John V. Baer interviews Allan Botschinksky on 12.06.04
John: Allan, in 1993 You moved with Marion to London. Why did you move to England?
Allan: We were living in Italy and I was playing a lot in the north.
It was very difficult to travel and in Italy there was no work. I moved
to England with Marion, we had a lot of work with the Bert Kaempfert
Orchestra here. I alway liked London and enjoyed the high standard
of the english musicians.
It was a nice chance to be close to the scene there. There were a lot of concerts, which interested me, modern classical as well as traditional classic and jazz. In addition, I was quite busy with the Third Way (see
article) in Denmark and London was much closer to Copenhagen than Florence.
John: This move also coincided with your active, new interest in "classical"
music. What influenced you, a man firmly rooted in the jazz tradition, to develop an interest in modern classical music?
Allan: This interest began in the 1960's, even before that when I was quite small, I was interested in this "funny" kind of music, which I had not heard before. It made me very curious to see what was going on in that area of music. My father was always interested in new music, for him it was Bela Bartok und Strawinsky. That had a great influence an me. In jazz I have always been interested in new directions. For instance, when Weather Report came out, I said, ooopps! That's omething I've never heard before. Also modern Harmonising - Stan Getz und so -, progressive improvisations ... I was always curious about things I didn't know, hadn't heard before.
John: Would it be wrong to say, you had satisfied your interest in jazz and were looking for new musical impulses?
Allan: Yes, one could say that. At that time, I played a lot of so-called "free jazz", especially with Ali Haurand. His band was a nice mixture. He braucht "free players" together with more traditional players like myself and sometimes we had luck and created some very nice music.
John: What instruments were in the group?
Allan: There were different combinations. Most of the time, it was a quintett - piano, bass and drums with Tenor sax and trumpet. Sometimes the group was larger, but the basic gouping was the quintett. We played a lot in those days with Enrico Rava.
John: What I'd like to focus on today is the basic differences and similarities between jazz and modern classical music, let's say, on the creative edge of classical music. which has been your focus for the past several years.
Allan: In classical music the composer is responsible for the music, to plan and write the whole thing, be the "one and only" actually. Of yourse, you need some players...
John: Unfortunately yes, you need a few players....
Allan: (laughing) yes, and hofefully there are some players into that
kind of music which you write.
Whereas in jazz, it can be from totally free to the more "organised" kind of playing, Where you use a theme to Improvise.
John: For me, I consider Your first CD with MY Music, First Brass, almost "classical", although you use jazz harmonies, rhythms and themes, it is all written out ...
Allan: but it is played by jazz musicians and that's a very important difference.
John: What makes the differnt, the groove?
Allan: Yeh, the groove, phrasing and tradition. In First Brass it's the big band tradition. That means that exerbody hast To know that style and how to phrase the music.
John: Let's say we took one of the pieces from First Brass in score and sent it to one of the universities and asked some up and coming traditionals classical players to play it. Do you mean it wouldn't "work"?
Allan: It would be totally different. It would sound different, of course. I must also say, that nowadays, "classical" students often have experience with big band. If there were a couple of players with big band experience, they could lead the group. It has to have this kind of feeling.
John: Classical music also has certain traditions. Before th second world war, they played classical music much differently than they do now. I think of the recordings of the famous violinist Fritz Kreisler (?) he plays with an incredible amount of "schmalz", sliding around on the strings and tons of rubato. The poor pianist is constantly waiting for him to come down from a high note. (laughs) This "tradition" is totally out of fashion these days.
John: Do you think in 100 years that the jazz traditions of today will also be lost or out of fashion, so that First Brass couldn't be played like you meant it.
Allan: If you could give the score to some jazz players in 30's....
John: Now I'm sure that would be different.
Allan: If you took it to a good jazz orchestra of thoses days, they would play it almost like I meant it.
John: If you gave it to Benny Goodman, or Glenn Miller... They would play it correctly?
John: If they could play it technically....
Allan: Yeah, they were quite good - fantastic.
John: What goal have you set for yourself in this excusion into the classical genre?
Allan: My goal is to write good music for classical players. Manny of them are not only interessted in old classical music, but want to play some more modern works, differnt and new music. Some let's say "fresh" music in a style they can play and perform. Something that I think is nice to play and also nice to listen to.
John: What qualities do you have as a composer, which you can bring to the classicla repertoire?
Allan: The first piece which I wrote in the classical style was commisioned for a television show called, "The Music of Allan Botschinsky". I had a free hand and wuite a good budget. I was at the time into "Earth, Wind and Fire". I collected a band together and wrote some music for differnt ensmbles. One piece for harp tenor and trumpet
John: A jazz Harpist?
Allan: Yeah...an american tenor player and a harp player from New York.
I only wrote the chords for her and she could play it.
John: She could comp on the harp?
Allan:She couldn't play jazz really, but she knew exactly what I wanted...
In this whole thing, I felt I had to write something for String Quartett. I always liked the sound of stings. And I had this book....
John: "How to write for Sting Quartett"?...
