A Fireside Chat with Wolfgang Fuchs
“ It is the basic thing of every music style, to play together, to work together. Without this, nothing would happen because you cannot play music together or in your mind and in your thinking, you are at another place with other persons. ”
As the leader of the King 'b' 'rchestr', Wolfgang Fuchs' place in the European improvisation lineage is safe. Moreover, Fuchs' '89 recordings of various duets with Evan Parker, Louis Sclavis, and Hans Koch on the FMP label (Duets, Dithyrambisch) is a case study in duel improvisation. In particular, Fuchs and Parker are monsters. Fuchs sat down with the Roadshow on a recent trip to Los Angeles, where he played the line space line Festival. I am honored to have Wolfgang Fuchs as a guest, unedited and in his own words.
All About Jazz (AAJ): Let's start from the beginning.
WOLFGANG FUCHS (WF): When I was younger, I played in a mandolin orchestra. I was a boy of twelve or thirteen years. We played in different places and I realized that people like music. This is very simple. So I thought this must be something and it must be important to do this. I think it was a kind of social aspect for me. Later, when I started with this improvised stuff, it was also again, this kind of social aspect because I think in improvised music, it is the most direct way to communicate between people because there is nothing in between. There is no score, no composition, no conductor. It has to do with one person on a very direct way to the other person or persons.
AAJ: The capacity to communicate defines the effectiveness of the music.
WF: It is the basic thing of every music style, to play together, to work together. Without this, nothing would happen because you cannot play music together or in your mind and in your thinking, you are at another place with other persons. Yeah, it is the basic thing of all music.
AAJ: Classical trained, did you find a need to break away from convention?
WF: Yeah, the thing is, I went to this music academy in Karlsruhe to study first saxophone and then clarinet. I wanted to do a lot of things, but then I realized what they were teaching and their thinking about music, I would not like to do it, so I stayed there for a while, but I didn't study. What I build up for my own as the idea of playing together with musicians and therefore, I had to find my own way to work. I was there, but in reality I was kind of an odd duck.
AAJ: Let's touch on your collaborations with Alex von Schlippenbach.
WF: I met Alex when I went to Berlin. This was in 1974 because I knew he lived there as well as Sven-'ke Johansson. One day I met him through Sven-'ke because he was building up a group with Berlin musicians and so I met him and so our working together through the years started not in very special groups, but always in add hock formations, also duets and we did film and improvised music stuff together and other bigger combinations together with Sven-'ke.
AAJ: Improvising to film poses the challenge of taking an audible medium to coincide with a visual medium.
WF: Yeah, a good question. I think it is different, but I can't tell you why at the moment because when you look at films, it goes through the eyes in your head and something happens. I don't know exactly what happens. We did it because of this ir I did it because of this, what happens with my own music when I am confronted to look at the film at the same time. For me, I did it also with dances and I did it also with poetry, as well as playing solo. I always have to think about in a new way how I work with my material.
AAJ: Who is King 'b'?
WF: King 'b' is the main figure of a theater play written by Alfred Jarry, the French surrealistic writer, ending of the 18th century. It is 'b' roi, King 'b', a figure of this theater play.
AAJ: Why did you form the King 'b' 'rchestr'?
WF: This started in 1982, '83. It came out of a combination which was called Xpact, this quartet together with Paul Lytton, Hans Schneider on bass, and Erhard Hirt. We always wanted to build up a big group, a big improvising group or an orchestra because we all had heard the great music of Globe Unity and also London Jazz Composers' Orchestra. We knew we had to try this and this came out of this and this was the beginning Eighties.
AAJ: Various members of King 'b' are becoming recognized stateside.
WF: As you mentioned, Paul Lytton is quite well known on the scene and in America as well as Phil Wachsmann, Radu Malfatti. Maybe only some people know our new member Fernando Grillo, the double bassist out of Italy. I think a lot of people know Melvyn Poore, Peter van Bergen, Axel D'rner as a kind of newcomer I suppose.
AAJ: A tentet presents challenges that go far beyond music.
WF: Yeah, it is a European band, but it was not planned like this because to bring ten players together out of different countries is a question of money and you have to find an organizer or festival who will pay for it. It wasn't possible over the years to invite players out of the USA unless they were around in Europe for a longer time. It is very, very difficult. A lot of organizers, when they think about 'b', they would like to do it. They also have to think about how much money it is and of course, to bring eight to ten people together out of these different countries in Europe, it's an expensive group and I am not talking about very high fees. It is expensive, traveling expenses, hotel, and then comes the fee. They say that for this money they can do two or three other groups. So it is very difficult, but some organizers like it and they do it. We try to bring it also to this year's Total Music Meeting, but it depends whether we get extra money from the Berlin government for this year's very special 'b' project to work with the text of the theater play.