Interview with Clemens Grassmann: Share your love and passion and live in peace: Photos, Video

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Jazz interview with jazz drummer, composer and arranger Clemens Grassmann. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Clemens Grassmann: – I was born on 03/02/1991 in Berlin, Germany, to a musical family; my father is a well known guitar player and famous for his radio-, TV- and live music appearances in the old West Berlin and beyond; thus I was introduced to musical instruments like the guitar, keyboard, percussion instruments at a very young age and eventually started playing the drums at the age of ten. My father was definitely my biggest inspiration to start listening to music and trying out different instruments. After I got my first keyboard, I played a christmas music set for my family in 1997 (still have the cassette tape), but what started to excite me more and more were its built-in musical groove sample buttons, which played midi versions of Rock, Samba, Funk, Techno and made me dance and rock out.

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

CG: – A large variety of music and musicians, but to begin with, I remember listening to my father’s vinyls and cassette tapes as a young boy and what excited me the most at that time were Deep Purple featuring Steve Morse (my dad’s favorite guitar player), Eric Johnson (Cliffs of Dover), Huey Lewis, Jackson 5 and Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. I couldn’t stop listening and can recall moments we spent in the car where I couldn’t sit still on my seat and kept jumping against my seatbelt. That GROOVE just hit me. Eventually, as I grew older, I started playing drums in elementary school music projects and my high school big band, which made me fall in love with Jazz drumming. I focussed more on Jazz and big band drumming, got accepted to a pre study preparation program in Berlin, started taking theory-, voice- and piano lessons again, and played and practiced a ton! I spend countless hours watching Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, Louie Bellson, Sam Woodyard, Papa Jo Jones and many many more legendary drummers playing with their big bands and most definitely from that point on, I was mesmerized.

A very important teacher and mentor that prepared me intensively to get accepted to music conservatories was Prof. Mario Würzebesser at the Berlin Jazz Institute. He brushed up my technique, versatility of styles and enhanced my musical craft and knowledge, which led me to pursue Jazz/Rock/Pop drumming at the music conservatory in Dresden, Germany with Prof. Sebastian Merk and Prof. Griener. Then came the summer of 2011. I spend two weeks in Umbria, Italy, experiencing some of the most amazing shows of my life, took part of the Berklee Umbria Summer Clinics and met Prof. Ron Savage. I was fascinated by his playing and deep teachings, took private lessons, and eventually moved to Boston, MA, to study with him at Berklee College of Music after I had received my scholarship. I entered a different universe. At Berklee, I was blessed to study not only with my by then friend and mentor Ron Savage, but I was also able to study with Neal Smith, Kenwood Dennard, Billy Kilson, Ralph Peterson Jr. and Terri Lyne Carrington. As an active member of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute, I took lessons with Danilo Perez, John Patitucci, Joe Lovano, Ben Street, George Garzone, Dave Liebman, David Gilmore, Kenny Werner and many more. My entire three years at Berklee were full of inspiration, intense studying, practising, performing, learning. I soaked up music like a sponge, never got tired to intensify my studies, work harder, push my limits to the extremes and when it was time for my Senior Recital, I decided to capture that moment by recording my first album Labyrinths and Tales with my Berklee gang.

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

CG: – In a nutshell, listening to a lot of music, transcribing music and practicing some eight hours a day. Moreover, playing at jam sessions and while playing being receptive and open minded and being an active part of the musical community and my surroundings, the musicians on stage and the audience, while being interactive, inspiring and feeding off each other. My sound changed tremendously while studying with Ron Savage; he taught me how to PLAY; and when I learned the rudimental ritual, Alan Dawson’s genius exercise, that teaches timing, articulation, phrasing, technique, independence, volume and control all at once.

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

CG: – Alan Dawson’s rudimental ritual, Ted Reed’s Syncopation, George Lawrence Stone’s Stick Control and Ralph Peterson’s motion studies. My practice basically builds up on the rudimental ritual, I keep a foot pattern and drill my hands to work on top of that. I do the same with Syncopation and Stick Control. Then, I focus on musical vocabulary, comping (accompaniment), playing songs and song forms and working on musical ideas.

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in?

CG: – I like combining traditions with extended harmonies such as Coltrane changes and modern sound approaches, modal patterns and harmonic developments. I practice my comping a lot and thus I am focussing on playing the harmonies of a composition on the drums. As the drums are not limited to specific note pitches, I can create my own voicings and add tensions, spread voicings, clusters, mellow sound pads, atmospheric sounds and power chords. I choose depending on the musical context and what in my opinion supports the music best and creates tension and release. At Berklee, the term we were told is harmonic rhythm. I like that expression. It really fits.

JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

CG: – I would try not to prevent, but to acknowledge, understand and if possible chanel these influences into my musical craft. Inspiration can come from anywhere!

JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album 2019: <Midnight Apple>, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

CG: – What I love the most about Midnight Apple is that it is the result of honest, passionate, structured and dedicated work and really reflects my musical experience of my life here in New York City. I love the incredible team, that made this possible, starting with my outstanding band that played their hearts out in just four hours of recording time, the post production team of sound engineers, graphic designers, friends and supporters who told me this album is enhancing their mood and brightening their days.