Allan: "How to write for Stings" (laugh) And I studied the
book and tried things on the keyboard.. I wrote a short thing, four
or five minutes, for stingquartett. An I got some excellent players
from the Royal Opera and they said, "Nice, nice". And it
sounded quite good. Later on, after the show was aired, I got a set
of the Bartok String Quartetts, as a gift from friends...
I thought, "What's this". I knew of Bartok, but had never looked into the Quartetts. I discovered that I had used many techniques which Bartok had used. And I thought, "what kind of melody can I use? I come from the jazz world and I can only write jazz...
John: Was that the time you wrote "Sentiments"
Allan: No, Sentiments came later. Maybe thre or four years later.
JB., You just said, "I come from jazz and can only write jazz..." What do you mean ... harmonically, rhythmically, phrasing, articulation...? What do you mean? What is that?
Allan: Actually I do come from a classical tradition. Both my parents play classical instruments professionally. I grew up in a classical household but from an early age I was very interested in jazz. I was 6 or 7 years old and I heard some american march music from John Phillip Sousa.
John: American marchingband music?
Allan: That's very different from European band music. More syncopated. And then I heard something called "New Orleans Jazz". Buddy Bolding and ... In those days they had one hour a week of jazz in the radio.
John: What fascinated you so much about this early jazz?
Allan: It was something I hadn't heard before ... the rhythm, melodies, phrasing...
John: So, you spent most of your life playing jazz with other jazz musicians....
Someone who has had a long and successful career in that musical genre
and who now says "I think I'll go swim in another stream"...
It takes a lot of courage ... or folly..
Allan: Yeah, but it didn't happen overnight. My father actually encouraged my playing jazz, but he said, you have to have a good education, you have to learn to read notes... So I got a good teacher and was taught to play bit of piano.
John: When I heard that you were doing some work in the classical area, I thought it was very exciting. In the 70's I spent several years in that "modern-classical" area, serial techniques and crazy improvisations. an also that kind of "performance" music.
Allan: yeah, yeah...
John: I think I once told you the story of a piece I played - in public!- where I had to listen to a taped poem which mentioned different fruits. I should eat a piece of fruit and sontaneously play my reaction. The only problem was the timing the fruits were mentioned so quickly one after the other, that I was only eating fruit and had no time to play.
Allan: (laughing) Yeah right!
John: I have to say, after having spent several years in that area, I came to the conclusion: This is silly, I've had enough of this... I have to go do yomething serious... What attracts you there?
Allan: Nothing attracts me to the kind of music which you describe. One time and that's it! I'm very traditional... It either is jazz or has to be written down very carefully... Free jazz or free classical music was never really my thing.
John: Where Do you think modern classical music is going? I think that music is a play on emotions. That may be old-fashioned but I really believe that music in general is emotional. It's not something for your intellect.
Allan: Your right.
John: It seems where modern classical music went was in an extremely intellectualised area, ignoring the emotional component of the music. And so the style burned out, because that is not the realm of music. If you want to be intellectual you should write books.
Allan: Yeah, you can read a passage over and over again until you get the meaning, but music is hear and now.
John: If we accept my description of where modern lcassical music went after the second world war...what's the future?
Allan: Modern music of today is much more "oldfashioned" and
totally away from that over-intellectualised style. In a way, it's
looking back. Very traditional harmonies...but in a different way,
because we hear differently.
And waht was also important for me, a melody, a theme is important. That I have from jazz. You only can play one note at a time and when you are improvising over a theme, you are playing a melody. So I believe, that it's heading toward more chords - harmonies - and melodies combined with what has been picked up on the way.
John: If it's going back to major-minor harmonies, do you mean also with the influence which jazz has had.
Allan: from Jazz, pop, rock...like the Beatles had a big influence. You
don't have to go through a whole chord progression... you can just
jump to a new harmony.. an it sounds fresh..."Of course, of course...
you can do that!"
But at the same time, it has to stimulate the ear.
John: So with all this, would you say, you want to bring your knowledge of harmony which you have from jazz and your special talent with melodies into a classical frame?
Allan: Yes, into a frame where classical musicians can play it.
John: So basically you write for musicians.
Allan: Yes, always. I grew up with musicians around me and I am a musician my self. When I write I feel like a musician. When you play in a big band, you write for the players in the band. And when writing for quintett you tailor the music to your collegues.
John: you mentioned that in the middle of the 90's the movement: The Third Way. Would you tell me a little about your experiences in that group.
Allan: It started as a project for Jazz musicians to get experience writing for classical orchestra. Also how to conduct.
John: You were involved in this project as a teacher or participant.
Allan: I was a kind of pupil.
John: what kind of experiences did you make there?
Allan: I got into contact with a very broad spectrum of musicians. People who were interested in this crossover area. Jazz musicians who wanted to write for orchestra. Learning how to get it to sound correct. And how to write it down so that the players could play your ideas.
John: Who lead this group?
Allan: That was Bo Holten.
John: He's an ochetrator?
Allan: Composer and orchestrator.
John: more in the classical area?
Allan: Yes, but also with an interest and a kind of background in jazz.
John: What was the most interesting aspect of this project for you?
