Interview with Danish composer Anders Koppel. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.com: – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music. How exactly did your adventure take off? When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?
Anders Koppel: – I had a classical music childhood – allmost all of my relatives are musicians. My father was a renowned pianist and composer, so I grew up surrounded by music by Stravinsky, Bartòk and Brahms – and in the wee hours, I woke up hearing my father composing at the piano, quite softly, with the damper on. In the evenings, I looked over his shoulder as he wrote orchestrated what he composed in the morning. From age 9, I sang in the Copenhagen Boys Choir, and participated in performances of Bach’s great passions. I had piano lessons from the age of 5, and took up clarinet when I was 11. My father wrote pieces for me, and we –2 daughters and 2 sons – always had a rich musical interchange. My father’s collection of 78s, mainly Stravinsky, Bartok and Brahms, but also a lot of early jazz records from the ‘30s, that I loved – Ellington, Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, Fletcher Henderson etc. The explosion of rock-n-roll in the early 60s hit me with force, so I started writing songs with my brother, got an organ and we formed our rock group, The Savage Rose in ’67, when I was 19. A couple of years after, we played at the Newport Jazz Festival! I have been playing and writing music ever since.
JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?
AK: – Although I had a lot of music training as a child and young man, I ended up never having a formal music education – I was always too busy making music. Maybe that might be one explanation to why I never felt it hard to sing with my own voice – I never had a teacher to imitate and then to rebel against. I have always studied – and played – so many different kinds of music – turkish, cuban, gospel, balkan and so on. So many inspirations that over the years contributed to my vocabulary. Also all the wonderfull musicians that I have worked with – both in the classical and the jazz field – have contributed to keeping music always alive and always new.
JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?
AK: – Keep working! Creativity is a wonderfull, elaborate machinery that has to be well oiled and maintained. So – never a day without.
JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?
AK: – There have of course been different phases in my life, but no big changes, only adjustments of focus or direction from time to time. It’s been – and still is! – a seemingly endless and adventureous journey down along the river of music.
JBN: – How do you prepare for your recordings and performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?
AK: – As I said before: stay in tune. Also important: whether playing or composing, turn every stone in what you are doing, envision all the possibilities it contains – but keep the pace.
JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2022: Anders Koppel – Mulberry Street Symphony, how it was formed and what you are working on today.
AK: – Well, if I should completely honest: everything! The immigrant photos by Jacob A.Riis that inspired the symphony. And I love having had the opportunity to write such a large-scale (almost 90 minutes) symphonic piece for jazz trio and symphony orchestra – a challenge and a dream come true, and it was written during 3 breathless months. And – I love the masterfull, completely devoted and brilliant playing of the trio and the orchestra. And I love the vigourous freshness and energy of it all, including the sound. Sometimes you are lucky that everything succeeds. And I love that all of the piece was recorded in one happy day.
JBN: – How did you select the musicians who play on the album?
AK: – Actually, they selected me! Brian Blade, Scott Colley and my son Benjamin are playing together in the KCB trio, and they asked me after a concert if I would consider writing such a piece. Brian and Scott knew my saxophone concertos, that I wrote for Benjamin, and three of us have played together many times during years – I have played with Benjamin since he was a boy! – and I love and admire all three of them – such faboulous and dedicated musicians and great friends. So it didn´t take me many seconds to consider!
JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
AK: – I think the two of them – if you can separate it like that at all – are in constant dialogue. But other things will take part in the conversation too – such as form and structure. There is a great number of ingredients needed to reach an interesting, moving and well-balanced piece.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?
AK: – The more true you are to yourself, the greater the possibility to reaching out to people. When you are composing, you are on your own, but always with a responsibility to refine your message so much that an audience is able find its way into it.
JBN: – Can you share any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions over the years?
AK: – Having played concerts for well over 60 years, all of the adventures stand in line. From when I – seven years old – accompanied by my father, premiered his pieces for recorder and piano in an old theatre in 1954, up until now when I work and share the stage with my children and grandchildren – as well as with old and new musician friends. There is a great sense of continuity in that, that I like – we are all links in a chain.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?
AK: – I myself have always concentrated on playing new, original music by myself or others, such as Benjamin. And from time to time a standard. But even when you play just standards, jazz has this ability to constantly renew the old. The variations are indeed endless. That goes for classical music as well. When well played, Mozart and Beethoven are totally modern, contemporary composers, as Ellington is. Let me add, that a journal as JazzBluesNews certainly helps in increasing interest in jazz and related art forms and to spread the gospel and love for the music to new generations.
JBN: – John Coltrane once said that music was his spirit. How do you perceive the spirit and the meaning of life?
AK: – That is a very big question that maybe would take my whole body of compositions to answer just a little bit. Every piece we write, every note we play is an effort to make a little meaning of the chaos that surround us.
JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?
AK: – I would wish that music education in school would have a much higher priority. Music is a language that has to be learned just as german or latin. The benefits for all would be endless joy, better hearing and much more happiness and understanding.
JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?
AK: – Recently I discovered – through watching Scorsese´s great Dylan doc No Direction Home – the singer and songwriter John Jacob Niles. The beauty of his voice, the depth of his words and his simple, but highly emotional and wonderful melodies have made a profound impression on me, and I keep returning. The same goes for the music by french composer Olivier Messiaen- I keep returning.
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
AK: – When we do our very best, we fullfill our place in history, I believe. If we, who create the music, do our very best, our music will transmit both energy and happiness – will make you want to move or dance or even smile or cry – for joy.
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine: where and why would you really want to go?
AK: – I have no dream to go anywhere but where I am. I am now 75 years old and I must confess that I have been a very lucky and happy man. That’s what music and a great family can do to you. On the conga of the percussionist in my old band Bazaar, Flemming, who recently passd away, he’d written the sentence: You are at the moment here. True.
JBN: – So far, it’s been me asking you questions, now may I have a question from yourself…
AK: – Thanks so much lot for letting me in – it has been a pleasure. I hope my english isn’t too flawed? 🙂
JBN: – Thanks so much for your answers!!
JBN: – At the bottom line, what are your expectations from our interview?
AK: – Not to waste the reader’s time too much, and maybe have a new ear or two (or maybe even more?) for the Mulberry Street Symphony. Thanks again!
Interview by Simon Sargsyan