Manu Katché: The Colors I See
“ “I think that these days jazz should be called 'rock' because it is very evolutive. Nothing much has happened in rock after Nirvana. But if you listen to jazz from the eighties up to today, there is a huge development and diversity there. Manu Katché ”
All About Jazz: Do you consider yourself a born musician?
Manu Katché: Not really. Nobody in my family is a musician. Now when I look back, it feels like it all came to me. I started playing piano very early in my life. I was about six, and at that age you don't know what you are doing, but as soon as I started playing percussion it was a great feeling, and I knew that it was what I wanted to do. In those times, you didn't do things for money. It was more like a challenge. I started listening to all that music and I wanted to be part of it. Another thing was, I wanted to travel. I was living in the suburbs of Paris and traveling was like getting out of that environment into the wide world.
AAJ: Are you still happy with traveling?
MK: What I like about it is that it gives you the opportunity to meet a lot of new people, and get in contact with different cultures. That's the whole thing. It is an enriching experience. The beautiful thing about it is that you meet old friends, too. You don't only play together but you spend time together and share a lot of things. Sometimes, you spend Christmas together. The relationship becomes more important than the music. You never plan those things, they just happen. It is the same with my career; it is all about meeting people. Music is a great thing but the fact that you get to meet people through it is not less important.
AAJ: What was your most inspiring musical experience?
MK: I would say that it is what I am doing just now. In music, like in any other form of artistic expression, you go through periods. When a period is closed, you move to the next one, and that new period is most inspiring at that time because you are right inside of it. I really enjoy it, and I know that it drives me to the next step, which I don't know what it will be. I am learning a lot every time. Everything I did so far has been very inspiring to me. A great experience was to meet Peter Gabriel, and to make music together with him. That was amazing.
AAJ: There is a remarkable sense of harmony and roundness in your playing. Is it a result of the long musical interaction or was it always there?
MK: I think it was there as soon as I started learning classical music. At music school, you learn a couple of instruments and techniques, you learn to play in an orchestra, but the most important thing about it is you open your ears and perceive the sound textures. Now then, if you want to be inside it, you have to pay attention. Afterwards, when I started playing pop and rock, up to the point where I started playing jazz, I was very aware of what was happening around me. The other thing is the musical approach, which does not only mean doing your thing at the drums, but also becoming part of a whole. I think this provides the roundness.
AAJ: When, in your development, did you start to use nuances and textures?
MK: I think it was when I joined in with Peter Gabriel. We were recording the So (Geffen, 1985) album, and there was the track "In Your Eyes," which I didn't know how to play. Of course I had been playing with some African musicians in France, but I was not totally at ease. So, I started trying things, like tones and splashes. Maybe that was not the moment when I started using nuances, but it was the moment when I realized that I could play the drums with a rock track. Since then, I really applied that.
AAJ: Where do you see the drums in the band economy?
MK: I think the drum is the heart, right in the middle. It gives the pace and the pause. It happened to me a few times that I felt tired or sick, and the whole band was like tagging along. It is not only your performance; it is the fact that you have to be there for the others too. They can relate to it and go where they want to go.
AAJ: Would you describe your manner of interpretation as narrative?
MK: This is funny, because I just wrote a book that will be coming out soon. I think that my manner of interpretation is colorful. When you play music, no matter what music you play, what you want is to reach that moment when everything is coming together. You can't plan it; you have to wait for everyone to get into the same sphere. If it works, it is that magical moment when everyone is sharing the same thing one note or one sound. When you reach that moment, you are like in a kind of a trance. When that moment is reached, I see colors. Pastels. So, you want to get there again. Every musician wants to reach that point. I think that's why we are playing, to get to that moment.
AAJ: Does the question "What is jazz?" still make sense to you?
