Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Frank Roberscheuten. 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 Roberscheuten: – In the village of Valkenswaard, in the south of the Netherlands, I was born and this is also where I grew up. My family listened to music a lot so I was exposed to music my entire life. My parents listened to popular music but did not play any instrument themselves. When a friend of mine joined the local woodwind orchestra, I thought this was a nice idea. So, at age 11, I started playing the clarinet in this group.
JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
FR: – My opinion is that our sound begins in our brains. In order to develop a good sound, we need to listen to the right examples so we improve our ears. How can we produce a good sound if we don’t recognize one? How can a vinologist make a great wine out of grapes if he doesn’t know how the wine is supposed to taste? What I also do is try out and experiment until I find the best material for me, instrument, mouthpiece and reeds.
JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
FR: – What I do almost every day is to play the tune “Cherokee” quite uptempo and in all (11) keys. This keeps my technique fluent and helps me to be creative in all keys. For the rhythm I play along with the recordings of the jazz greats. Like this you learn the timing and find out that there are many different ways of doing it. Some players play “laid back” where others push the beat. Depending on the style I choose how I approach a tune.
JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
FR: – A jazz musician is constantly influenced in what he is doing on and off stage. During a performance, I try to adjust, depending on the context, how, when and what I play.
JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?
FR: – Before a performance it is too late to work on certain difficult passages. The only playing is warming up the instruments in order to get a nice sound. To be “off-line” is important to avoid distraction. We try to get into what Stan Getz called, “the zone”, which is a state of relaxed concentration and focus.
JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2021: Frank Roberscheuten Hiptett – Four Seasons, how it was formed and what you are working on today.
FR: – What I love most is the overall sound of the recording. The transcription of the Vivaldi pieces work very well. Since we have been in this pandemic for one year (Four Seasons) I thought it was a nice idea to make a double album consisting of 4 parts, each beginning with the Vivaldi melody. For the rest I wrote pieces, fitting the different seasons.
JBN: – And how did you select the musicians who play on the album?
FR: – When we are recording I like everybody to feel free to join in with ideas to get the best possible result. All the musicians on this album do this so we all contributed to the final result. Olaf Polziehn, Jos Machtel and Oliver “Bridge” Mewes belong to the best of the European Jazz scene.
JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
FR: – This is different for every individual. The purpose of music is to create something beautiful and we can use different tools to achieve this. Intellect and soul are some of them also melody, harmony, volume, technique and many more. Depending on the tune and also the audience reaction every performance will emphasize another element to make a nice build up.Some colleagues talk about the 4 elements, fire, water, earth and air. A good performance has the right balance of these musical elements.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
FR: – There is a way to please the audience and stay true to the music. Even when the music becomes complex and not so accessible it is possible to reach the audience, also the non jazz connoisseurs. We should wrap the music up so it becomes easier to digest. The artist could talk to the audience, show respect and explain some things about the music that will be played. Also, we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously and stay friendly.These people come out of their homes to listen to us. A little bit of humor doesn’t hurt either.
JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
FR: – Seriously? After that many years there is enough material to write a book. There are many memories but since time and tragedy equals comedy, here is a funny story, to lighten up this interview. With Rossano Sportiello and Martin Breinschmid, I have a band called “The Three Wise Men”. Every year we have a long tour in march and regularly we perform in Vienna where Martin is very famous. The venue is a nice gallery, the audience is very close. One of Martin’s friends brought a very special musical instrument, called “Teufelsgeige” (Devil’s Violin) This is a folk instrument that is still used today in alpine regions at carnival time. It is supposed to provide a bass note, one string that is hit with a stick there are percussion effects, two cymbals, bells, a tambourine that sounds when the pole is hit on the floor. Rossano played Mozart’s “Alla Turca” and Martin started improvising on this instrument. He got so much into it that slowly this instrument started falling apart and the whole performance turned into a comedy act. Rossano and I started laughing uncontrollably, good that this was the encore. Even days later we were not able to talk about it without getting the giggles.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
FR: – Yes, we discuss this topic a lot. It is a problem for many styles of music. The kids seem to have other interests. But here is some good news. Sometimes, as a teacher, I help younger people to improvise in the style of early jazz. They love it. I don’t think this is because of the repertoire, it is just fun to play music together. Society moves into a direction that we do less and less things in a group; But when kids are exposed to doing something together, such as playing in a jazz band, they are thrilled. I expect that there will be a movement back to the times where we did more together as humans, such as playing music
JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
FR: – Deep. For me the spirit of life is to be kind, honest and inspire others.
JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
FR: – Let’s all be humble and respectful and not have an attitude.
JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
FR: – We listen quite a bit to the radio because you don’t know what you will hear. Often one discovers nice new artists or composers. I keep listening to Duke Ellington a lot, he has such a remarkable career and he inspires me every time again. For the rest it depends on the mood I am in. I do search for nice sounding music.
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
FR: – I try to bring something positive and show that music brings people closer together. People go to a concert to escape the negative influences from the news. My assignment is to inject society with something positive.
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
FR: – This is difficult, we fantasize about this a lot. Who wouldn’t like to hear Bach improvise? I would also like to hear the Ellington band from 1942 with musicians like Ben Webster, Tricky Sam Nanton, Johnny Hodges and Jimmie Blanton live. I have spoken to musicians who actually heard this group in the forties, they would still be in awe, 50 years later. Of course there are recordings but to actually be there must be something else. But, my first pick would be to be in New-Orleans around 1880. Wouldn’t it be great to hear how music was played in these times?
JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
FR: – To play a musical instrument is a craft and it takes many years to reach a high level. Will there be any craftsmen left in the future? Will computers or robots take over? Will people still come together?
JBN: – Yes, of course, all will be fine !!!
JBN: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
FR: – As an individual performer I try to spread happiness and positive vibes, to try to contaminate others to do the same.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan