April 20, 2024

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Interview with Gregor Huebner: I am coming from folk music: Video, new CD cover, Photos

Jazz interview with jazz violinist Gregor Huebner. 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? 

Gregor Huebner: – I grew up in the south of Germany on the lake of Konstanz. My parents, both music teachers made sure that me and my siblings started early learning musical instruments. I began with piano but also added violin short after since this was the instrument played by my father, grand father going back for generations. Of course this was about classical music and I remember seeing Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and the Glenn Miller Story on TV when I was around 12 years old which got me very excited and I started to improvise first on the piano. My brother Veit and me created a band called “Bell Art Trio” in High School and we played as much as we could all over the town and the region we lived at the time. I kind of knew when I was around 15 that music is my passion and that I want to live my live in music. In the last year of High School we got the state award for the best youth jazz band and opened a big festival in Stuttgart for Charly Mariano, Wolfgang Dauner and Dino Saluzi and Aldi Meola which was broadcasted on TV and very exciting. That was the moment when I know I could make a living playing music.

JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?

GH: – This is an interesting question since these kind of things you probably think of in College consciously, in your early education it happens unconsciously. For me playing 2 instruments, on the violin mainly classical music with a family background of Eastern European folk and Roma music, on the piano mainly jazz, this is a kind of complicated question. In hindsight I think it was an advantage to develop harmonic and jazz theory skills on the piano in Stuttgart and later at Manhattan School of Music. At the same time going through the heavy classical school on the violin with great teachers in Vienna and Stuttgart, as well as having the melodic background of Eastern European folk music helped me later to put this all together becoming an improvising violinist, pianist and composer. Of course this is all about technique but to develop sound is a part of technique as well. On the violin for example I once saw an interview with the great conductor Celibidache who talked about what makes the string player individual. He talked about the vibrato on string instruments, which often, as I see it in my teaching, is automatic and not controllable. Celibidache said, with the vibrato the string player can develop his individual sound. I guess my vibrato was good and my teachers didn’t really talk much about it. So that means to me as a player you have to be able to control it if you want it to be a major part of creating your own sound. Today sound is not just how you play your instrument but how do you amplify it, which microphones do you use and many other. Billy Hart, the great drummer once told me, make sure you always come with the same set up to record or to play live, so the part of the sound you can control is always the same. Thats why he always got very angry when promoters didn’t get him the drums he wanted which I totally understand now. Or Richie Beirach wants a tuned Steinway so he knows whats coming. I am fortunate to bring my own instrument which I am playing since I am 18 years old. It became a part of my body over time.

JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?

GH: – I think you missed melody which is on the violin kind of the essential thing and of course works only if you have a strong rhythmic and harmonic knowledge. Years ago I created my own exercises book called Exercises, Etudes and Concert Pieces, which is published by Schott Music/Advanced Music and is described as a creative guide for the contemporary improvising violinist. This collection adds different material to the portfolio of the improvising violinist including new techniques, lines and rhythmic patterns in harmonic settings as well as open settings.

I developed this over time for myself never thinking of writing a book. I think as an improviser, if you even create the smallest technical exercises yourself write it down, make it a habit in your daily practice and do the same thing with your own motivic, harmonic and rhythmic patterns, all this will become a part of your language. Isn’t the goal for a creative improviser to have your own sound your own licks, you own language? Thats how you do it. Of course it doesn’t mean you don’t have to study the history of the musical style you want to play in. In Jazz that means transcriptions of your favorite solos and certain scales you want to play, just in the end develop your own school and you will be fascinated how individual your language will become.

For example in terms of rhythm I was introduced to the Bata drums when I studied in Cuba at a workshop. The rhythmic system of the 3 drums together is very complex and exciting. I use these rhythms still today, creating loops and small little patterns, becoming more fluent in using them in my language.

I am fortunate to play with one of the most harmonically advanced Jazz pianists, Richie Beirach. Re-harmonizing tunes became a habit for me and I remember Richie saying, “if you play a standard tune, make it yours by re-harmonizing it. Even stretching the form is possible. Make it your own and make re-harmonisation a part of your practice hours.

JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?

GH: – Of course I think and hope I have changed over the years, I will hopefully keep changing. Practicing never ends if you are a professional musician and you always find new things to practice. In my case composition and instrumental development go together. My improvisations become compositions and my compositions create platforms for improvisation. There is a very good term called Comprovisation, which works for me. The overall evolution is, don’t stop don’t get tired, don’t get stuck with what you already know. Keep going creating your own world of sound!

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

GH: – Recording my own music is kind of a reward after all the hard work you did. This automatically keeps up your spirit. You prepare all the material over some time before and you are ready at the moment. Often it’s the first take which has the most spirit and the most expression. I remember my first recording with Richie, George Mraz and Billy Hart. I was young and wanted to be super prepared. We recorded Richie’s tune Elm and after the first take George rests the bass on the floor and says, “great take, lets go on”. I was destroyed and begged for a second chance but that was it. Later in life I understood, this take was the most expressive we could get at the moment, In another take we would have been more carful. A friend told me 15 years later that the students at Berklee College of Music had to analyse my solo on this track. The record was called The Snow Leopard.

I have also developed a kind of Tai Chi practice over the years. There was a great teacher in New York, Don Ahn, who helped a lot of musicians and artists to work with there bodies. I had a problem with my neck when I was about 30, which is kind of normal for a violinist, and he gave me the exercises to maintain my health and also gave me tools to prepare myself before performances with certain Chi Gong Breathing exercises.

JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2022: Gregor Hübner, Richie Beirach, Veit Huebner Duos & Trios – Testaments, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

GH: – This recordings happened over the last 5 years and it shows first of all our ability to improvise on classical compositions as well as our own music and Jazz standards. There are no borders in between these different styles and thats what I love about these 3 CD’s. There is only 2 kinds of music, good and bad music in my opinion and I think we made a really beautiful album for the listener. We play together since over 25 years and we are friends, which is also a very powerful thing when you work on something like this. And we keep going playing this music live and recording new music constantly.

New CD – 2022 – Buy from here

Testaments | HIGHRESAUDIO

JBN: – How did you select the musicians who play on the album?

GH: – This was not me selecting the musicians, this is a band since 1996, there was no selecting

JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

GH: – I would say the balance in my case more on the side of the soul since I am coming from folk music. Intellect you need when you create your practice habits or when you try to find a new kind of form in composition but the final concert performance for me should be mainly driven by soul, energy and spirit.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?

GH: – Of course I am. When I was studying in Germany I took classes with the composition teachers and I noticed in so called “Neue Music” the public is not taking part in the process. At the time contemporary “Neue Music” had so much money from the state that they didn’t need to have a public. It was music for a few and I always thought this is not right. I think the public should be part of the process and I need the audiences energy as well as they want mine. This movement of controlling every note of the composition, neglect the audience and no improvisation allowed started at the beginning of the last century. I am totally opposed to this. Thats the time when classical music lost improvisation. A Cadenza was supposed to be improvised, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin were all great improvisers on their instruments. Today we have a movement to bring it back but if it’s not taught in the early stages of learning an instrument it can be very hard to learn it in College.

JBN: – Can you share any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions over the years?

GH: – August 2012 at Birdland New York

Richie Beirach Quintet featuring Randy Brecker, Gregor Huebner, George Mraz and Billy Hart.

This was our week at Birdland every year for 7 years, the last week of August and it always was a high point of the year for me. It’s great to have something like this in NYC and play with the same band for a week. Unfortunately I am too young but this was, what it used to be in Europe as well, you had weekly gigs everywhere.

Many great musicians came bye or even sat in with us like Joe Lovano or Tim Hagans and many other. Lee Konitz, Barry Harris, Thomas Stanko sitting in the audience. Since Richie lived already in Europe at the time it was hard to see him perform in NY so this was always a meeting point in the summer and of course great for me the young German violinist. This special week in August 2012 was recorded live at Birdland and released on the ACT label.