MK: "Jazz" is a word. It is not what's inside it. The word has become a little bit of a cliché, because it makes you think of the forties, the bebop, and then the hard bop, when they started improvising. When you mention "rock" you think of rebellion, because rock also had a strong social component. Jazz was never involved in politics. Since the fall of the Berlin wall in '89, the Eastern countries have come up with their own cultures, be it classical or pop music, and it all grew into jazz. Then we had electronic music and the hip hop. I think that these days jazz should be called "rock" because it is very evolutive. Rock is just like a kind of statement; nothing much has happened there after Nirvana. But if you listen to jazz from the eighties up to today, there is a huge development and diversity there. For me, what we call jazz is the new rock. The age group has changed too; we get more and more young people coming in. At a concert a few days ago in France, we had a lot of people in the audience who were 17 or 18. They listen to the music and they mix it with electronics and the daft punk, which they are doing these days. Jazz is a lot more than what we think when we pronounce the term.
AAJ: You have played with a large variety of artists. Is there a criterion upon which you chose your musical environment?
MK: The only criterion that works there is the music itself. If I like what I hear, I work with the people even if I don't know them. It is funny because when I started working with Peter Gabriel, I had listened to Genesis and I liked it, and from then on he recommended me. The same happened with Sting, Joni Mitchell, Jeff Beck, Tracy Chapman. But it doesn't really matter if I know the music already or not. Send the music to me, and if I like it, let's go!
AAJ: Do you call the people you want to play with?
MK: No, I have never done that. I trust destiny here [laughs]. If it has to happen, it will, you don't have to push it. I had been, and still am, a big fan of Sting and of Herbie Hancock, and I eventually came to play with them. So, when it has to happen, it does. I think it is a good way of doing it instead of pushing yourself on people.
AAJ: Did you refuse anyone?
MK: Actually, I did, and there were good reasons for that. I wrote about it in my book.
AAJ: What dimension does Nils Petter Molvaer add to your new record?
MK: Nils Petter Molvaer is an amazing musician. I met him in Montreal three years ago, and we played together with Paolo Fresu. We tried things for a day, improvising and putting in loops. It worked OK. Then, we did that again in France, and it was just beautiful. After that, we decided to do a record. When I write the music for a record, I have to think about the people who are going to play. I met Jimmy Watson first, and of course, Tore Brunborg had been around the first time [on Third Round (ECM, 2010)]. As I wrote the record, I had them constantly in my mind. We cut the album within two days, but we could have gone on with it for months. What Nils Petter brought to it was his unique texture of sound, that special ambience. His sound is rich and very special.
AAJ: Has France opened to jazz enormously during the last decade?
MK: Yes, it is true; we have hundreds of festivals there. That is probably related to what I have just said about jazz. More and more young people get attracted to this kind of music. There are a lot of Europeans playing at these festivals, too. There is an amazing lot of good European musicians out there. The other thing is, I think, we are getting the atmosphere of the seventies back, and people are starting to go to jazz concerts again. Just think about it, Chick Corea, Billy Cobham, Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra were playing for thousands back in those days. Afterwards the interest for instrumental music sort of diminishes, and now it is coming back again. It is connected with a lot of freedom, and I guess people like that. Germany is a good scene for jazz too.
AAJ: What are you doing next?
MK: I am touring with the new album up to February, and in the middle of that, I will play with Peter Gabriel for the anniversary of the So album in October. I will also release my book in October. It is a book with stories about the people I met, with the title Road Book. It was good fun to write it and I hope people will enjoy it. I've been doing a few studio albums, but never a live one, so I've got a few ideas there. I may be doing a live album in 2014. It will be a blu-ray.
Manu Katché, Manu Katché (ECM, 2012)
Manu Katché, Third Round (ECM, 2010)
Manu Katché, Playground (ECM, 2007)
Manu Katché, Neighbourhood (ECM, 2005)
Jan Garbarek, In Praise of Dreams (ECM, 2003)
Sting, All This Time (A&M, 2001)
Manu Katché, It's About Time (BMG, 1992)
Sting, The Soul Cages (A&M, 1991)
Peter Gabriel, Passion (Real World, 1989)
Peter Gabriel, So (Geffen, 1985)
Gildas Bolcé, Courtesy of ECM Records