Siegfried Loch: 50 Years on the Music-Making Scene
Guitarist Nguyên Lê with Peter Erskine (left) and Michel Benita
The first exclusive artist I signed to ACT was Nguyên Lê, who is French but his parents are from Vietnam, so he is Vietnamese-French. He's an incredible guitarist.
AAJ: The ACT recordings I've listened to cover a wide spectrum of styles. Your ideas about jazz and your tastes in jazz are widespread.
SL: Yes. One reason why the label is called ACT is I go by the artist and what they represent. So once I decide to go with an artist, I give him the freedom to do what he wants to do. If he is spreading out, like Nguyên Lê does, I don't stop him...or Vince Mendoza, or Nils Landgren. They do different things. Sometimes, they do things that I'm not really crazy about, but as long as I believe in the artist and what he's doing I support him.
AAJ: That's different than a lot of producers over the years in the United States.
SL: You have a good example in ECM. (Label owner and producer Manfred) Manfred Eicher would never release a record that's not totally within the framework of his esthetics. I'm not that rigid, I go more by the artist and his dreams.
AAJ: So that's kind of a trademark of ACT.
SL: I think so. Yes.
AAJ: That was part of your vision from the beginning?
SL: Absolutely. Yes.
AAJ: When you hear talent, out in a club or on a record, what connects with you, in your ear or your mind's eye? What qualities attract your attention?
SL: Most important, I have to be emotionally moved by the music. That's where it starts.
But also, is the artist really interested in communicating with an audience? That's a big problem in jazz. Some of these artists, they produce great jazz maybe but they are not really communicating. They are not interested in communicating, they are interested in making money, but not in communicating human beings.
To me, at least 50 percent of what makes me go for an artist is that I have to be totally convinced that he really wants to touch people. That he's out there to reach people with his music, not just play the music for himselfor for other musicians.
AAJ: People's concept of jazz or definition of jazz has been debated forever; your concept seems to be open. Do you have a set definition?
SL: I really think musicand not jazz onlymusic that doesn't move people, I'm not interested. There's a lot of that around, but I'm not interested in that kind of music.
AAJ: You don't have, yourself, a definition of jazz. Is that something you stay away from?
SL: Not really. I certainly don't think jazz is only jazz if it's swing, as it used to be, because jazz is more than that. Jazz, first of all, is a way of expressing freedom of mind. That's the key, not that it swings.
AAJ: Improvisation and communication.
AAJ: Listening to ACT recordings, you can't really pigeon-hole the label. There are so many different styles, all interesting.
SL: Jazz has been ... some people argue about the artist mixing it with world music, but jazz was world music by definition when it was founded in New Orleans. It was nothing but the result of the music from a melting pot, music from different parts of the world. The key element was the individual, who expressed himself by the way of improvising. That's what makes jazz. That's exactly what is still is today.
Some people feel after free jazz there's no more jazz. I'm not interested in that kind of discussion. It doesn't matter.
AAJ: You've had a lot of success stories, like e.s.t., who I saw live about five or six years ago.
SL: Probably. That's when they started going to America regularly. It was a pity, because two weeks after he died (June 14, 2008), the group was supposed to go to New York and play the New York Jazz Festival (JVC Jazz Festival), which would have been fantastic. They had been looking forward to that; dreaming of that for a long time. They were so close. Then this tragedy happened. They're not just one of the most successful jazz groups in the last decade, but they were certainly one of the most influential alsoyou hear a lot of young piano players immensely influenced by e.s.t.
AAJ: Are they your big success story, or would you not even put that kind of label on people?