An interview with Tord Gustavsen: It has to sound fresh and vibrant, not ‘new’ or ‘interesting’

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Jazz interview with jazz pianist Tord Gustavsen.  interview by email in writing.

JBN.S: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music? How did you start playing?

TG: – I started playing with my father when I was very little – he played the piano a lot at home at that time, and we improvised and made up songs together. Then I had some classical piano lessons, which were very good and important in terms of discovering repertoire etc., but the basic musical presence for me was always making up songs and improvising.

JBN.S: – What interested you in picking up the jazz piano?

TG: – If you define jazz loosely as improvisation, then I have always done that. Making music in the moment has always been a vital part of my way of expressing myself.  If you define jazz more narrowly, then my way into it was via gospel music and African-American spirituals, then via jazz-fusion music, into the more specific traditions of jazz music; and then hearing the masters of Scandinavian jazz – in particular Jon Balke, Jon Christensen, Audun Kleive, Nils Petter Molvaer and Tore Brunborg.

JBN.S: – What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the pianist you are today?

TG: – The closely integrated harmony and ear training classes during the first two years of my Conservatory studies in Trondheim, Norway were very important. So I am very grateful to Erling Aksdal and Jon Pål Inderberg for that. I have never had a specific piano teacher that was important for my development in jazz. Instead, I would mention Professor Rolf Inge Godøy at the Univserity of Oslo, who introduced me to the intriguing contemporary music theory based on Pierre Schaeffaer’s writings, and guided me in important steps towards integrating this theory with my more humanistic approach to music psychology, into an integrated phenomenology of improvisation that influenced my playing and my world-view. And the musicians and singers I have worked the most with, have been my most important teachers through developing together in tight musical dialogues; especially Jarle Vespestad, Simin Tander, Kristin Asbjørnsen, Solveig Slettahjell, Mahsa Vahdat, Mats Eilertsen, and Tore Brunborg.

JBN.S: – How has the Blues and Jazz culture influenced your views of the world?

TG: – A lot. The combination of musician’s sub culture and my own slightly “nerdy” theoretical interest has shaped me in a fruitful way.

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

TG: – I have never been very disciplined with practicing – mostly, I just start playing.. and then I come to musical fields where I feel challenges that I want to work with and I just stay with them for a while.. playing quite freely, but with a specific focus on for instance a technical challenge, a rhythmical intricacy, or on phrasing and spacing.

JBN.S: – Many aspiring musicians are always looking for advice when navigating thru the music business. Is there any piece of advice you can offer to aspiring students or even your peers that you believe will help them succeed and stay positive in this business?

TG: – Not really. The “business” is basically a very difficult landscape, and one has to have a combination of strong skills, stayer-ability and enducrance, positive energy and pure luck to be heard and seen and to make a living out of it. But, the basic advise would be to stick with what you believe in, try to play what you would yourself like to hear (rather than what you practice and think you ought to show off) – and then just hope that someone else likes it – because otherwise it will not be authentic and real. And then value and cherish musical relationship over time, be humble and self-assured at the same time, and be trustworthy and clear when it comes to agreements; and take initiative; invite musicians, play, do sessions, build things..

JBN.S: – Аnd finally jazz can be a business today and someday?

TG: – Well, not a business to be financially rich from.. the opportunities for that seem to get smaller and smaller. But it is still possible to build things and to develop things and to make a small but healthy totality, given the combination of skills, luck, positive thinking and entrepreneur spirit…

JBN.S: – What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past?  What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

TG: – In the past, jazz had a kind of innocence it can not have today –  just as ‘classical’ music has gone through phases of development into a phase where everything is already done in terms of breaking boundaries in developing shapes, harmony, melody, textures; a phase where looking for something ‘new’ is actually quite absurd; jazz has had its own development towards post-modernism where the belief in progress and something fundamentally new has to be abandoned; and then a kind of post post-modernism where authenticity is still possible, and where one can stop being ironic, and move beyond simply mixing styles. It is true that ‘everything‘ has already been done, but it is equally true that we can still contribute something of value and freshness, if we play what really feels real and necessary, and develop the specific fusions that truly express where we are as individuals; what we grew up what, and what engages us spiritually and emotionally – then, we can still develop unique voices. It has to sound fresh and vibrant, not ‘new’ or ‘interesting’.

JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?

TG: – Going back to the classical trio format that I started with; finding a fresh approach, one that feels un-forced, relaxed and vibrant and here-and-now. I like this challenge a lot these days.

JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between the blues/jazz and the genres of local folk music and traditional forms?

TG: – Yes, many – and important ones… I would like to expand on this, but that will have to be some other time. My work with Persian musicians and with Norwegian folk musicians have been very important in developing my own ‘jazz language’.

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

TG: – Olivier Messiaen, Johann Sebastian Bach, Ragnar Vigdal (ancient Norwegian folk singer), fiddle players Nils Økland and Gjermund Larsen,  Simin Tander, Wayne Shorter (always), Thomas Dybdahl, Tore Brunborg, Jarle Vespestad, Jan Johansson, James Blake …

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

 

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