Take Five With Jerry Senfluk
Born in Prague, Czechoslovakia (NOT the Czech Republic), on St. Patrick's Day, 1946. As the younger son of a pianist mother and a cellist father. he enjoyed thorough musical education from his distinguished parents in playing the piano, intonation and musical theory. He received private tuition from the Principal Clarinetist of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and, in 1967, graduated from the Conservatoire of Prague. With a father who frequently toured the world and brought home many a record, he was influenced by Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Fletcher Henderson, Sidney Bechet, Omer Simeon, Duke Ellington, Jack Teagarden, Coleman Hawkins, and many others.
An initial live jazz influence was clarinetist Edmond Hall who toured Czechoslovakia in 1958.
Professional Experience 1962: First public appearance on clarinet at a jam session during the International Jazz Festival in Prague, playing alongside Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band.
1963-1968: Performed with the Cats Jazz Band and with the Jazz Fiddlers. After graduation from the Conservatoire, worked for the Czechoslovakian Radio on a series of jazz programs and became Assistant Editor of Melodie, Prague's jazz and popular music monthly magazine.
1969: Joined the orchestra of the State Theatre in Aussig (Northern Bohemia) in March and appeared at the International Jazz Festival in San Sebastian in July. Moved to (then) West Berlin and toured Germany with a band supporting Albert Nicholas.
1970-1973: Continued to work in Germany until late 1971 and, due to a complicated ankle fracture, rested during much of 1972. Became clarinet teacher in November 1972 at the Steglitz School of Music in Berlin. Married Georgina, a ballet dancer and pedagogue, in June 1973.
1974: Tour of West Germany and Switzerland with a Zurich-based Dixieland band. Guesting with many traditionalists in London, notably with Fred Hunt of the Alex Welsh Band and with Ron Wheatherburn of Kenny Ball fame. Established the Coppelia Ballet School in Berlin, running the business side whilst Georgina provided the tuition.
1975-1977: Frequent bookings in West Germany. Worked with a band accompanying Freddie Kohlman, and with the Savoy Gang, a swing quartet.
1978: In demand on the London Jazz scene, playing with many U.K. names and resident at Soho's Zanzibar Club with Satn Greig and Johnny Parker. Later worked with the Haens'che Weiss Quintet, a Berlin-based manouche formation mixing Django Reinhardt's tradition with influences from eastern European Gypsy folklore and Brazilian music.
1979-1984: Founded the Hallmark Swingtet in Berlin. Promotional and corporate performances for a wide range of companies, institutes and municipal bodies. Work in radio and television. Played with the Berlin All Stars.
1985-1990: Back in London, playing West End and South Bank venues and composing. Residencies at the Misty Club, Playa del Ingles, Gran Canaria, at Le Dinghy Club, Saint Barthelemy, French West Indies, and at the Casa Bar, Zurich, Switzerland. Wrote the musical arrangements for Eggy Ley's "Prohibition and All That Jazz" show. Worked with ex-Fats Waller guitarist Al Casey. Jazz Festival appearances in Cork, Edinburgh and The Hague. Toured Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom with Max Collie Rhythm Aces. With pianist Mick Pyne, guitarist Nils Solberg, double-bassist John Rees-Jones and drummer Rex Bennett, formed his Capital Swing and introduced regular live jazz into Chelsea Harbour. Played last stints with Bob Wallis at the Casa Bar in Zurich.
1992-1998: With Yves "Little Fats" Guyot and Eric Luter, residencies at the Hotel Ermitage Golf near Gstaad, Switzerland. With his Capital Swing, appearances, recordings and tours in the United Kingdom, Spain, Switzerland, France and Germany. Appearances with Adelaide Hall, Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball and Larry Adler. Tours and festival appearances in Bohemia, Sweden and Slovakia with the Prague Jazzphonics. Recordings with formations of Allan Bradley and of George Polydor.
1999-2002: Relocation back to Berlin and semi-retirement from music.
2003-2008: After yet another relocation, this time to the picturesque rural settings of Upper Franconia (northern Bavaria), touring Austria, Bohemia, Denmark, France, Germany, Mauretania, Senegal, Slovakia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom with various ensembles of Alexander Katz, Andy Lawrence, George Pokydor, Herbert Christ, Keith Smith, Max Collie andabove allVano Bamberger. Also branching out to classical music and into Russian salon music of the 19th century with pianist Alla Schatz and baritone vocalist Oleg Dynov.
2009-2010: Despite the commitment to Vano Bamberger's manouche ensemble, intensified efforts to bring the Capital Swing back onto the map, resulting in festival appearances in Andalucia and Denmark.
Teachers and/or influences? Karel Dlouha (then the Clarinet Concert Master of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra). Influences too numerous to list all: from Edmund Hall to Benny Goodman to Coleman Hawkins to Earl Hines, Sidney Bechet to Django Reinhardt, as well as countless sources from various folklores of the West European Mediterranean, Alpine, Latin American, Caribbean, Pacific and West African regions. And above all, of course, Louis Armstrong, W. A. Mozart, Giuseppe Verdi, J. S. Bach and others.
I knew I wanted to be a musician when... When I was very young and stupid and realized that I couldn't do anything else.
Your sound and approach to music: To judge my sound is down to others. My approach is to make it as beautiful and near to perfection as possible, and avoid superfluousness, knowing at the same time that if I had 400 years, I still could not reach my own goals and ideals.
Your teaching approach: Apart from teaching the rudimentary technicalities like how to hold and operate the instrument, how to breathe and which mistakes to avoid, I never did any teaching. The students have to teach themselves. I only show them how to do this.
Your dream band:
I've already reached that, with my own quintet. It's the best thing which ever happened to me, in both musical and human terms.
a) Harbour Yard, Chelsea Harbour, London; sensational acoustics, a wonderful Steinway baby grand (always immaculately tuned), excellent treatment (by deliciously cooked Cantonese meals and fine wines), regular Sunday lunchtimes. I was actually us who introduced live jazz into this venue. Alas, after a couple of years, rather unidentifiable decision makers in the distance of dozens or perhaps hundreds of miles away got the idea that it would be wiser to save the money and spend it probably in advertising or such like.
b) Sala Carrera, Marchena (in Andalucía). Actually only one of six venues in and around Seville we played during the Festival de Jazz en la Provincia. We were supported by an excellent technical crew with a sound engineer who certainly knew exactly what he was doing and our pianist played the same Yamaha grand of immaculate condition every night (yes, the instrument was carted around with us). I only picked up the Sala Carrera because we received a flamenco applause from the audiences.
c) Salle des Fates, Munster (in Alsace); large venue in a small idyllic town set in gorgeous landscape. Could take my own quintet unfortunately only once to their Jazz Festival but most gladly returned twice with other ensembles. An 800-seat venue filled with 1200 absolutely enthusiastic audiences, with most generously dimensioned stage fitted with flawless technology.
The first Jazz album I bought was: Graeme Bell (recorded in 1947 in Czechoslovakia, banned a year later after the communist coup d'etat and re-released on an EP (those little 45 r.p.m. things) in the wake of de-Stalinization ten years later).
What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? Choosing my repertoire, I look for beautiful melodies. It's also beautiful melodies which I attempt to create during improvised choruses. In other words, beautiful melodies are my ultimate goal, for that's exactly what I want my audiences to hear. They have to endure more than enough ugliness in their daily lives and are exposed to it more than enough by all sorts of media. So, they most certainly don't need even more ugliness from me.
How would you describe the state of jazz today? Most unsatisfactory, to say the least, and getting worse. That's nothing to do with the quality of the musicians which, on the contrary, is rising. Scores of brilliant youngsters appear on the scene, new faces every year, and one better than the other. Which is, actually, how things should be, in music and in any other field of human activity. Alas, these brilliant youngsters face dwindling numbers of venues, festivals and other possibilities to perform for a half decent fee, just like the rest of us.
What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing? Jazz programs on radio and television should be relocated back from 1 a.m. or 2.30 a.m. to an evening or day time when school kids, youngsters and members of professions other than of night security have chance to listen to them, Also, educational jazz concerts (as well as symphonic concerts, by the way) should be staged for schools, free of charge for the kids, of course (or at least for those from poor families of which we have a vast and growing number and which would be otherwise excluded by their poverty).
What is in the near future? Good question. Sorry, don't have a crystal ball. I'm working on all sorts of things but there is no way of knowing right now what will come up in the end.
If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a: freelancer again but this time in some far more stable, secure and lucrative activity like perhaps dealing in futures and options or betting on horses.
Courtesy of Jerry Senfluk