May 24, 2024

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Interview with Johannes Luebbers: I’m not sure it is possible to truly know what an audience wants: Video

Jazz interview with jazz composer and conducter Johannes Luebbers․ An interview by email in writing. – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music.

Johannes Luebbers: – I grew up in Melbourne, Australia. There was always music in my family: my dad was a guitar teacher, with a strong interest in jazz, and my mum would play guitar and sing a lot. As a result, I always had an interest in music, although I didn’t start playing the piano until I was ten. My auntie was a piano teacher and while visiting her once she showed me a few things at the piano. After that, I was down for it!

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

JL: – This is difficult to answer – I never consciously sought a sound per se, although my approach and aesthetic was pretty clear by the time I finished university. As with anyone, I think my ‘sound’ is the result of everything I’ve ever listened to, or closely studied. Once you start composing you learn the things that work for you, in part through trial and error, and these are refined and reused through consecutive compositions.

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

JL: – I don’t have a particular routine for developing my rhythmic language, but I do make rhythm a focus in a lot of my music. I feel that a varied rhythmic language is crucial to the compositional interest of my music and I am always conscious of rhythmic phrasing and the relationship between different rhythmic layers.

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

JL: – I think disparate influences are the key to making something original, so I often seek them out.

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

JL: – I am usually focused on practical concerns like getting the right tempo and cueing entries. Maintaining spiritual and musical stamina between performances is the trick – I think allowing time and space to both compose without time pressures and listen widely is essential to a composers’ sustainability.

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

JL: – I’m not convinced these things are separate for me. My intellect and soul are entwined with both informing my music.

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

JL: – I’m not sure it is possible to truly know what an audience wants. Even when you strive for commercial success, there is always an element of luck involved.

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

JL: – The wonderful thing about jazz is the scope for self-expression, so I’m not sure it matters than many standards are more than 50 years old (some even approaching 100!). That said, I think the most interesting jazz and jazz-adjacent music being created in the 21st century is original, and I would be emphasizing this with young and old people alike. Standards are vitally important to jazz history and the ongoing learning of jazz, but I suspect the music that speaks to future jazz musicians and audiences will be original music that has its roots in jazz but incorporates broader contemporary cultural influences. This is true for most significant innovations throughout the history of jazz.

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

JL: – I’m not sure I’m equipped to comment on the meaning of life!

JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

JL: – I would give everyone a universal basic income, which would allow musicians to pursue their art without the economic stress currently experienced by most. This would encourage risk taking and lead to greater musical innovation. I would also embed musical training at all levels of the education system, making it as important as math or literacy, which would lead to more musically literate audiences.

JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

JL: – I return frequently to the work of John Hollenbeck (especially love Shut up and Dance, with the Orchestre National de Jazz) and have also been listening to the Steve Lehman Octet, as well as his album with Rudresh Mahanthappa, Dual Identity. I’ve also been listening to Filament from Eighth Blackbird, Say So by Bent Knee and Keep in Touch, from Nico Muhly.

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

JL: – No message or explicit program per se – but I hope that each listener experiences an emotional journey of some kind. The exact meaning of this will vary from person to person.

JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

JL: – 2100, so I could see just how badly we’ve ruined the environment and begin to prepare myself.

JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…

JL: – What’s your favourite jazz large ensemble album released in the last 20 years?

JBN: – Bob Mintzer & WDR Big Band Cologne: Soundscapes!

JBN: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?

JL: – Not sure how to answer this question…

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Johannes Luebbers | Australian Jazz Real Book

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