July 12, 2024

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Interview with Bruno Heinen: Elvin Jones saw shapes in his mind when he improvised

Interview with pianist Bruno Heinen. An interview by email in writing.

Dear readers, get to know more about our US/EU Jazz – Blues Festivals and the activities of our US/EU Jazz – Blues Association in the capitals of Europe, we will soon publish program for 2024, enjoy in the July – August – Brussels, Berlin, Prague, Warsaw, Sofia, new addreses this year, also in Amsterdam, Budapest and Liverpool.

JazzBluesNews.com: – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music. 

Bruno Heinen: – I was born in Germany but moved to the UK when I was one years old. I was always surrounded by music. I come from three generations of classical musicians, but it was my uncle – jazz pianist Johannes Heinen who first got me into jazz. He gave me a record of Bill Evans, Sunday at the Village Vanguard. That was my way in – I started transcribing that record and went on from there.

OUR US/EU Jazz and Blues Festivals 2023

JBN: – What got you interested in picking up your musical instrument? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose your musical instrument?

BH: – I always loved the piano – it’s the easiest instrument to make a nice sound out of. I tried violin and cello before piano, but it just takes so long before you can actually sound nice on a string instrument. We had a piano in the house, and I began working tunes out on that. My classical teacher Andrew Ball was very interested in contemporary music. This has certainly had an impact on my jazz writing over the years. In terms of jazz teachers, I have also been lucky – John Taylor, Pete Saberton and Fred Hersch to name a few.

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

BH: – I think my sound, both on the instrument and in terms of my writing has been informed by eclectic references. I have always been into Messiaen, Bartók, Stockhausen and Charles Ives, but have been equally influenced by Duke Ellington, Wayne Shorter, Monk and Bill Evans. I think just the fact of getting deeper into these influences over time has developed my sound.

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

BH: – If I want to develop a particular area of my playing – rhythmic or otherwise, I always try to write something that explores that problem.

JBN: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?

BH: – Triads in their different inversions.

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

BH: – Music must have soul before anything else for me…the problem comes when artists write music that is too clever for its own good. Honest music, that is true to the artist is always more enjoyable to listen to if you ask me.

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

BH: – Jazz is many things, and there is a young audience for it for sure in London. Jazz is ever changing, and that’s the spirit of the music for me. Personally, I don’t end up playing standards very often anymore. There are trailblazing artists in the UK at the moment, blending improvised music with all sorts of things…if you don’t already – check out Shabaka Hutchings, Chelsea Carmichael and Maria Chiara Argirò to name a few.

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

BH: – Jazz is a way of life for me. Being in the moment and communicating with others, that’s the point for me.

JBN: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?

BH: – I hope to keep making music and connecting with people. My only fears are as a parent of a young child … there are plenty of concerns I have about the state of the world right now.

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

BH: – I would get rid of the sense of competition amongst some musicians – we are all on our own path and at our own pace – I don’t think social media helps…

JBN: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?

BH: – Absolutely, there is plenty of improvisation in many folk and world music’s.

OUR US/EU Jazz and Blues Association 2023

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

BH: – Duke Ellington.

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

BH: – 1890 France – I would have loved to hang out with the impressionist composers of that time.

Elvin Jones saw shapes in his mind when he improvised, Messiaen saw colours in his mind when he heard certain harmonies …

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Interview by Simon Sarg

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