June 22, 2024


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Interview with Steven Kamperman: People thinking of melodical or rhythmical patterns on stage: I really don’t dig it: Video

Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist and clarinetist Steven Kamperman. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Steven Kamperman: – I was born in Eindhoven in the south of the Netherlands, also the native town of Philips Electronics. Because my father worked for this company, I owned a cassette recorder at a very early age. Every morning, I woke up in mid-sleep with the music I loved: jazz. It became a part of my spinal column. My mother always listened to jazz at home, so that had gotten me on that track really young. I loved Benny Goodman, so I started to play the clarinet. Some years later, my older brother introduced me to Charlie Parker, which made me switch to alto saxophone. My father was much more classical minded, but I still have strong memories of him singing gregorian chants in church, which made a big impression on me as well.

JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

SK: – I was still quite immersed in traditional jazz when I came to Utrecht at 18 years old, the town where I still live. I sounded like Art pepper, people told me. When I checked out one of his records for the first time, it was like I was listening to a recording of myself. Crazy experience! In Utrecht I heard a lot of new music in the jazz club, where I hang out as much as I could; from American traditionalists to squeaky free jazz. I also heard  folk music for the first time, and I was very much inspired by Turkish music. Later I started improvising with Turkish musicians, and this was a major influence on my musical life, culminating in a band that I co-led with Turkish singer behsat Üvez. I also heard some great French musicians, clarinettist Louis Sclavis and the legendary band of hurdy-gurdy player Valentin Clastrier, ‘Le Bucher de silences’. Their ‘folklore imaginaire’ opened up my way of thinking: there are many ways in which you can improvise, far away from the American jazz tradition. My sound – in the mean time back to the clarinet again – started to tend more towards European folk and art music, and also my roots in Gregorian chant came up again. I still feel very grateful that I have had a duo with Valentin for quite some years, and he has become a great friend of mine.

JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

SK: – Since I played Turkish rhythms for more than 10 years, rhythm has always occupied an important place in my practicing. The many odd meters: I really wanted to feel completely at ease with them. On top of it, some five years ago, I bought a drum kit, and I still really love it! It also awoke my original love for traditional jazz again. On clarinet I hardly play standards as such, but behind the kit I really like to dive into the styles of Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes and Jack de Johnette. So, you can easily state that rhythm is an important part of my life.

JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

Anything may color what I am doing! It makes me happy when I get inspired by things I hear. Today I wrote a piece for a barrel organ, and if you listen carefully, there are quite some influences of electronic dance music. But I never go out to copy anything. When I write or play, I always listen to my ‘inner sound’ and try to play that. It may come out in many different forms, inspired by what I hear, but it will always sound like me.

JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

SK: – Of course I practice. The clarinet is a high maintenance instrument. I don’t practice as much as I used to, but when there is a concert, I see to it that I am in shape. You have to, else only squeaks come out of it! Apart from this I do a bit of yoga and jogging, and I do a lot of hikes through the woods, together with my wife. That really keeps me sane. Spiritually, I try to open up to ‘what is’. Whatever presents itself a certain moment is the only reality. That’s what you work with. This is the beautiful thing about improvisation: you make something of what is happening right now. The real goal there is to have total confidence in the process and the musicians you play with. Then the music will play itself. When you start to force the process, the result will not be intense. Inside, I feel a connection with this incredible world around us, which is a true miracle. This sensation or feeling or even ‘sound’ is quite intense. I try to let it speak by my music, by just totally accepting what comes up. The moment you want to sound like someone else, or if you want to hear a certain result, you lose the connection.

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JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

SK: – For me, the intellect has a role in deciding in where you are going to listen to ideas. Music is structured sound, and there are infinitely many ways to structure sounds. You can think in a modal way, or maybe apply classical harmony, or extended harmony… But you can think of many other ways to structure sound, right at this moment. You might just say: I just play these three notes, and I will contrast them by those three notes. That’s where you are going to look for your musical ideas. But – and this is very important for me – when you are improvising, you don’t want the intellect to play an active role in constructing or deciding in what comes up. You just listen to what comes up, and you play it. Only then you get music that directly speaks from the soul and can relate to the soul. At some higher level, you can analyse a bit, like ‘ Hey, there should be a change right now’, but if your intellect plays a more central role than that, I probably don’t like the music that comes out of it. People thinking of melodical or rhythmical patterns on stage: I really don’t dig it.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

SK: – If you are going to play what you think the public wants to hear, that’s a recipe for artistic disaster. First of all: there is not one audience, there is so much variation in what people would like to hear. It would be impossible to try to please them all. But more importantly: only if you play from your heart, you have something worthwhile to say. So, just as a way of thinking, you should play for an audience filled with yourself. If you play music true to yourself, people will open up, at least some will. I have played adventurous music from Mexico to Siberia, and there were always people who really loved it.

However, in one respect, I think the musician should be considerate towards his audience. This has to do with the information overload in some music that some musicians are totally unaware of. If you know your own music, you may know all the ins and outs of it, but that’s not the same for the average listener. So I believe there is no problem in creating some doors and openings in your music. In the nineties, especially in the more underground jazz scene, there has been a tendency to deliberately ‘shock the audience’ as an artistic goal. That approach appears a bit harsh to me nowadays. Why not interest them first, and if you really are into that, shock them afterwards?

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

SK: – Play them as if they were written yesterday, with your own soul, without copying anyone. Play your heart out, and there is no problem in playing an old song. Bach is much older, and we will always love his music, I guess, because it is honest music. Young people are not an alien race. If they hear something that has energy and communicates something true, they can dig it. However, what worries me a bit, is that there are few channels left by which they stumble upon something that is out of the mainstream.

JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

SK: – It’s the connection with the world you can at sometimes feel. Walking in the woods, being with a friend, listening to great music, enjoying the ‘here and now’. The space that vibrates within you. I am not sure if there is a general ‘meaning of life’, but you can certainly create a meaning in your life. By enjoying the miracle of our universe, and from there give whatever to the world in return. As a young man, I had the luck to once meet Elvin Jones – John Coltrane’s spiritual connected drummer -, just to escort him from his hotel room to his bus. It was before seven o’ clock in the morning, but he was already smiling his sweet eyes to everyone. Then he took out his hand to shake my hand. When I touched it, totally unprepared, I got a spiritual lift of 10 inch from the ground. I did not understand what happened. Twenty years later, I talked to a journalist, and he had had exactly the same experience. Elvin Jones enjoyed the miracle, and consequently had a lot to give!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Avond met Steven Kamperman met een héél grote strik - Jazznu.com

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