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Eric Ineke: Surveying the European Jazz Scene

Victor L. