Montreal Jazz Festival: Montreal, Canada, June 28-July 7, 2012
AAJ: What's special about the Montréal Jazz Festival?
Tord Gustavsen: It's a well-run festival. They don't forget to pick you up from the airport like other festivals; things as basic as that. And they have venues suitable for different kinds of music. The last time we were put in a theatre, a 700-seat auditorium, which was great. This series that I'm doing now is in the GésuCentre de Creativite, which is a brilliant space for a series like this. And they've got the outdoor stage for things that really suit an outdoor setting, so the variety of spaces and venues really embraces the variety of jazz and the variety of jazz audience. I like the fact that their programming reaches out to the far ends and to the core of jazz history. It's brilliant.
AAJ: The spectrum.
TG: The spectrum. And in many parts of the world, you may feel a separation between the American and the European jazz scene. And I feel here that we are brothers and sisters. And they're really appreciative and knowledgeable about the creative scene in Europe, while also still staying true to the American roots of jazz and to the contemporary stuff happening in America. For me, as a European traveling worldwide, I think that's touching and points to the future of jazz.
AAJ: How would you describe your music? I know you're on ECM, and you'll be playing in different configurations. I'm looking forward to them, particularly the solo concert, because that not something you usually do, right?
TG: Not so much. I do a lot of solo interludes and solo sections inside the quartet and trio concerts. So in that respect I do it a lot.
AAJ: But not a solo concert.
TG: Exactly. Doing the whole overall shape of a concert with piano only is a different challenge all together. I do it maybe once or twice per year. I really like it, but it's also extremely challenging. And I feel the need to not overplay things is paradoxically even stronger there than in the quartet setting. It's so easy to start doing everything you know on each song, when you play solo. That's not the way I want to play. I want every musical space to grow and get the impact that it can have. And I want to make every melodic idea or phrase stand out and have the contemplative potential that it can have develop.
Doing that in a solo setting is even more challenging and even more rewarding.
AAJ: We've mentioned jazz, the spectrum, the core and the periphery.
TG: But I didn't really describe my music, though. I really feel that in everything I do that the core issue is that of stripped down beauty, beauty as something radically different than sweetness or prettiness. It's about getting in touch with the sacredness of beauty. Where you play what you really feel, and you don't play the other shit. You know? And you let dynamics and double tempos and complexity develop from that core, or foundation of stripped down beauty. That's what I try to do in every setting.
With the trio or quartet that I've been working the most with, that's where we've taken that approach to the farthest extreme by really getting hardcore into the central minimalism and building our grooves, building our dynamics from there.
I'm extremely fortunate to be able to play with the musicians that I consider the best in the world for this music. My relationship with Jarle Vespestad, the drummer, with whom I've been playing for ten years now, is a very intimate thing. His combination of responsiveness and groove, of sensitivity and strengththat's what I'm looking for in a musician. Real strength and humbleness integrated.
AAJ: What you're saying about beauty has such historical and philosophical ramifications in terms of aesthetics. When you speak about beauty, you're going back to some of the original definitions of what aesthetics is but you made a clear distinction. You're not just talking about surface beauty. It seems that you're aiming for more inner and emotional depth.
TG: That's right.
AAJ: But you also talk about strength and humility. What I've found in my study of the blues is that the blues isn't just about sadness and tragedy. It's about a mix of emotions that might come out as irony, which itself is a mix. So what would you say about the blues and swing, which is fundamental to American jazz?
TG: I would say that I relate fundamentally yet paradoxically to the blues. Because it's not really my roots yet what I play is unthinkable without the blues. I have been listening passionately and deeply to very early jazz, and to the restored recordings of Robert Johnson's albums and very early stride piano players. It's the intensity of both rhythmic and emotional duality in that music. You never [quite] know if it's swing feeling, or even 8th [note] feeling. It's all in there together. You never know if it's major or minor. You never know if it's masculine, or a really fragile, feminine vibe they're sending out. And I love that kind of fundamental duality. Those kinds of qualities I really relate to.
But I find when I get to the core of my own musicality, these things are interpreted or reinvented in light of Scandinavian folk music, and in the light of the Impressionist composers or neo-classical composers that I have been listening to and grew up with.
Lastly, and maybe even more importantly, to the church music I grew up with, which was a mixture of European Lutheran hymns and African American spirituals that were sung in our churches too. So it comes together. And I think I'm finding more and more how to have a duality of major/minor tonality, and free tonality that is unthinkable without the American blues but still is something completely different.