Interview with Ben Sluijs: Playing and writing music is about expressing oneself, about projecting love: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Ben Sluijs. An interview by email in writing.

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

Ben Sluijs: – I grew up in Antwerp – Belgium, more in the country side at about 10 miles from the city. My Father listened a lot to classical music, and my younger brother played the piano, also classical. I got interested mainly by listening, and since my father was a very demanding man, playing music seemed a way to freedom.

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

BS: – I was playing the violin till i was 15, then i switched to saxophone. I knew the instrument and the way of playing solos mainly by the pop-, new-wave- ska bands of the eighties that had a saxophone. I first took a few years of intense classical lessons, but also wanted to improve my solo playing in the local band i was playing in. So i started taking lessons at the Antwerp Jazzstudio where i met John Ruocco. He remained to be my teacher for the comming five years, he taught me everything about jazz. Also the american vibeplayer Dave Pike was teaching ensemble at the school. His classes were so inspiring. We played mainly the blues and rhytm changes, Dave played always with us, everything by ear. The cats from other classes would come and jam along. It was a great period those years at the jazz studio. In fact we played 4 years of bop and tradition before really visiting other styles.

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

BS: – I was listening to the older masters first: Lester Young, Ben Webster, Johnny Hodges.. I feel i picked it up at the root and then developped further in listening also to Parker and Coltrane. I needed some time, especially with Coltrane, to get into his playing sound and music before he became my hero.

We where copying the masters too, the notes, the sound and rhytm, the phrasing. They would slowly get into your system. You learned what could be possible soundwise also, to think about the sound you wanted before- and while searching for it.

Sound has always has been an important issue to me. The phrase you will make, also rhytmically, what you hear, depends so much on your sound. It has to fit, or come at least close to the ideal in your head.

Of course i was experimenting with reeds, horns, mouthpieces too. The sound was also constant in evolution and changed over the years.

Conceptually i found more rest in this; maybe for the last 15years or so. I can enjoy listening to myself now in the recordings.

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

BS: – There are some pattern, diatonic sequences, that i often repeat, as so many other saxophone players. I have a book full of them, things i found myself or heard somewhere. Turning them around, upside down… trying to use them in harmonic standard situations. The rhytmic add often comes when trying to improvise with these pattern ad random, but is of course also inspired by all the rhytms you heard in the masters’ playing, by knowing the standard melodies, by readings (Big Bands experiences, books..)

Also of course practising with metronome, and computer does help to get the time straight while playing eightnotes, triplet variatons, double time, add random, odd meters…

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?

BS: – Also dissonance is another form of harmony, another form of consonance. The outside is just another kind of inside. Playing a major seven or a 9, #11.., in the swing period sounded already pretty far out for some ears then. It is also a question of familiarity, we get and got used to more tension. The extra tension we use now also sounds like home, where they originally where first used to make things sounding more outside, less obvious.

I think i do use tension and extended harmonies. That it does not always sound like that seems a good thing to me. If you really hear the tension before playing it, it is in fact already resolved when you hit it. In the same way you can sound very wrong with the “right” notes when you do not have an idea how they will sound before you play them.

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

BS: – I don’t. Disparate influences.. sounds much like jazz to me. Also these influences are what made me the musician i am today. There is no choosing in being- or not being influenced, you are, you were, and if you are an open musician, you will be influenced all the time by all kinds of music and styles. If i get touched, no matter where it comes from, i welcome it, want to understand it, turn it around, use it..

Jazz can embrace so many influences, it always has and always will.

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

BS: – Playing and writing music is about expressing oneself, about projecting love. You use all your tools given for that.

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

BS: – I see it different. If i give them what i really want, what seems to be the best i have to give, what seems right to me, there will always be at least some people touched by it i guess.

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

BS: – “Music is always new” said some writer. Rennaiscance music, sung by our kids: beautifull and fresh! A lot of young people are also interested in jazz. My daughters listen to Billy Holiday, Chet Baker..

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

BS: – Trane’s music was full of spirit, he always projected love. We know deep down what that means, we understand that, while at the same time it is unexplainable.

If there is a meaning in life, it has to do with the others, on the long or shorter term. It is about sharing too, If we use the term spirit or spirutual we are talking about something beyond our space-time experiences, something beyond words. Trane’s music embodies the unexplainable, and therefore the mysterious.

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

BS: – I don’t really know. I don’t have any frustrations about the musical world i’m living in myself.

Sometimes I wonder: how would Bird have played if he could have lived longer.

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

BS: – Bobo Stenson, Charles Lloyd, Miles & Wayne..

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

BS: – If our music can bring consolation, and some feeling of understanding in a way, that always makes sense.

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

BS: – I’m ok where i am, and in days i’m not, i’d put best more energy in better accepting my present circumstances and being gratefull for what i got already.

I live on a safe continent, have food shelter and love. Of course our times are going too fast sometimes, and it is hard to slow down or not to get caught in the overload.

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

BS: – Trying to stay close to oneself helps.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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