May 22, 2024

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Interview with David Helbock: We sometimes engage in free improvisation, where I truly don’t know where we’re going

Interview with pianist David Helbock. 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. – Please explain your creative process?

David Helbock: – I don’t have “one” creative process. I guess it differs from time to time. For example, many years ago, I did a compositional project where I wrote one tune every day for a whole year. During that year, my creative process was definitely different than it is now.

OUR US/EU Jazz and Blues Festivals 2024

Our US/EU Jazz-Blues Association Festivals 2024 with performances by international musicians

OUR US/EU Jazz and Blues Festivals 2023

I think you can practice creativity and have to “keep the wheel” rolling. But even now, I usually sit at the piano and improvise until I find an idea (could be anything – just a sound, or some chords, or a rhythm) that is special to me, and then I build a piece around it. Also, a notebook is useful for me – so I can write down little ideas on which I want to work later.

JBN: – What are your main impulses to write music?

DH: – Actually, I just want to be creative. There is no big difference in feeling for me between writing music myself, arranging other people’s music in my style, or even learning new music by others. When I write music myself, many times it’s a little bit like an etude for me. I use something I have not used in my pieces before, but that I want to learn (again – could be anything), and then I build a piece around it and play it with my bands.

JBN: – What do you personally consider to be the incisive moments and pieces in your work and/or career?

DH: – I would say the most incisive moments are always the first time a new idea for an album comes to my mind. It’s usually some kind of concept I have, whether it’s a cover album, original tunes, or some other theme, and mainly with whom I want to record it. These moments and ideas often come to me in my sleep and dreams. I make sure to listen carefully to these ideas because they typically determine what I will focus on for the next whole year. Once I have decided, I invest 150% of my energy and time, moving from one album to the next, from one year to the next.

JBN: – Before we jump into anything historical, can you tell us about what we can expect musically at a concert of yours?

DH: – Very, very different again. Of course, I strive to find my own voice in music, and I believe I have achieved that to some extent. I have developed a distinct way of playing the piano, incorporating a lot of inside piano techniques, and I frequently use electronics. However, in terms of the music itself, it really depends on which album project of mine you encounter. I have created cover albums featuring music by Prince, John Williams, Hermeto Pascoal, Thelonious Monk, and much more. I’ve also produced albums with only original compositions, projects inspired by classical music composers like Beethoven, Bach, or Schönberg. I have worked with very traditional lineups, such as normal piano trios with piano/bass/drums, but I’ve also explored projects with highly unique instrumentation.

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JBN: – Are there sub-genres within the jazz field that you tend to stay away from or focus on?

DH: – I just enjoy a wide variety of music, including classical music, modern contemporary music, Brazilian music, traditional jazz, pop music, and much more. Most of the time, I delve into these genres, find specific concepts I love, and incorporate them into my own musical world.

JBN: – When was your first desire to become involved in the music & what do you learn about yourself from music?

DH: – I keep learning constantly. It’s not just about the music; it’s about life and becoming a better person, and music serves as a way for me to express that journey. In terms of when I started, I somehow grew into it. My father is also a musician and has a vast record collection. I’ve always been surrounded by diverse and exceptional music played from records at home. Additionally, my father took me to a solo concert of Michel Petrucciani when I was around 6 years old, and that experience had a significant impact on me.

JBN: – How would you describe and rate the music scene you are currently living?

DH: – I live part-time in Vorarlberg (western Austria), Vienna, and Berlin, so I’m constantly on the move. I am always on the road, primarily with my own projects. Consequently, I don’t consider myself a significant part of either the Vienna or Berlin music scenes. However, I still like to stay up-to-date with what is happening in both places. Both Vienna and Berlin have vibrant music scenes, particularly with a lot of talented young artists emerging.

JBN: – When you improvise, you know where you’re going. It’s a matter of taking certain paths and certain directions?

DH: – We sometimes engage in free improvisation, where I truly don’t know where we’re going. However, most of the time, we have specific tunes and arrangements that we use – they’re flexible, and we improvise on top of them, exploring paths we’re somewhat familiar with. Interestingly, I rarely create a setlist before a concert. My decisions about which tune to play next are usually based on my feelings in the moment, making the setlist a form of improvisation as well.

JBN: – Do you ever get the feeling that music majors, and particularly people who are going into jazz, are being cranked out much like business majors? That they are not really able to express themselves as jazz musicians?

DH: – I don’t know. The music business is tough. I see so many talented young musicians graduating from universities every year, but I don’t know where they can all perform. The number of clubs, festivals, and record labels is decreasing, not increasing. Many of my colleagues eventually turn to teaching, switch to pop music, or start composing film scores. Pursuing a career solely as a performer, especially in jazz, is challenging. I believe we need to provide more funding and support for clubs and festivals.

JBN: – What has given you the most satisfaction musically?

DH: – It’s always about that new idea. It’s about that freshness, that newness. However, once I get into the routine of touring extensively, it starts to get monotonous fairly quickly. That’s when I start craving something new and different, and the cycle begins again.

OUR US/EU Jazz and Blues Association 2023

JBN: – From the musical and feeling point of view is there any difference between a old and great jazzmans and young?

DH: – Of course, there is value in learning from older and more experienced players, and young musicians can and should always seek guidance from them. On the other hand, older musicians should strive to maintain the fresh, youthful, almost childlike spirit in their music to keep their creativity alive and vibrant.

JBN: – What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career?

DH: – Follow the music and ideas that YOU love and just do it, without worrying about what other people, managers, or critics think. In the end, you’ll have enjoyed the journey, even if nobody else liked it.

JBN: – Do You like our questions? 

DH: – Yes, those were very different questions. I enjoyed the interview. Thanks for providing a websit!


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