Interview with an ungrateful, impolite, dull, unhuman, drawn creature, as if guitarist Pete Feenstra. 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?
Pete Feenstra: – Born in Rotterdam, grew up in Holland and later Belgium, mum was English, dad Friesian, moved to UK in 63. Generally interested in music, until The Beatles came along then it became a passion, especially after moving to the UK.
From the Beatles I explored pop, rock, r&b, blues, jazz and beyond, from John Lee Hooker to Frank Zappa and Weather Report etc, via the British Invasion r&b bands including The Stones.
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Took me along time to find what I wanted to do. I got educated, traveled a lot and eventually became a music librarian. This led to promoting authors, sports people and eventually bands, as the authority I worked for wanted to expand libraries beyond their traditional reach. From there I became an arts officer, and ran a 600 capacity venue – literally learning on the job – and by the mid 90’s I went independent.
JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?
PF: – My role has been strictly song writing based. So to answer your question, my songwriting has evolved by keeping an open mind musically, and lyrically its all about being sparked by a phrase, a concept or a feeling…..the key to the blues.
JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?
PF: – Simply by making myself write even when there is not a lot of inspiration. Beyond that hustling people who can play, to try and make them turn the germ of an idea into a song.
JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?
PF: – The more you do and the more musicians and musical people that you meet, can lead you to places and songs that you might not have thought about before.
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JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
PF: – I think all music has to have some emotional connection between the person that creates it and the listener. It also depends on the kind of music. Some jazz can be very complex and demands rigor, while the simplest of blues can be very emotional. Ideally a musician is versatile and open enough to cross that divide.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?
PF: – I imagine most musicians epically vocalists would aim to do that, but even when you play jazz or blues that emotional impetus can be offset and balanced by use of humour, spectacle etc, but the bottom line is to make some sort of connection with the audience. When Miles Davis used to turn his back on his fans during a performance in the mid 80’s he could only get away with it because his audience was knowledgeable enough to know what made the man and what went into the making of his music. Zappa sometimes did the same when taking a mid-number break when conducting his orchestra size big band, but the focus at that point should have been on the music anyway, not him. I once asked Walter Trout how he managed to make an emotional connection with a song and his crowd night after night. He told me he projected himself into a situation where he thought of loved one etc.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in blues when most of standard tunes are half a century old?
PF: – I’m not very popular for saying this, but I honestly think the way forward is to incorporate blues into other styles and not be so hung up on a formal genre. Yes there is a rich past to draw on and learn from, but blues is a feeling and emotion that can reflect despair as well as being the touchstone for great party music. Back in the early 70’s it was less visible than it is now, but it didn’t disappear. Aside from the likes of Freddie and BB King, it was subsumed by rock, jazz and soul. Back then even Albert Collins wasn’t doing so well. So while Luther Allison, Albert Collins, John Lee Hooker and Buddy Guy carried the flame, as well as white boy guitarists, blues has always enjoyed its most success when not being sold directly as a genre.
The mega success of John Lee Hooker’s album ‘The Healer’, was rightly or wrongly predicated by selling beer and jeans adverts, and more generally the myth of blues. The album itself actually included blues, boogie, Latino, country, Americana etc
As regards connecting with a younger crowd, you could argue The White Stripes did it, and now The Back Keys etc. But we live in a digital world with very few people under 40 have experienced club gigs, which is the very backbone of blues and jazz. And that coupled with media apathy is a serious worry.
As in the past you can only potentially reach a small percentage of college educated kids and a few others, who are open minded enough to search beyond the MOR stuff. And to make that connection you have to do more that sing “I woke up This Morning”.
Also when you consider that statistically more women buy music than men, they are dealt a very poor card in the blues world.
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JBN: – John Coltrane once said that music was his spirit. How do you perceive the spirit and the meaning of life?
PF: – That’s a very subjective question. For me it’s about making a connection and finding mutuality with people, emotions and feelings, be it through music, art, cinema, travel etc. For others people it might be football!
JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?
PF: – Hard one to answer, it maybe having access to more music in outlets that are not so tied up with licensed premises, as it potentially restricts your crowd, or maybe music being recognized for the income it generates for the national exchequer, as such it should have far more media coverage.
JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?
PF: – More song driven music like John Hiatt, Mr. Sipp (both his blues and gospel), Canadian Americana artists Suitcase Sam, Janiva Magness’s heartfelt blues, contemporary message driven British blues by Emma Wilson, Afro jazz like Hugh Masekela, Mick Pini’s deep blues, the ambient music of Esbe, Danish blues like Thorbjorn Risager & The Black Tornado, Finnish slide guitarist Erja Lyytinen, old school stuff like Billy Butler, Albert Collins, Bette Smith, the lyrically driven Walter Trout, The Black Keys, harp-led blues Errol Linton, Mick Clarke’s one man blues, groove stuff by JJ Cale, the mind expanding Alice Coltrane, fusion like Alta Forma and always Frank Zappa.
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine: where and why would you really want to go?
PF: – Might sound a bit mundane, but Copenhagen 1979, where I first stated promoting, it was an inspiring place – a cosmopolitan city with a very open mind, and lots of music.
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Interview by Simon Sarg