Saskia Laroo: Lady Miles
AAJ: So you must have mastered the jazz dialect then, if they considered your playing good enough to graduate?
SL: Yes, I learned it by listening to musicians, by asking myself who I respected as a trumpeter. To me that could only be Miles Davis because he played his instrument with so much emotion. His music moved me when I was still a teen and didn't know anything about jazz. By listening to his music and way of phrasing I learned a lot which, in hindsight, took me to where I am today. It's not as if I copied his style or sound, I just felt connected and could relate to his way of phrasing because it's what I tended to do as well, initially. I also learned a lot from all those schnabbels, gigs, workshops and jam sessions I participated in.
AAJ: Being a music student at school then worked against you rather than for you?
SL: (laughing out loud) Oh yes, you bet! And I also went to those Bim meetings in the Bimhuis where I met Hans Dulfer who offered me a schnabbel.
AAJ: You mention the word schnabbel quite a lot in your story.
SL: Yes, because that's how I could earn money and it felt like I was a professional and taken seriously. That education in Mathematics of course didn't work out at all as soon as I got into the Amsterdam music scene. It was a huge blow to my ego, however, because in those times, I wanted to be an intellectual, the brightest girl in the whole world! Hans Dulfer accepted me for who I was. I asked him what he wanted me to play and his reply, professing this typical Amsterdam humor was: oh, whenever I play a solo, you just play as loud as you can, whatever you like. He appreciated me playing along, because whenever he did one of his licks, I almost immediately tuned into a harmonizing second voice, no matter what scale. I think that's genuine intuition and a special quality even; my ear is pretty good developed if I say so myself. I already had that in the big band at high school, but no knowledge about it at all in those days. Later on, I did some research on it because I wanted to find out how it works, the function of the brain and such.
AAJ: Next to the word schnabbel as a main thread in your music career, being intellectual and trusting your intuition also seems to be a reoccurring theme.
SL: Yes. I used to analyze chord schemes in a mathematical fashion. Now, of course, I do trust my intuition. But this is something I had to learn by researching it, thinking about it and analyzing my actions. I always thought, as a kid, that you had to study like 8 hours a day before you were good enough to get into a conservatory. I could already write down and play melodies as soon as I heard them. I had that talent as a young one. I just didn't trust myself enough to give into it and because I wanted to approach things as an intellectual. During my conservatory years, I could be pretty nervous about it all, the tension between my intuition and the desire to exactly KNOW it all, from a cognitive point of view. Now everything is different. I can hear exactly what dialect a musician 'speaks' and by dialect I refer to everything: style, phrasing, timing, tension, the works.
AAJ: So basically you've found the ideal combination of learning how to improvise, based on both knowledge and trusting your intuition?
SL: Maybe, but I would love to study on my technical skills more, regrettably I don't have enough time left between touring and traveling. And I also wondered about being Dutch and the influence of Calvinism? Maybe that's how we're brought up, to not show emotions and hide your feelings. That's why I also loved to work with people from the Antilles and Suriname. Among them I felt more like me. They liked my playing without judging it what encouraged me to perform better. Among them, I could show emotion, just as I experienced with Brazilian musicians and the Salsa and Reggae bands I played in.
AAJ: And how about your family, your parents?
SL: There was room for creativity in our family. My father read both De Waarheid and De Telegraaf newspapers. Maybe I got this versatility in styles from him, you know, whether it's free jazz or Dixieland. My father used to joke about it, the tabloids, the sensation and thrills. My mother was a painter and she made our clothing herself. They also built their own house. Everyone had something creative and my parents let their children free to do what they wanted. In the village I grew up, most people thought we were a strange family and my mother used to say to us: remember, you're city kids, not village kids!
AAJ: You taught students in Taiwan and lectured them about how to be positive in life. Can you tell us more about this?
SL: Well, I base my teaching on my own experience. The goal is to increase one's self-confidence and how to achieve this by living a healthy life, proper breathing and discipline. But we shouldn't underestimate the mental aspects, such as the power of positive thinking and being aware of this. I've always kept something in mind I once read in a book of methods. It says that people should not limit their options in advance, because in general, people only use 10% of their capabilities. And if they limit their possibilities beforehand, it will even be less. By playing a lot, a musician also becomes familiar with the instrument and this can also be significant in one's sense of self-esteem. Wishful thinking! And then things can really happen! If you dare to be vulnerable in your music, it can add an extra layer and make your music more appealing. This can also boost your self-confidence. I know I am glad I don't mind anymore and am not afraid to open up.