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

GH: – You are right, the classical department has the same problem with their centuries old music. I am teaching in Munich and New York and see a lot of creativity in my students. They write their own music, they experiment with different elements like electronics, extended techniques on their instruments, multi media effects and many more. Thats the way to go and you will find younger people studying and to listening again.

That doesn’t mean you don’t have to study the old tunes or the classical repertoire, you need to work hard on it because first of all your instrument was probably developed with this music and its a language like any language you have to learn slowly before you can totally express yourself in it and go even further by creating new words and phrases.

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

GH: – Richie always says we still play in the same way today like we played in the first minute in 1996 in his little apartment on Spring Street in NYC and I feel the same way, even we incredibly developed our music over the last 26 years. What he is talking about is the spirit and the bond between us was already there in the first minute. It is very rare during a musical career to find people like this who have the same spirit, energy and urge to find something new in music. Often you can develop this in groups over time but it’s unusual to have this right away.

If you look at both of our upbringings, there are many similarities. We both grew up with classical music and later got interested in improvisation and jazz, we both by accident studied with the same classical composition teacher, Ludmilla Uhlela at Manhattan School of Music, we both have ethnic background, Richie coming from a Easter European Jewish family and me coming from an Easter European Gypsy music tradition. May be the same day birthday means something too but all these similarities bonded us right away.If you find something with this magical spirit between people you experience something special which is part of your life forever.

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

GH: – Of course there are more then one thing but I think when social media started and all these platforms where music is free for the listener became a part of this world the music business missed controlling it. I wish music creators would be compensated for their work the way they should be and if it would be in my power I would change that

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

GH: – Just listened to Brad Mehldaus solo concert recorded at Marciac  live, and Maria Schneider‘s new album. Very exciting is also Canonball Adderly‘s Experience in E which I just discovered. I also love to listen to contemporary classical music like Nico Muli, Szelsi or the late Ligeti. On my listening lists are Metal Bands like Mars Volta, Meshuggah and Animals as Leaders, where the great pianist Tigran Hamasyan gets his inspiration, as well as Kendrick Lamar is one of my favorite musicians.  Also a big part of my attention goes to global music from South America, Eastern Europe, Africa and India.

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

GH: – There are no borders in music. Music performance is an exchange between the musician and the audience. The greatest thing is when the energy of the audience inspires you to take the risk to find something new in the moment through improvisation. I want to reach the hearts of my audience and want them to go home having experienced an uplifting moment during my performance.

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

GH: – I am preparing for a Sabbatical from teaching in the 23/24 season where I plan to go to West Africa and Camron for a couple of months to study their music and rhythms. Then in the beginning of 2024 I would love to spend some time in Venice to compose. This city always inspired me with all it’s history of famous composers living there. Since I read Franz Werfels’s book Verdi: Novel of the Opera as a child, I wanted to live and compose in Venice. The project would be a composition for orchestra trying to orchestrate a painting by the famous Italian painter Caravaggio.

JBN: – Do You like our questions? So far, it’s been me asking you questions, now may I have a question from yourself…

GH: – Your questions where all very good and made me describe my musical thoughts in words instead of on my instruments through my compositions. This gave me a lot of material to talk about with my students as well. Thank you for that and thank you for publicize all these very important styles of music. I saw you also did a great interview with Rufus Reed, one of the great bass player I just collaborated with on his new CD as part of Sirius Quartet.

When did you start the website and how do you choose the artist you invite to do interviews?

JBN: – The site was launched in 2011, but before that there was a Facebook group called Jazz and Blues, which was not enough. And for the interview, I choose the musicians in the order of receiving the CDs, and the goal is to get to know them personally, so that I can decide correctly who to invite to the jazz and blues festivals I organize in Eastern European countries. I definitely don’t invite bum and stupid people, even if they are very famous in jazz.

JBN: – Have you ever given a free concert during your entire concert career? At the bottom line, what are your expectations from our interview?

GH: – Yes of course I played many benefit concerts during my career. Thank you for making me think about all the subjects you had in your questions. I don’t have expectations but hope many people read it, listen to my music and may be have some more appreciation about our profession.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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