I already have ideas and some music ready for the next album – I do not want to give away too much – but I can say it is going to be something completely different and will contain vocals and lyrics.

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

CG: – I love this question! To answer this, I would like to mention and compare this to the principle of Yin and Yang as equivalents. Both intellect and soul exist as inseparable and sometimes even contradictory natures, they attract and complement each other and one would not dwell without the other, as each of their cores is also represented in the respective other part. In my opinion, you always need both, a body and mind understanding of the nature of things to some extent to truly grasp a concept or situation. By that, I mean specifically that in order to play music, you need to learn about it, yet you have to figure out your own way how to balance it out in a way that works best for you. A body experience can come from musical gatherings in any form such as churches, concerts or jam sessions, and the mind experience comes from hours of studying at schools, libraries, in your practice room or home desk. Both natures are essential to play to your full capacity. While studying with Kenwood Dennard, I learned how to put myself out of my comfort zone and intentionally throw me off balance – just to see what would happen and how this would affect my playing. Additionally, Kenny Werner taught me how to disconnect from one or the other and simply let the music flow out of the body, which can only happen if you practiced well in advance.

JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

I love giving people what they want, and I can do that best if I am honest with my craft and aware of who is listening and how the audience responds and interacts.

JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

CG: – One gig I would like to point out is my first show at Rockwood Music Hall, when I wanted to perform with my quartet, saxophone, guitar, bass and drums and none of all the horn players I called could make it. I did not have the time to teach my music to another new horn player, so I simply called up my other guitar player who I also love playing with. These incidents and situations kept happening a few more times and I love this kind of problem solving, as it makes me deal with a situation as fast and effectively as possible – and the unexpected outcomes expand your musical horizon and offer new possibilities. In addition to that, in fact, it initiated the concept of the instrumentation of Midnight Apple and I adopted my writing accordingly to this new idea and concept of playing with two guitar players at the same time, then I decided to add the two saxophones on top to create a new unique musical experience.
Locating a recording studio made me realize that New York is such an incredible place. When I first recorded at Big Orange Sheep with my friend and comrade Enrico Bergamini for his debut album Out of Place, while entering into the building, I saw Christian Scott and Marcus Gilmore stepping out. I recognized them and they told me they had just recorded there. Listening to the albums that come out of there and seeing this studio manifested my decision that there would be no other place to record other than there.
I also want to give a huge shout out to my favorite jam sessions in Brooklyn, at Father Knows Best, where I met Nick Dunston for the first time and we immediately locked in, and The Wilky, where I go with saxophonist Alex Madeline all the time, as well as the legendary Berklee jam session where I met David Milazzo: At Wally’s in Boston.

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

CG: – Most people that are not used to listen to Jazz, sometimes do not even know that it is Jazz they are listening to. Old standards are constantly reinterpreted, funky grooves and modern spices add to a whole new experience. Actually, a lot of young people I meet at sessions or shows notice our musical interchange and energy, we call it our “vibe”, and sense our strong musical community, which excites and interests them. The idea would be to break with old prejudices (about Jazz) and open your mind, ears and heart and let the music speak. Our society nowadays really needs that open-mindedness as well.

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

CG: – Music is my life and my religion. Music teaches you about yourself and your own mind, body and soul. At the same time, music is very manipulable, sound waves are altered and combined and when they hit an eardrum or human body they affect the cells, the nature of life and growth. Scientific studies show that plants grow differently when exposed to different music, human bodies and souls heal with music, music therapy provides help for many people in need. Music teaches you how to stay true to yourself. Music teaches you how to share. Music teaches you how to open your perception, expand your horizons, learn, grow, interact with many different people from all around the world, different cultures from different continents, developments of societies. Music teaches you to accept and understand people and affects all your senses in a deep way. Music teaches you about history, songs are sung to remember people or historical events. Music teaches you emotions. Music can lift you up, give you energy, motivate you, make you angry, upset you, make you cry and bring back memories. Music is here to share and everyone can understand this language if they simply open up and listen. Music reflects peace, love and passion.

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

CG: – People condemning and destroying dedicated musicians’ works. We all know no music is for everyone, but let people choose by themselves by listening and experiencing.

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

CG: – Checking my most recent plays, I see Joe Henderson’s In ‘n’ Out and Tetragon, Nate Smith and Kinfolk, Roy Haynes’ Out of the Afternoon, Jackie Mc Lean’s Right Now! , Walter Smith III live in Paris and Joe Lovano’s Us Five.

JBN.S: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

CG: – Open your mind, eyes, ears, hearts and souls. Be kind and respectful to each other, no matter of their heritage or beliefs. Share your love and passion and live in peace.

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

CG: – To Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem in the early to mid 20th century during and after the great Harlem Renaissance.

JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…

CG: – What keeps your interest and motivation alive to interview musicians? What do you get out of it, what do you learn and what affects you the most?

JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. I will find out more about the musician and mostly I and our many-readers are interested in the answers.

JBN.S: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?

CG: – Enjoy the beauty of life every day and every second. Work honestly and passionately and choose your friends wisely. Be grateful for who I am, what I achieve and the support of others. Share what you can. Do my best to help heal humanity and the planet. Make people happy, awake emotions, wake people up from their closed-mindedness, open their souls and hearts, spread love and peace and leave no trash behind.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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