Jochen Pfister: Touring with Sheila Jordan
Pfister has some interesting comments when comparing the jazz environment in Germany with that of the US. He says that, on the one hand, New York is very competitive and there is a lot going on; yet he was told in America that outside of New York City there is relatively little jazz. On the other hand, in Germany playing and getting exposure for jazz musicians is easier because "you have the possibility to get into it. If you drive, within thirty miles of any German city there is a jazz club." He adds that many US artists tour in Europe, and so there are "better conditions" for jazz. Indeed, many of the jazz clubs in Germany were started by US soldiers after the Second World War, and many of these still operate with the same names. "Cave 51" in Heilbronn, the last venue on the Jordan tour, is one such club.
Pfister also could have added that Germany has, in general, long been passionate about the broader spectrum of jazz, including big bands and the avant-garde. Traditional jazz players like the UK's veteran trombonist Chris Barber, who had a huge hit with Sidney Bechet's "Petite Fleur" in 1962, have always been able to tour regularly in Germany. Even Richard Wagner's opera, Die Meistersinger of Nuremberg, was recently converted to jazz for a recent anniversary celebration in Nuremburg. A music professor wrote a forty minute jazz piece based on Wagner's themes. So even in this way, jazz is thriving in Germany.
Like some other modern jazz players, Pfister has been interested in arranging rock tunes in a jazz context. Pfister's parents had a Beatles record collection, and he has made five or six arrangements of Beatles songs, including "Day Tripper," which he arranged for piano trio. The choice of that song is interesting, as there is a seeming link between Lee Morgan's chords in "The Sidewinder" and the sudden F# major chord shift of "Day Tripper" (the tune is in E major). Pfister notes the connection.
Pfister says that playing rock tunes all began with Herbie Hancock's The New Standard (Verve, 1996). He observes that "Brad Mehldau did it a lot." He likes Mehldau's approach to jazz, for example his performance of Oasis' "Wonderwall," on Brad Mehldau Trio Live (Nonesuch, 2008), and The Beatles' "Blackbird," on The Art of the Trio, Vol.1 (Warner Bros., 1997).
Pfister plays mostly in the trio context. He says a trio provides "the most freedom in playing with other people," as playing solo in fact restricts, with the musician responsible for all the music and, therefore, not so free after all.
The trio began when, at the Nuremburg Conservatory, the trio's bassist Alex Spengler needed a band to present a project. They first formed with another drummer, and then found their current drummer Julian Fau. Fau is moving to Amsterdam in the fall of 2009 to undertake his Concert Diploma, and Pfister says that the trio sees it as an opportunity to "spread out," because they will acquire more personal contacts, and so more gigs in more places.
Having met Pfister in October, 2006 at a workshop in Nuremburg, Jordan brought Pfister to the US in 2007 to play for her workshops in the Boston area. Pianists Billy Taylor and Geri Allen were also there. Pfister then went to New York for the first time, taking lessons with artists including pianists Barry Harris, Mark Soskin and Allen.
About arranging the upcoming tour, he says he was able to get agreement from the two big clubs a year in advance, but other clubs couldn't give a definite yes as far ahead as that. Thus, the tour wasn't fully confirmed until Christmas, 2008.
Pfister's piano style is neat and at times percussive, with a "soft yet hard" fluidity. He says that Steve Kuhn has a strong influence on how he approaches accompanying Jordan. Many of the numbers Jordan performs come from her albums with KuhnJazz Child (HighNote, 1999) and Little Song (HighNote, 2003)so attention to Kuhn is inevitable. Kenny Barron is also an influence on Pfister, and there will also be tunes from the album Barron recorded with Jordan, Lost And Found (Muse, 1992).
Jordan will also be performing one or two pieces for bass and voice, a form Jordan is renowned foreven recording the humorously titled I've Grown Accustomed To The Bass (High Note, 2000). Says Pfister, "That's her. [The audience] expect[s] it. It will be an experience for [bassist Spengler]."
Jordan also dedicates songs to other jazz artists, such as "Art Deco," for avant-garde trumpeter Don Cherry (from Jazz Child, for which Jordan wrote lyrics), which Pfister confirms will be in the set list.
Tr3ibhaus has recently recorded its first album, Portrait in Black And White (Arpeggio, 2008). The band recorded two sessions, one in Nuremburg and another in Wurzburg, and chose the Nuremburg sessions for release. Pfister says their label, Arpeggio, is an indie label that releases jazz and classical music. He also nominates Munich's ACT, Berlin's Musicwerkstatt, and Jazz Baltic Festival as interesting German labelsthe latter recording all gigs at its festival and releasing the best. Interestingly, jazz sales in Germany account for somewhere between 4.5% and 6% of all record sales in the country, which is quite favorable and compares well with Japan's 5%.
As to format of recording, Pfister says the trend with jazz purchases is for fans to want the real CD in their hands, rather than download MP3s. "They don't just want it on their computer. They want to say 'tonight I want to hear this CD.''"
He is also open to musical crossover experiments. He likes the idea of rock and roll and/or country and jazz blends. So who knows, maybe Jordan will perform a Grand Ole Oprey version of her genre-bending 1962 recording with George Russell, "You Are My Sunshine," from Russell's Riverside release, The Outer View.
Tr3ibhaus, Portrait In Black and White (Arpeggio, 2008)
Courtesy of Tr3ibhaus