to go to the 1930ies when Jazz was the most popular music and standards being played by mainstream radios, musicians playing for a whole week in the same club and making a living with record sales. I’d like to experience this!
JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
EK: – What brought you to Jazz Simon?
JBN: – Jazz is my life !!!
Interview by Simon Sargsyan