Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist, composer and arranger Tobias Hoffmann. 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? When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?
Tobias Hoffmann: – I started playing the recorder in elementary school and then switched to the saxophone after 2 or 3 years. I had weekly lessons at the local music school, but at the time I was more involved with sports and wasn’t that interested in the instrument or the music itself. That changed when I joined the jazz band at the local music school. The teacher who led the band gave me recordings to listen to, and I met other musicians. This combination sparked my love for jazz music and playing the saxophone. Also, at the high school I attended, we had a big big band. So I was always playing in larger ensembles and was fascinated by the sound of large jazz ensembles very early in my musical education. After high school, I decided to study music as a classroom teacher, but then changed my major to jazz saxophone after one semester.
JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?
TH: – I found my own kind of voice by listening to a lot of different music and different genres. Both music that I like and music that I sometimes don’t like. I then always ask myself what I like about a certain style of music and what I want to incorporate into my own writing and playing and what I don’t like and try to avoid. I think jazz music is like a sponge and can be influenced by many different styles and influences.
JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?
TH: – I’ve spent a lot of time at the piano just experimenting with different harmonic structures and trying to understand them on both an intellectual and emotional level. Sometimes I reharmonize other pieces like standards or pop songs to get a better handle on these techniques. I also try to incorporate these harmonic ideas into my routine of practicing the saxophone. At the same time, I try to practice everything on the saxophone with a metronome and a good sense of timing. When composing, I try to rewrite my own melodies into different meters and subdivisions and see how far I can go, and then analyze my own material in order to expand my limits.
JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any changes or overall evolution? And if so why?
TH: – Of course, I have changed over the years. I think everyone evolves in some way. We all get older and more experienced, and that influences the way we play or write music, and also how we perceive music and situations in life. For example, I like music or musicians now that I didn’t like before, and of course that music and experience influences my music.
JBN: – How do you prepare for your recordings and performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?
TH: – I try to stay in good shape on my instruments. I think if I can rely on my technique, it helps me stay focused in difficult situations. At the same time, I prepare the music I have to play as well as I can.
JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2022: Conspiracy of your Tobias Hoffmann Jazz Orchestra, how it was formed and what you are working on today.
TH: – What I love most about the new album is the fact that we actually recorded it and I was able to release it. We had to record in Covid 19 times and it was quite a challenge with all the restrictions and I’m glad it worked out in the end. Also, I’m happy with the variety of moods and timbres on the recording and I hope that listeners can be carried through the songs that way. When I had written almost all the music for the recording, I started organizing the recording session and calling the players of the jazz orchestra.
Now I’m working on new compositions for a new project that will be released in November 2022, and I’m trying to expand my melodic and harmonic vocabulary and learn more about the instruments I’m writing for as a writer.
JBN: – How did you select the musicians who play on the album?
TH: – The musicians on the album are musicians that I have either studied with, played with in various other groups, or have been recommended to me. I focused on selecting musicians who are great section players, great soloists, dedicated to playing jazz in large ensembles, have tremendous musicianship, and of course are willing to play this music at the highest possible level.
JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
TH: – Music, especially in the compositional process, can arise from the intellect. But music should never be without soul. For me personally, the two belong together and cross-fertilize each other. They are, so to speak, the two different sides of the same coin.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?
TH: – In general, it’s perfectly fine for me to convey emotions to the audience. Of course I hope that I can give the people who listen to my music what they long for. But at the same time, I can’t predict or determine what feelings someone will have when they listen to my music. So it may also be that some people have different feelings when listening to my compositions than the ones I had when I composed the music or the ones I was trying to express.
JBN: – Can you share any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions over the years?
TH: – I can share the memory of what it was like to rehearse and play the music of “Conspiracy” for the first time. I had quite a lot of stress organizing the production. But when we played the first notes together, all the stress fell off me and I could relax and just enjoy making music together.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?
TH: – I think getting young people interested in jazz is not just related to the standard repertoire. One of the biggest challenges I see right now is that we need to get young people into live concerts. As great as streaming and videos are, I think jazz music is an art form that is best experienced in a live concert. I also feel it’s interesting to open up the repertoire and not just play standard pieces. Of course, it is important to know the roots, the basis and the tradition of this music, and having a certain repertoire of songs is important. But at the same time, I think that music changes and evolves over time, and that applies to the repertoire as well.
JBN: – John Coltrane once said that music was his spirit. How do you perceive the spirit and the meaning of life?
TH: – I think life can have a different meaning for everyone. In general, I would say that it’s a good idea to do something you love in life, whether it’s music, sports, theater, social activities, or something else. Writing and playing music satisfies me on a deeper level and I enjoy working on it. Music can be a way for me to express myself, and I’m really grateful when it touches the listener.
JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?
TH: – One thing that I think needs to be addressed and changed urgently is the unfair sharing of streaming royalties. I’d really like to see if we can find a way to share the money made from streaming in a fair way.
JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?
TH: – Lately I’ve been listening a lot to Aaron Copland, Benjamin Britten and John Adams. I’m also really enjoying the music of Billy Childs at the moment.
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
TH: – I’m not sure I have a specific message I want to convey through my music. All the different songs have individual messages and stories behind them. However, I am happy if I can contribute to raising awareness of either jazz music in general or the specific themes that are the inspiration for the compositions.
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine: where and why would you really want to go?
TH: – I would love to travel into the future and see how jazz has evolved. I would really like to know how jazz music sounds in the year 2050.
JBN: – Do You like our questions? So far, it’s been me asking you questions, now may I have a question from yourself…
TH: – Yes, I was very happy about the questions! Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to talk about my music and my recording “Conspiracy”. One question for you would be: What is your absolute favorite jazz recording and why?
JBN: – There are so many that it is difficult to single out any one. Well, let me separate them from saxophonists and our contemporaries։ Sonny Rollins – Saxophone Colossus 1956: I love all his albums !!!
JBN: – Have you ever given a free concert during your entire concert career? At the bottom line, what are your expectations from our interview?
TH: – Yes, I have given concerts for charity or donated the fee. I would be happy if many people find the interview interesting and listen to the record “Conspiracy”.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan