Paal Nilssen-Love: Transforming the Boundaries of Creative Music
LP: There was a time when European jazz musicians usually played traditional standards and it didn't always translate too well. Then a change occurred and the more progressive European composers began writing compositions that were influenced by European music history and culture.
PNL: Right, right and I think it has to do with being honest and whether you believe in yourself and your own culture. The European scene was influenced by the American scene but then in went on its own. There are great players from England that had their own music that was related to American jazz, but the London scene really exploded when people like Louis Moholo-Moholo and Mongezi Feza moved in from South Africa. And Paul Lytton and Tony Oxley were originally mainstream jazz drummers but they wanted to play their own music. I have a lot of respect for those guys because they chose to do that and could hardly get any gigs.
LP: There is also a well known history of American jazz musicians such as Dexter Gordon and Ben Webster moving to Europe where their music seemed to be more accepted and appreciated. Why was this the case?
PNL: Europe has a history of looking up to American society and culture which also includes jazz. The musicians looked up to the American players as icons and cherished musicians like Dexter, Webster and Stan Getz and that was because that is where jazz came from. But now, people are aware that music is from all over and not only America or Africa. This is fortunate because in the long run, iconozing will only make things go backwards or even stand still.
LP: Is music more visual for you or more about feel?
PNL: More about feel but I sometimes think of music like a sculpture; building and shaping a form that can be changed at any moment. But it can also be very visual and bring up different shapes and images and bring things out of you that you did not know were even there. It's also a very physical phenomenon and must be fascinating for a blind person to listen to. How would a blind person hear a landscape? Would they also see it?
LP: Why is music so important to you?
PNL: Music is pretty strong, can bring people together and when you see the reaction that music can create in people, you have to respect the power of it. That's why it's so damn important that the presenters don't underestimate the audience. They need to believe in the music and understand the importance of presenting it. If people were exposed to more creative art that communicates to them, life situations would be better. Music is just a mirror image of who you are as a person and every time I am in contact with the instrument, what I play reflects the present.
LP: You recently had to deal with cancer. Has it had an impact on your view or appreciation of music and life?
PNL: For sure. When you get your life back, you appreciate life and the people close to you more than ever and begin to realize that whatever you do, it might be the last thing you do. You begin to feel that you're on borrowed time. Music means everything to me and has given me the reason to live. It feels pretty amazing to be playing again.