Interview with Philipp Gropper: It contains and transports everything a musician is: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Philipp Gropper. An interview by email in writing.

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

Philipp Gropper: – I was born and grew up in (West) Berlin. My parents listened a lot to music and somehow it got me quite early. I remember playing guitar, flute, „drums“ (on cooking pans etc) or piano along recordings as a kid, just listening and trying to find the notes or something that sounded good to me.

JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the saxophon?

PG: – When I was 7, a recording of Charlie Parker made me start playing the Alto.

JBN.S: – What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the saxophon?

PG: – The most important teachers for me were and still are the musicians I play with, the musicians I listen to – live or on recordings. I studied with Peter Weniger, David Friedman and Jerry Granelli at HdK Berlin (university of arts). John Ruocco also was a important teacher for me during my time at BuJazzo with all the beauty he found in melody, rhythm and sound. But mainly and most of the time I was learning as an autodidact.

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

PG: – Well … I try to play and practice what I want to hear and not to play or practice what i don’t want to hear. I need to practice constantly to feel close to the tenor and music. It is a constant, never ending process for me.

But I think you have to be very awake and aware with practicing – like with food. Once practiced, it is part of you. Also I think the attitude towards music is equally important and shaping your sound and style as much as practicing is.

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

PG: – I make up exercises every day, mainly practice what comes to my mind. Abstract, but also specific music for bands I play in. Of course also rhythmical things are on my mind a lot. Rhythm has so many aspects. Polyrhythms, layers, relations of time. In the grid and around the grid. Also bigger Rhythms that shape a form etc.

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

PG: – Same goes for harmonies and patterns. There are so many ideas and possibilities. Then also every musical context offers new ideas if you look closely. But I could mention George Russels <lydian chromatic concept of tonal organisation>, John Ruoccos Hexatonics and Classical Composers like Messiaen as big influences in that field.

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?

PG: – PG: –Love it or let it be. I think we all have to deal with many obstacles in that business. Egos, the money-ruled aspects of it, a lack of openness, tough travelling etc. So it is important to find ways to deal with these obstacles in order to stay open and free to love sound and music. To me this is the one source that keeps me going. I also accepted the organizing side as part of the creating. If you want to make your band play and create music on stage, you can’t get around it.

JBN.S: – Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?

PG: – Yes. It is kind of a jungle, and I think you simply have to build your own structures. Structures that allow you to make your living and stay flexible and creative. I never thought of the busines-side of music while creating, for me it always works the other way around.

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

PG: – Show them the good stuff! There is so much fantastic, exiting „jazz“ happening. Very often you don`t hear the interesting music in the radio, don’t find the good bands as headliners of festivals, on covers of magazines etc but it exists, a lot of it !

And if you want to keep the tradition of covering popular music then cover actual popular music. That is what they did in their times.
The longer I play music, the more important it becomes and the more clearly I perceive what a band conveys, which message it sends out. This essence, which can be experienced through the transcendant quality of music, is what it is all about, and it is absolutely independent of style or set-up. Sole virtuosity, sole flights of intellect or the elevator-approach bore me – what I want is directness and aura.

I am deeply connected to tradition and constantly try to understand and carry forth its liveliness and fire – which could only develop in the context of its time ; and this secure the old masters their lasting impact.

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

PG: – I understand music as a highly transcendal medium – it contains and transports everything a musician is. Like the aura a person has.

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

PG: – I hope, societies wake up soon and fight the biggest enemy of our times: the neoliberalistic madness.

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

PG: – There are frontiers in all the parameters of music, in beeing a musician, I try to push forward for myself.

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

PG: – Yes. Steve Lacy once said: „the only thing that matters is one thing – is this stuff alive or is it dead.“ My definition of jazz is a very wide one, so I find common ground and similarities in actualy all forms of music.

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

PG: – Many different. Electronic guys like Grisha Lichtenberger, Hip Hop, new music Boulez, Ligeti, always coming back to the old cats but also actual like Peter Evans etc.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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