Take Five With Thomas Winther Andersen
Originally from Norway, Thomas Winther Andersen now lives in Amsterdam. At 13, he began playing electric bass, and after a few years his love for jazz became so strong that he decided to switch instruments and learn to play upright bass. Thomas studied music at the Amsterdam Conservatory from 1988 to 1993 and then added a Master's degree a year later from the Royal Conservatory of The Hague. In 1995, he received a grant from a Dutch foundation, The Performing Arts Fund (Fonds voor de podiumkunsten), to study in New York with Sal Mosca. Among the musicians Thomas has worked with are Lee Konitz, Robert Rook, Sheila Jordan, Michiel Borstlap, Jasper Blom, Jimmy Halperin and Hakon Storm.
Thomas has composed many pieces for various jazz ensembles, music for large ensembles, and chamber music. His compositions have been recorded for Norwegian and Dutch radio and many of them are available on CD.
Teachers and/or influences?
Influences: Lennie Tristano, Warne Marsh, Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland, George Mraz, Gary Peacock, Eddie Gomez, Jaco Pastorius. Teachers: Torgrim Sollid, Rob Waring, Arnold Dooyeweerd, Misha Mengelberg, and Sal Mosca.
I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
At age 13 I bought my first electric bass and started playing in a local school band. Earlier, I had played cello and at home there was lots of classical music in the air. It wasn't until I experienced playing in a band that I got the inspiration and personal drive to pursue music. I decided to spend my life in music and become a musician. The ability to spend hours practicing, playing, learning tunes, and instrumental skills came naturally from then on. In the beginning I was particularly impressed by bass players who were both bandleaders and composers. Virtuosity also had a big impact on me at the time. The sounds that sparked the most inspiration were electric styles such as funk, fusion, and rock. Both my teachers and friends introduced me to various musical styles, different approaches, ideas about music, as well as significant jazz artists.
Playing for a big audience was never a strong motivation for my musical ambitions. I just wanted to be able to do certain things in music. I didn't think at all about how that would find its way to an audience. Now I do sometimes, but I still do it in the order of first making the music and then looking for people who might enjoy it.
Your sound and approach to music:
Through the years I've discovered that I prefer music with a high degree of improvisation. I like to play jazz tunes as well as open structures with soundscapes and vamps with good rhythms. When I play I try to be present in the moment. Concentration, flow, communication, and expression are words that describe good quality in music regardless of style.
Your teaching approach:
At the moment, I am rewriting a teaching method I wrote for my final exam at the conservatory in 1992. At the time, I wrote down some ideas I believed were the best for developing musicianship and I still relate to them. This is a little tidbit from my introduction: "As a teacher I hope to inspire students to get as involved as possible in their own learning process. I try to teach good practice routines, planning, and development over time. A majority of the exercises I use focus on common elements in developing musical knowledge, regardless of which instruments the students play. As a bassist, I also devise exercises and describe various topics related to the bass in particular. I believe in the importance of combining listening, playing ,and theory into a unified whole to achieve a broader basis for making creative musical decisions."
A bass method I often recommend is The Improviser's Bass Method, by Chuck Sher.
Your dream band:
Qualities I look for in musicians are flow, sound, and an ability to play with conviction and personality while adapting to the group's ideas. It's also important to have the discipline to dig in to a tune or a concept and be sharp and prepared for what the band is doing.
A great drummer I admire and wish I could play with is Jack DeJohnette. I also like younger drummers such as Bill Stewart and Brian Blade. Billy Hart is a longtime hero of mine too, and I hope to play with him some day. In the current music business and club scene it seems to be more difficult to get work than to put a good band together.
In the past few years I have composed quite a bit of music for big band. I would love to hear it played by an orchestra like the Village Vanguard Orchestra, the WDR Big Band, maybe the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, the Maria Schneider Orchestra, or another big band.
Road story: Your best or worst experience:
While having a long holiday in Norway I ran into my friend Frode at the Kongsberg Jazz Festival. He mentioned that he was going to Amsterdam for a few days and would then travel further. I offered him the opportunity to borrow my apartment and gave him my keys. He said he was coming back to Norway long before my holiday was over. I forgot all about it until the day before my plane was leaving for Amsterdam. I had not heard from him! I called every hour and left messages on his answering machines. This was before cell phones, email, and the Internet had become common. I got no response.
The next day, I went to the airport carrying my bass all the way to the gate. Before 9/11, I could bring it directly to the luggage crew at the gate for safe handling. I was a bit early for the flight and still angry and also worried about how I would get into my apartment after arrival in Amsterdam. Right next to the gate where I was waiting, a plane arrived from Rome. Automatically, I glanced at the passengers as they left the plane; suddenly I spotted my friend among them. I shouted "Frode!" and we connected. He had the keys in his hand luggage. Although I was still irritated, from that point on I could only laugh and feel relieved. What were the chances of meeting like that? If we had tried to plan it that way, the chance of succeeding would have been very slim. This was pure luck. It was a very uplifting experience and I almost became superstitious! I still laugh when I think about it.
Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
Throughout my recordings there are different qualities in tunes and tracks that I like. To mention a few: the song "Insinuation," in Robert Rook Trio's Hymn For Fall has a flow that I like. I also like the way the trio moves in and out of double-time feel. The tune has a nice, open structure that appeals to me. Hearing Robert play so well on my tune makes me happy. On my album, Too Much Bass?, I think "Giant Steps" and "Waltz for Debby" are technically and musically difficult arrangements for the bass. I enjoy how easily drummer Chander Sardjoe renders the complicated rhythm on "Giant Steps." I think the tune survives well with the instrumentation being bass and drums.
"Counter Action," from Out From a Cool Storage, builds up with melodic ideas, with an increasing density of canons and layers of lines and drums. The whole tune is anchored to a short sequence of chords and a bass line. The song "Oktober," on Winther-Storm's Spinnaker, is a sophisticated tune with nice melodic lines and chords. I like being featured on this one.
"Psalm" from Hagen, Halperin, Andersen's East of the Sun is an almost impressionistic melody on top of a jazz standard chord sequence. I like the string arrangement and the intricate harmonic line composed by Jimmy Halperin. Somehow I am able to capture the mood of the tune and character of the line when soloing on this track.
Listening back through 15 years of CD recordings, I hear that my music and playing differ in various settings and slowly change over the years. Looking back at the results, I feel proud to have taken part in them. I think that the music I did with Jimmy Halperin stands out and my recordings with Robert Rook are special. My latest project, Winther-Storm, with my longtime friend and collaborator Hakon Storm, feels fresh and creative. I hope I will play more live with this group in the near future.
The first Jazz album I bought was:
Speak with a Single Voice, by the Hal Galper Quintet; The Touch of Your Lips by Chet Baker, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen and Doug Raney; and Jaco Pastorius' Jaco.
What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
This is a very tough one to answer. Maybe it should be a standard question along with asking yourself why you want to become a professional musician in the first place. For me it feels like asking any specialist in any field, a scientist, politician, or worker: What is your contribution to mankind? From the musical situations I work in, there are a few elements that I consider my strong points. I believe some of my achievement has to do with my work ethic. I keep a natural interest in music by practicing and have a long-term sense of development. I feel very fortunate and enriched by musicians I work with and all the great music that I have been exposed to so far serves as endless source of inspiration.
Did you know...
Up to the age of 20, I was extremely nervous about my ability to become a musician. I developed more confidence during the first years of my music education by playing countless informal gigs and sessions in clubs around Amsterdam. My bass teacher, Arnold Dooyeweerd, always emphasized that I needed to come to terms with my talent and discover its natural force to be able to sustain my development. He said that a personal style will then evolve naturally. While I don't know the exact words, that was approximately how I summed it up.
CDs you are listening to now:
If I am not working myself, I try to go to as many live jazz concerts as possible. Hearing great artists in concert usually inspires me more than records. I don't fall in love with recordings as powerfully as I did when I started out. If I buy a record I tend to listen to it two or three times through at the most. There are exceptions and sometimes I need to listen many times to learn something new. I also enjoy hearing local musicians and bands that are serious about their music and develop their skills and styles in the local clubs and bars around Amsterdam.
Desert Island picks:
Lennie Tristano, The New Tristano (Atlantic);
Kenny Wheeler, Gnu High (ECM);
Warne Marsh, A Ballad Album (Criss Cross);
Keith Jarrett, Live At The Blue Note (ECM);
John Coltrane, Crescent (Impulse);
Chick Corea, Live In Europe (ECM);
Bill Evans, You Must Believe In Spring (Rhino);
Art Tatum, The Best of Art Tatum (Pablo).
What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?
Venues, music education, and exposure to a wide range of styles of music from a young age. Audiences still have to hear live music and listen to real musicians play and communicate. Get out from in front of the TV and PC and listen to live jazz! I believe in music as a human activity. No matter how perfect and interesting computer-generated music can be, I prefer it as a supplement and tool. For me, music should be handmade and interactive with all its wonderful imperfectness.
What is in the near future?
My band, Winther-Storm, won in the jazz category at the 12th Independent Music Award for the album Spinnaker. The band will be touring in Europe next year.
In September, 2013 Shadows, with alto player Olaf Zwetsloot, will be released. I regularly play with his group around Amsterdam.
In March 2013 I recorded a new CD with the Robert Rook Trio, which will be released in the autumn of 2013.
What song would you like played at your funeral?
If someone ever wonders, these pieces hold special meaning for me:
"Vocalise," by Sergei Rachmaninoff (anchored in my childhood);
"Myako," by Wayne Shorter;
"Scene and Variations," by Lennie Tristano.
What is your favorite song to whistle or sing in the shower?
If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:
Sometimes I want to be better at school subjects such as writing and math. I am attracted to science, in particular brain research and human behavior in the broadest sense. I recently read Daniel Levitin's This is Your Brain On Music and found it brilliantly entertaining and very informative. As a child I wanted to be an athlete and run cross-country. Maybe I developed my discipline from the serious training I did with a ten-to-fifteen-hour training scheme weekly from about age nine until fifteen. Then music took over completely. Summing up all the things I wanted to do but never did could be long or short. The short version is the closest to reality. The long list never happened because it consisted of things I didn't really want to do.
Courtesy of Thomas Winther Andersen.