Interview with Chris Abelen: No expectations, we will see what happens: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz trombonist Chris Abelen. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Chris Abelen: – I grew up in the south of the Netherlands. At the age of seven I got interested in playing the trumpet because of my neighbour, Harry Maas, who played the trumpet. And I didn’t like sports. But I didn’t understand the music theory so I quit and started over at the age of 11, performing in local bands.

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

CHA: – When I was rejected from the Academy of Music for trumpet I decided to study at a technical school (always liked to fix radio’s) but the theory was too hard to understand (again), so I quit and went working at a distribution centre unloading trucks and bought a trombone from the money I earned. Than I went back to the same Academy and was accepted for conducting and trombone as a second instrument. Later I quit the conducting and switched to the trombone as a main instrument. My first classical trombone teacher Charles Toet was the one who tought me to play long steady notes and legato (Rochut). And when I switched to jazz and improvised music Willem van Manen was a great influence (I took over his chair at the Willem Breuker Kollektief when I was in my last year at the Sweelinck Conservatory in Amsterdam).

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

CHA: – As with many brass players, it is a physical process, so at the age of eighteen you start sounding better, you don’t have to do anything for that.  And for my sound, it starts with listening. My favorite trombone player is Dick Shearer, lead trombonist in the Stan Kenton bigband. He has the best trombone sound, in my opinion. My sound is different, of course, in the jazz nobody should want to sound like anyone else, but the idea is still the Shearer sound. And the same old story how to achieve this, practise long notes, everyday. And also play a ballad as a warming-up in 4 different keys, in all ranges on the trombone (Maynard Ferguson approach). And I listened to others, like John Coltrane (talking about sound), Miles Davis (my favorite trumpet player and bandleader), Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. But you should also experiment with different trombones and mouthpieces to realise the sound you have in your head.

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

CHA: – About the rhythm part of playing, quite easy, start your metronome and consider each click as a 2nd and 4th beat. And then start playing and improvising. And in a three quarter measure, consider the click as a 2nd beat.

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

CHA: – I don’t prefer any harmony, there are all equal to me, it depends of the character of the piece. And I also learned to play without any harmony, as a former teacher of mine told me (Mischa Mengelberg), there are cows and beasts, so playing over jazz-chords is just a small part of improvisation.

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JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album 2018: <Songs On The Eve Of Dismissal>, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

CHA: – Hard to tell, I don’t have any preference for a specific song. But I like the way it was produced, we went to the studio only for the recordings, the mixing, mastering and production was done by me. More satisfying and less discussions with stubborn sound-engineers.

The album was formed from an idea I had with a friend of mine, Bastiaan Geleijnse, about writing an opera. But this isn’t easy to start with, so we decided to start with something more manageable like this Songs on the eve of dismissal project, about working in an office, and the main emotions involved in present-day office life: fear and loss of individuality. We released two albums, A day at the office (instrumental) and the Songs on the eve of dismissal album, same line-up but with Lorena del Mar singing the lyrics Bastiaan wrote. At this moment we are working on the theatrical part of the project, Bastiaan will also perform as a narrator.

JBN.S: – Which are the best jazz albums for you of 2017 year?

CHA: – Stanton Moore – With you in mind

Preservation Hall Jazz Band – So it is

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

CHA: – Never thought of, I just write the music and listen a lot to my compositions till the moment they are perfect. And then I release them. I got this idea from listening to string quartets, when they are good, you can listen to them over and over and discover each time something new. But Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven wrote the best string-quartets ever, so I don’t want to compare my music in any way with these great composers.

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

CHA: – Once I had a concert with my quintet and during this concert there was a lady who was talking all the time. Very disturbing, so I asked her after the concert why she didn’t stop while we were playing. She said ‘O, I supposed this was allowed because it is a jazz concert’. I asked her if she didn’t notice she was the only one. But she had no idea what I was talking about, so I gave her a CD of the band to catch up at home what she had missed.

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?

CHA: – As my trombone teacher Willem van Manen told me, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. So besides your playing, focus also on composing, arranging, teachingm, organise a band, produce albums.

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

CHA: – Yes it can and will be, but only for a few of us as a solist or member of a radio orchestra to make a living out of it. That’s why a lot of my colleagues teach, and some of them have to take a 2nd job outside the music business to earn a living. I myself work for 25 years as a professional engraver. Much better than delevering packages.

JBN.S: – Which collaboration have been the most important experiences for you?

CHA: – The years when I played with the Willem Breuker Kollektief in the eighties. A lot of touring in Europe and the US, playing each year some 120 concerts, always on the road. A great way to learn about band life.

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

CHA: – Quite easy, play the Amy Winehouse tunes. Great music, and very suitable for improvisation. I would recommend Adele, or Beyoncé also.

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

CHA: – Nice quote from Coltrane. But I don’t understand the spirit and meaning of life. Once I will, in the last minutes of my life, I hope.

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

CHA: – No expectations, we will see what happens. I once learned that we can’t change the whole world, so we should focus on what we can change.

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

CHA: – A change in the mind-set of most people about the music profession. In all the years I have played nothing has changed about that, people still think we are playing only for fun. So they expects us to play for free, because we like it so much to perform. But the baker also likes his profession but did you ever consider not paying him for his bread?

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

CHA: – Making a series of short Youtube movies, trombone and double bass. Theme – Impro – Theme. I like the idea to develop some monthly recurring performances instead of making an album every 10 years.

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

CHA: – Of course, you have good music and bad music. That has nothing to do which style you are playing.

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

CHA: – As mentioned before, a lot of string quartets, and Beethoven piano sonatas, opera, and jazz.

JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?

CHA: – Trombone Martin – Urbie Green model, mouthpiece Warburton (and Giardinelli).

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

CHA: – To the south of France, for the weather and the wine.

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

CHA: – Yes, I was wondering were and why did you start your magazine?

JBN.S: – The internet magazine JazzBluesNews.space after FB group Jazz & Blues. Celebrating jazz 24/7 since 2007. Editorial offices in Boston – MA – USA, Paris – France and in Yerevan – Armenia, the website is read all over the world. It has 33,392 followers and it is every day visited by more than 57,000 readers by visitor counter Google Analitics!!!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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