Guillermo Klein: Muse and Roots
AAJ: There seem to be a disproportionate number of Argentine jazz musicians who studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Why did you decide to study there, and what was the experience like?
GK: I had a teacher who taught me classical music here in Buenos Aires, and he told my parents that it would be better if I left [Argentina]. He had studied at Indiana University, and he told my parents, "it would be good for Guillermo to leave to organize his learning a little bit." At the time, I was very disorganized. I played in a rock and roll band, and my father wanted me to study more seriously.
Guillermo Klein (l) with Los Gauchos
Berklee was great. They have everything there. The most important thing is the people, the other students that you meet. For example, I put together a big band, my first big band, and all of the members of the band were students at Berklee with me. That's how I know Richard Nant, that's how I know Juan Cruz de Urquiza, people that I've kept playing with. Jorge Rossy is another one. You can count up a whole gang of musicians. I met Danilo Perez there too. Miguel Zenon, who later came to New York, had gone to Berklee. How can you say that you're against Berklee? A lot of people like to complain about Berklee, but if Berklee was the place where I saw all these musicians developing, how could it be bad?
AAJ: You played in New York for six years at Smalls and The Jazz Standard and then returned to Argentina. Why did you go back?
GK: Because I had a lot of desire to. I was [in Argentina] for two years, and they were very, very intense. I wrote a ton of music, I played a ton. It was an unforgettable experience. It was very important for me to return. Sometimes you can't explain your decisions thoroughly. Although I think that if you let yourself follow your desires, later, you won't regret anything.
AAJ: A lot of musicians have told me that ten years ago, jazz in Argentina was very different from what it is today; that there was a lot of jazz-rock fusion and the music was more imitative. When you returned to Argentina in 2000, what was the scene like?
GK: It's true. There was more fusion. But in New York it was that way too at the beginning of the 90s. What's happened is that, I think today jazz in Buenos Aires has a stronger connection to its roots. I feel that every time I go, there's more happening. It's much more interesting than before. I think jazz [in Buenos Aires] has evolved a lot over the last ten years. If you think about it, there are many more jazz musicians than rock musicians now. It used to be the reverse. It's probably up to a sociologist to see why this has happened, but thankfully, now when you go to Buenos Aires, you can always catch good bands.
AAJ: So when you went back to Buenos Aires there weren't a lot of great players, but there was something of a scene for creative jazz?
GK: I think that things have really taken off more in the last few years. I also think the [2001 financial crisis] contributed a lot. In a cultural sense, it had some very good effects: bringing us back to earth, not having so many foreigners come to play, making it so that we weren't always looking outside the country. People started looking inside the country a lot more. In a certain sense, I can say that I was lucky to be in Argentina at that time. It was a very powerful moment.
Thelonious (night club) opened at that time too. Thelonious was a new current. It was like Smalls [in New York]. For a bunch of months, I had a steady gig every Wednesday, like I'd had at Smalls. I'm doing the same thing now in Barcelona. I like to be a resident where I live. I like having a continuous gig.
Before Thelonious opened, you couldn't find anything like that in Buenos Aires. For that, we should build a monument to the guys who run Thelonious. It's where a lot of bands developed. I think Thelonious had a lot to do with [the development of the Buenos Aires scene]. It also had to do with a lot of people, who had been abroad, returning with open minds, like Richard Nant, Juan Cruz de Urquiza, Ernesto Jodos, and me, when I was there.
AAJ: What exactly did you guys bring?
GK: If you want what you're doing to be authentic, it has to come from the depths of your being. Sometimes what comes from those depths is going to have things from [Argentine rock musician] Charly Garcia, it'll have things from Spinetta, it'll have things from [fokloric music innovator] Cuchi Leguizamon, it'll have things from traditional folkloric music, from [Astor] Piazzolla. All of that is much more authentic than playing jazz that's pseudo-Brecker, pseudo-Yellowjackets, or pseudo-whatever kind of fusion you want to talk about. I think that we've learned how to express our roots again. The new generation has embraced that tradition with a lot of pride.
AAJ: Do you ever want to go back to live in Buenos Aires?
GK: Yes. Buenos Aires gives me a lot of energy, but it's a kind of violent energy. I want to grow a lot more, so that I don't feel so violent when I'm there. It's tough because I fix on all of the injustice.
I've never stopped dreaming of Buenos Aires, but I have to go back when I'm ready. Returning to Buenos Aires right before the crisis was a very powerful thing for my wife and me. It's a thing that stays with you in your subconscious. [Buenos Aires] makes me crazy, but it's inevitable that I'm going to return.