Bremen Jazz Ahead 2015

EW @ Coburg

This is my first blog about the things I’m encountering while working as a musician, head of Muzieklab ’s staff and entrepreneur with Greenbag and a few things more. Many times I wonder if what I think and want to say would be of interest to anybody. Well, today my companion in Greenbag Jules Kersten convinced me it is worth telling my story. There is no deeper thought behind my decision to start writing besides the fact that I like to share ideas and thoughts with people. I realise however, that by publishing it’ll be easy to get reactions that I might not immediately like or expect. But as I mentioned : Jules convinced me. So I’ll just fire away. I start on April 24 2015 in my hotel after the first day of the Jazz Ahead.

To share my thoughts with anybody I feel I first have to explain a bit about what I am and do in my working hours and what makes me “tick”.

My prime profession is being a musician. A double bass player that is. Music is my prime love. It has never let me down and it keeps amazing and inspiring me. There’s no greater urge than to practise and play with the greatest musicians the best music that I can imagine. I was a late starter because I didn’t believe that I would ever be able to go a Conservatory of Music at the time. I had started out as a rock bass guitarist after my initial efforts to become the next Ritchie Blackmore on guitar had obviously failed. I started on a Hondo Precision Bass copy playing along with J.J. Cale’s album Naturally to find my way on the fingerboard in the mid 70’s. Nobody in my family played an instrument and no one attended anything else but either a soccer club or a basketball club. Sports was the thing especially soccer, and music was just pleasure, though my parents and me and my brothers had different definitions of pleasure I must add.

Soon after I started playing guitar and bass guitar, I started my first rock band. I knew exactly what we were going to be: the next sublime ultimate hard rock band that would leave Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin just a faint memory in music history. History however, had different plans so after several attempts and a flunked start at studying Psychology at the university my dad said:” if music is the only thing that you want to do you better get some education and study seriously”. I still don’t know if I have to thank or curse him for that.

My first important teacher in music school was drummer Steve Clover. I started his classes when I was 19 years old. He was from Elkhart Indiana and was an absolute magnificent teacher –though he looked a bit like “Catweazle meets Bonanza” (Two TV series from the 70’s). He gave me the first insights in what jazz was, what it meant to be a musician and what the art in music stands for. He made me listen to so many superb musicians and was a mentor for life. I still, to this day, use his wisdom to deal with issues in music. His teachings have given me more than anything else I studied. He would put a lot of pressure on us in ensemble classes, heavy bebop themes to be played and mastered in one week which you would have never expected yourself to be able to after which Steve just wrote down on the black board: You Did It! So You Can Do It! So You Will Do It! Steve was the first one to give me a little bit of confidence which I desperately needed.

I finished my conservatory study in May 1990 –yes that’s ages ago! I have been working ever since. Played everywhere, with anybody to the best of my ability and I still do. In fact I believe that my best is still to come but I reckon every musician thinks that (otherwise you expect everything to become worse and worse which would be quite a sliding scale…..) I feel I do have grown as a musician and ripened developing my own musical language though. It’s a voyage that will never end until I die I hope. I love the deep rich sound of my double bass, bass in general and the music that it functions in.

Besides the musician I’m also a sort of entrepreneur. At least I do things that look like that. I’m the head of Muzieklab Brabant, an organisation that develops musical concepts, guides and coaches outstanding, post academic musicians to enhance their chances on a successful creative career. It does sound like an elevator speech but I worked hard getting to that point with this… Many of the things that I will share will have to do with this part of my life too. I clash many times with myself over issues that should be different than they are.

Last but not least I’m part of a start-up business Greenbag which delivers services to top musicians. An idea that has been in my mind for years and which has started to see the light of day since last year. I feel a responsibility towards the new musicians on the scene that have to establish themselves in a fast changing musical environment in which I have had so many splendid moments. I admire the great musicians who lead the way for me when I was searching and I hope I can, even for a little bit, do the same.
Of course there’s the private part of my life with my wife Femke, daughters Suze and Dora. But I’ll leave that to the paparazzi to cover….
So we’re in Bremen now and it’s in the morning of the 2nd day. A nice city where many people from the jazz world come together for a fair. You meet many fellow musicians and organisations, bookers and others. I’m not very good at mingling. I tend to feel uncertain and of no interest to anyone so I’m always happy to see people I know. And many times there are my colleagues from MLB or Greenbag in this case, to accompany me. It helps.
The main reason to come to Bremen this year was to introduce Jules to my jazz network. Jules is a young guy full of humour and wit, which comes in great when you start a business. He was an apprentice at MLB and clearly showed he cared for the things he needed to do. He’s a slim, tall, long haired guy and, if I may believe him, he does well with the ladies too. He likes women, but so do I so we have a common interest in some way.
We’ve just had breakfast and while I went back to the hotel and started writing he hung out with all the musicians and agents at the Maritime Hotel and got pretty drunk, like many of the others. It’s a recurring event: first the fair; then the gigs at The Slachthof (Slaughterhouse) and then the bar at the Maritime. Drop a bomb there at the Jazz Ahead fair and 90% of the European jazz scene is gone. But don’t worry: nobody will notice.

Today I have a meeting with a group of people who run a European jazz talent program called Criss Cross Europe, the other reason to come here. From a number of countries top talents were selected to enrol this program which will be hosted by Ernst Reijsiger this year. I worked with Ernst in Martin Fondse’s band a couple of years ago and he‘s a fabulous musician. It’ll be great for youngsters to work with him and play all over Europe. I wish I had had the chance when I was their age. I’m sure there’s more to come about this in a short while. Now it’s time to get my bag, go to the fair and meet all participating organisations.