John V. Baer interviews Allan Botschinksky in 1985
Allan, what inspired you to do this album?
The head of Flamingo Music, Marion Kaempfert, asked me to do something with just brass (maybe because the family is so brassy), to arrange some standards and pop tunes without rhythm group.
So it was Marion's idea, originally?
Yes. I would never have thought of such a thing. It was an order... an offer, and the challenge excited my imagination. I thought I could do all kinds of things with it.
Especially strange things, new things.
In fact it is quite a new thing.
Well, the idea of brass alone is not so new, but it has turned out quite new. A brass band is not new...
But how you use it...
You already did one recording with Derek, Bart and Erik of standards, for brass without rhythm group. This album is all your compositions except, of course, the Brahms.
On the first tape, there were some compositions of mine also, and Marion liked them so much, she said, why not do a whole album.
When did you write these pieces? I think you said it was a rather short time.
Yes, I wrote most or the material in one week in my parents' holiday house, which incidentally may be washed away in the next storm, taken by king Neptune. I was able to work very concentrated because I was up there all alone and could start in the morning and work all day.
You had certainly thought about the kinds of pieces you wanted to write before you went to work.
Yes, of course. I collected ideas while I was touring, but in fact, most of it happened there.
The arrangements demand extremes. I don't think I've ever seen any arrangements that demand such extremes of range, articulation, phrasing, and, how should I say it, imitation of other instruments. Why did you write such demanding music?
I was able to work with the best people in Europe, perhaps the best in the world, and one of the main ideas of this production was to show what is possible with brass instruments, to see also what these masters could do. Therefore many things have been written on the border of the possible, specifically written for these musicians. I know their limits and sometimes did just a little more...
Just one note higher...
Yes, just one more note. So when they go home, they know that they can do a little more than they thought they could. In fact they appreciated it and we all had a lot of fun.
That is something which one can hear on the tape. You can really feel the enthusiasm, that tension, especially where it gets demanding.
That was the only way to get it.
Apart from the psychological aspect of challenging the musicians, did you have specific musical intentions for writing such exacting arrangements?
As I was writing the pieces, I could hear these particular musicians playing those lines. Not just any trombone, but Bart playing his trombone. So the musical ideas and the fact that I was writing for these cats can't be separated. I really dislike writing for just any possible player.
Well, what about writing in a jazz style without any rhythm instruments, you said it wasn't originally your idea?
Yes, I said at first, "Jesus Christ, this will never work", because this kind of music is always and typically based on a rhythm group. The jazz and pop music, but especially the pop music is all rhythm. If there are any horns they're usually backing. Drums and bass in front. So it was, at first, really an experiment. After the first recording I knew what was going on.
There are some classical models for brass without rhythm, but the only models I can think of where non-rhythm instruments play such rhythmic music are classical works of Ravel or Stravinsky.
Yes, but the type of music that these musicians wrote is completely different. Their pieces are not built over a continuous rhythm, a groove. Working in modern rhythmic styles, without a rhythm group, is more tricky... to keep it from being boring.
Allan, would you explain how you went about this process of replacing the rhythm group.
Well, you need a bass line. That's always the most important thing in popular music. So you have the basstrombone or tuba.
It gives you not only the harmonic bass, but also the rhythmic bass.
That's right. Then you need something to support the rhythmic feeling, so you add some trombone and trumpet figures, so that it all together makes a rhythmic mosaic.
But you didn't make an effort to replace the drum set.
You see, all brass players love to play without drums, because drums somehow kill the sound of the brass. For example the cymbals share the same overtones with the high brass, and the toms are in the trombone register, and the bass drum is in the lower trombone and tuba register. So the drums more or less cover everything up. Pianissimo can't exist in a big band because then only the drums would be heard.
In other words, you were happy to do away with the drums?
If there were a drum set, a lot of the figures would be left out. So it is necessary when you write without rhythm group to put more in for the horns.