Allan: It was important to produce material. They said, next time we will have a string quartett coming in, so write something for string quartett. so, take this melody , harmonise it and write it out for sting players. We learned also the technical aspects of writing for those players, range, keys, clefs, etc.
John: From the article I read, it seems that you had the great luxury of writing something and then almost imediately having it played by excellent players. A great chance!
Allan: And also to be able to talk to the players about what worked and what didn't.
John: That's really fantastic....In the article, the journalist divided the music world into "rhythmic musicians and classical Musicians. This was for me a new way to catagorize musicians.
Allan: That's an expression which is special to Denmark. There you have, for instance, the classical conservatory and the "rhythmic conservatory".
John: The "Rythmic Conservatory" is really called that?
Allan: Yes,and it's for training musicians in the popular and jazz traditions.
John: It's a good kind of catagorisation actually. It's not limited to the jazz tradition but also takes in rock and other popular forms. Do you think you can capture this special quality which "rhythmic" music has, when you write it down?
Allan: The "jazz feeling", i think, is not possible to write down...unless you write something for someone who comes from that tradition. Many younger players today have experience in jazz and understand the feeling.
John: You have started a series of pieces for solo instruments...called Coulours. Do you always write for a specific musician when working on these pieces?
Allan: Mostly, as much as possible. Also for larger ensembles - writing for a special orchestra... It's important for me to know how it will sound. I have to have the sound of the player in my ear, when I write. I always think in "sound". I would write differntly for different players, depending on their "sound", their approach to their instrument...The emotions they bring out ...
John: You sent me a recording of a piece called "Sketsches for Cello" is that a preliminary study for "Colours for Cello"?
Allan: Yes, I had been working on the "Colours for Cello" and the promoter of one of the concerts in Denmark called and said,"It's a catastrophe! The concert is in two weeks and we only have three pieces." I said, "OK, I have something here... I will finish it... or finish it off ... and that was performed at the concert. Later I took the material, took it apart again and wrote the final version of "Colours for Cello".
John: Even though the "Sketches" is only a kind of first draft, I must say it shows a competence in writing for cello, which is amazing.
Allan: (laughs) Thanks ...
John: and you have a very good cello player!
John: But what strikes me most ist that it is not jazz. It is very "classical"
in approch and sound.
Allan: For me, in a way, it is actually a kind of crossover work. All the intervals are coming from jazz. The harmonic background is from jazz. And the feel and the rhythmical ideas also come from jazz. I feel that it is, in a way, jazz....it doesn't sound like jazz, but.... And the cellist is not a jazz player ... so she plays it "straight"
John: yes, she does play it "straight", maybe that's why I don't hear the jazz elements so clearly...
Allan: Most of the things I have written come from jazz... I can say,
this is typical John Coltrane...and that interval.... For me it's crossover...
It's not strictly jazz... If I write more to the jazz direction of
crossover, then...I don't want to get "corny" and write something
that then sounds wrong ... a classical player trying to play jazz...
Where you say, " Oh my God!..." You have to write they way
the player would phrase it, and then it works. The intervals ... The
younger players today are used to playing "new"
music and they can play the most "impossible" things, and that's one thing that attracted me. For a good classical player you can just write because they can play everything. Whereas, jazz players... when you write something outside their "field", then they can follow any longer. They can't play it, because it has to some from the Coltrane tradition or further back, like Charlie Parker and so.... So if you suddenly write some totally different intervalls... it goes wrong. Where the classical players just play it.
John: Would you say, that when you're writing for classical players, the jazz influence is more hramonic und melodic than rhythmic?
Allan: Actually, yes.
John: I think that's really the way to go. New classical music needs more interest in attractive harmonies nad melodies to wove away from the atonal experiments of the last few decades...
Allan: Yes, for me, all my music is very tonal, but I like to "stretch it as much as I can... without losing the tonal roots... It's more what I hear out of the jazz background... so I can do very strange sounding things ... but it has to end somewhere.
John: Start somewhere and end somewhere...
Allan: Yes, like western music has always done.
John: So where are you going from here?
Allan: I have projects in progress ... The Colours series... which is also built around Goethe's "Farbenlehre" (Theory of colors). I use that as an inspiration and try to write in colors. Like, the first part of the piece is green...then comes a red part .. and then...
John: I have read studies of people who connect certain colors to musical esxperiences, especially keys... D Minor is dark blue ... E Major is yellow ... Do you yourself relate keys to colors?
Allan: Actually not. I try to write a ceratin feeling associated with the color. This piece "Colours for Cello" is mostly blue, different schades of blue.
John: What key? Does it have a key?
Allan: No, most of the time it has no fixed key signature.
John: But it has a tonal center?
Allan: Yeah, but that changes constantly.
John: But it starts somewhere and goes somewhere ...
Allan: Yeah..but not necessarily in the same key. Because it's not fixed major/minor ...
John: So it's more of an abstract emotional/psychological feeling for the color?
Allan: Yes. I use Goethe's feeling for certain colors and try to transpose that into music.
John: That's very interessting. I'm really curious to hear the next pieces which you are now working on. If they develop like "Sketches for Cello" they will be nice to listen to.