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Eric Ineke: Surveying the European Jazz Scene

Victor L. Schermer By

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[This is the fourth of the All About Jazz series on "The Many Faces of Jazz Today: Critical Dialogues" in which we explore the current state of jazz around the world with musicians, journalists, and entrepreneurs who give us their own unique perspectives.

Jazz originated in America, but Europe has made and still makes an enormous contribution to the development of jazz. In this interview, Dutch drummer Eric Ineke reflects on the many faces of jazz in Europe past and present.]


Eric Ineke is a revered drummer from Holland who, among many other accomplishments, worked with giants like Dexter Gordon, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Johnny Griffin, Ben Webster, vocalist Deborah Brown, and other American "expatriates" who made Europe their home during key points in their careers. Ineke is a professor in the jazz department of the Royal Conservatory of Music in the Hague. He performs at clubs and festivals in many European countries. In this interview, he offers a unique birds-eye perspective on jazz in Europe, then and now. Ineke came up in the bebop-hard bop traditions, and he remains an advocate of straight ahead jazz steeped in swing and the blues, so his perspective is strongly biased in that direction. Like his drumming, his comments swing strongly and are spiced with a personal touch.

All About Jazz: For a warm-up, let's do the desert island question. Which recordings would you take to that desert island? What are your favorite jazz recordings?

Eric Ineke: First of all, I would take Charlie Parker with Strings (Verve, 1995). And I would take Stan Getz at Storyville (v1; v2; Roost, 1951/1955). I love Sonny Rollins: A Night at the Village Vanguard (Blue Note, 1955). Also, Dexter Gordon: Our Man in Paris (Blue Note, 1963). And Coltrane Live at Birdland (Impulse. 1964). And I can always listen to Herbie Hancock: Speak like a Child (Blue Note: 1968) .

AAJ: Your response is interesting in that you don't include any European musicians.

EI: (Surprised) That's right! There's one European musician on Dexter's recording: the bassist Pierre Michelot.

AAJ: But all of the leaders are American.

EI: Well, that's because I grew up loving American jazz music. When I was very young, I heard this great music from America, and it was all swing, bebop, and hard bop. For me, it's still a great American art form.

AAJ: Jazz now includes all kinds of music and musicians worldwide. Do you think that most European musicians still think of jazz as uniquely American?

EI: Yes, I think that would be especially true of the musicians from my generation. With the younger ones, it depends. I've been teaching at the Royal Conservatory in the Hague for twenty-seven years now. The young students still listen to traditional jazz: bebop, hard bop, and so on. I encourage them to do that because for me, it's still the basic way to make jazz music. And they would come up with albums like I mentioned, with the addition of greats like Miles Davis of course. But a lot of them listen also to the new developments in Europe and America which is good and normal because you are part of the times in which you are growing up and what is musically happening around you. In the end it is up to them what they are going to do with it. But at least they are aware of the importance of the musical tradition, which will give them some added value in whatever direction they want to go.

AAJ: Would they also listen to an album by a European musician, say Toots Thielmans, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, or Stephane Grappelli?

EI: No, not so much.

AAJ: This tells me that, at least from where these guys are coming from, jazz is still perceived as an American art form in Europe. This contrasts, say, with classical or folk music, where an American performer or composer would be on the same level with one from Europe.

EI: But jazz is truly American, because the swinging rhythm and timing is strictly American. And there's also the feeling for the blues that uniquely comes from America. I don't want to sound old-fashioned, but they still are the basic components, and when I hear the best players, they come across right away as having those ingredients.

The "Blindfold Test"

AAJ: If you were given a "blindfold test" where we played a recording, and you had to identify whether the musicians are American or European, do you think you could tell the difference?

EI: I participate in a group of critics and musicians, and we do that twice a year. And my answer is, yes, mostly we can hear the difference. You can hear it in the time feel. But there are some players we can't tell whether they're European or American. For example, the saxophonist Ferdinand Povel from the Netherlands -you couldn't tell that he's European. And the same could be said of the pianist Rein De Graaff. He's a super bebop guy, and he's got the blues in there -his whole feeling is American. But with the drummers, there's definitely something in the sound that distinguishes European from American drummers. The American drummers have a full, fat sound. They are not afraid to go for it!

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