Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Frank Paul Schubert. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Frank Paul Schubert: – I grew up in the city of Neuss, Germany, near Cologne (*1965). The music I heard as a small child in my parental home was not very formative for my musical development, I guess: some easy-listening big band stuff, some Glenn Miller, the occasional Johann Sebastian Bach on Sundays, and Mahalia Jackson’s Christmas Songs once a year.
7 years old I started – self taught – with sort of a toy piano, switched to guitar at 10 – still self taught -, and then to saxophone when I was 16 and had discovered the music of John Coltrane. I never took any lessons until I decided I wanted to study music at a conservatory, so I thought it would be a good idea to learn how to read music first. Up until then, I had only played by ear and improvised.
I studied classical saxophone repertoire as well as jazz. I wouldn’t consider myself as a classical saxophonist, though (I’m sure my teachers wouldn’t either), but it still was an inspiration and a big help developing a proper instrumental technique.
JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
FPS: – Well, when I first started my focus was mainly on pitch, pitch relations and time (i.e. melody, harmony and rhythm). The sense for sound developed a little later. I think listening to Archie Shepp records helped a lot.
For working on the quality of the sound, I just do what everybody does: long tones, overtone exercises etc. in order to get a “healthy” sound in an almost classical sense. But I just start from there and then I explore in every possible direction, like extreme vibrato frequencies and -amplitudes, wide tone bendings etc.
JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
FPS: – An important part of my practice routine is making up intervallic patterns, mostly based on various symmetrical scales, then work on these for a long time, playing them in different colours. For example: I take one of my self made exercises and try to play it with a timbre similar to traditional Corean court music, or classical Indian music, or Sidney Bechet.
Another aspect is, of course, rhythm. All these exercises can be played in various (poly-)rhythms, phrasings and articulations.
I also work on so called extended techniques, like multiphonics, advanced articulation techniques, micro intervals etc.
JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
FPS: – Well, I don’t mind being influenced. I try to find my own voice and I try not to copy anybody. And I think I manage to channel influences, rather than prevent them.
And also, every musical partner is an influence. When I work with somebody for many years, it is only natural that he/she influences me and vice versa.
JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?
FPS: – Practicing, practicing, practicing. And trying to reach a state of peace of mind.
JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
FPS: – The ‘soul’ bit is certainly more important, but as a listener I want to be stimulated intellectually as well. And there might be kinds of music that are actually strictly cerebral, and I still might respond to them emotionally!
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
FPS: – I think I play to the people rather than for the people.
I’d like to think, instead of giving people what they want, I’d rather give’em what they deserve, ha ha!
Or let’s put it this way: I try to create something valuable, and then I offer it to the people. Art doesn’t work according to the law of supply and demand.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
FPS: – Well, I love to play the standard jazz repertory, especially Thelonious Monk’s and Billy Staryhorn’s composition – I hardly ever do this in public, though.
Of course there are many musicians, who still play standards in a creative, inspired, fresh and even innovative way, but I can only encourage young musicians to play their own music!
I mean, I’m aware of tendencies to pick contemporary pop tunes as a vehicle for jazz improvisations, like Herbie Hancock’s New Standard album, which, by the way, is also a quarter of a century old, but I doubt that this concept does a lot to increase the number of young jazz fans.
JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
FPS: – I have the deepest respect for John Coltrane’s spirituality. Music is the most important part of my life, so maybe this is the answer to your question – simple as that.
JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
FPS: – At the risk of appearing terribly materialistic: better working conditions for us musicians.
JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
FPS: – Currently, I’m listening to some Anthony Braxton Quartet CDs from the mid-80s (live in London, Birmingham, Coventry).
Apart from that I’ve been listening to two solo CDs of very dear friends of mine: Meinrad Kneer’s ‘Vocabularies’ (double bass solo), and Rudi Fischerlehner’s ‘15 8 Slum’ (solo drumkit). Awesome stuff, highly recommendable!
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
FPS: – There is certainly something like a message in my music, but if I could put it in words, I’d rather be a poet or an author. My music is mainly intuitive, so when it comes to the meaning of it, every interpretation is in retrospect, ‘a posteriori’.
That being said, there are some immanent aspects in my music, that could be seen as a message: listening to each other, avoiding role stereotypes, communicating without hierarchy – things, that are elements of my music, but at the same time they are sort of a social utopia.
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
FPS: – February 25th, 1964, Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Why? I would witness the recording session of Eric Dolphy’s seminal album ‘Out To Lunch’. (Yes, I’m a nerd)
JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
FPS: – Instead of asking I’d like to thank you for your questions and for your dedication to our music!
Interview by Simon Sargsyan