One thing I don't miss at all is the usual snare drum accentuation of the brass figures - a good drummer hits them all.
Yes, if you have a mezzopiano section and the trumpets come in with accented chords, then you don't need the drums, but if the whole level is always loud, the brass need the accents from the drum to get the same effect. I mean, if you listen to pop records, it's all drums, drums, drums. They take 8 days for the drum sound, and half an hour for the trumpets.
Here's to the drummers, First Brass evening the score ...
Cheers. I do like drummers... the good ones.
One thing that is especially remarkable, perhaps even a historical first, is the use of brass to imitate other instruments or instrumental groups. For instance the wonderfully deceptive banjo sound in "Don't Shoot The Banjo Player" or the guitars in the "lnterlude". What brought you to invent such imitations?
It's pretty clear. If you want to write in different modern styles, and that was also a goal of this project, then you must imitate certain other instruments in order to be able to come close to that style.
In the "lnterlude" Erik does a great imitation of a string bass, every note with a slight percussive attack.
Yes, you can write that for him, but not for just any tuba player.
My other favorite section is the celesta imitation in "The Lady In Blue". No one would think that it was trumpets.
That was a lot of fun. Organizing it using two muted trumpets on 8 tracks, and getting it rhythmically precise.
Allan, did you write this music with a particular public in mind, or is it specially for brass players?
No, it's for all brass lovers, people who like to listen to brass music, and also for people who like to listen to good music, good melodies. I've tried to make good melodies, not just gimmicks. The theme is the most important thing in all music, even in 12 tone modern classical music. You can do very extreme things in voicing and harmony if you have a strong melody.
When you start writing, do you start with a melody or with a chord progression?
My favorite way to write is to have lots of time, no distractions, and just let it come. After a while, it does come, just like putting money in an automat and out it comes. But there are no rules. Sometimes a whole melody comes or just the first four bars, and then the next day four more bars. Sometimes I find a chord progression I like and then write a melody on it. Every title came in a different way.
Do you imagine it would be possible to give a live concert of this music?
Yes, but I wouldn't like to play in it. It would be very difficult. We would also need more players. In every piece, each of us plays at least two parts.
That's right, you often write for four trumpets, four flugelhorns, four trombones, tuba and euphonium.
That's my preprinted paper. But yes, we all play many parts.
Do you play all the flugelhorn parts and Derek the trumpets?
No, we each play two parts of each, Derek the high parts, and I the low parts. Bart plays first and second trombone parts, Erik plays third trombone, basstrombone and tuba.
When you tape, do you usually have two people play together at one time?
Yes, we often play together, it gives a better feeling, but sometimes it's not possible.
Do you ever all four play together?
Only on the "Wiegenlied". The sound engineers, of course, prefer to have each instrument alone on a track, but from a musical standpoint, it's better to have more people playing at the same time. The recording process also gives the music a special quality, in that 12 or 16 parts are played by four players.
Yes, I think of that trumpet section work in "Toot Your Roots" The phrasing is just incredible. I doubt if you could get a whole section to play it so precisely.
That's right. It's more precise, but it can be dangerous, because if can very easily become boring.
Well, that is certainly not boring. It sounds like one trumpet playing in chords, more like a color than a section.
Well, it's also written on the border of the possible for very good players.
Another thing that is so impressive about this recording is the intonation. I don't know of any recording of any brass music where the intonation is so perfect.
That's something you should write on the record cover.
But it's true. How, when you're recording, using the overdub method, playing 16 parts separately, do you stay so incredibly in tune?
There's only one answer... don't tune up.
You never tune the instruments?
No, just open your ears and play what you hear.
So you all have perfect pitch?
No, just perfect intonation.
I guess you could say that the four players on this album are in tune in the soul.
Each one of us is actually very different, even in intonation, but the sign of a good player is his ability to play together with other good musicians.
I agree completely, and I'm sure the people who listen to this album will also agree. Thank you for the interesting and informative interview, Allan, I enjoyed the talk as much as the music.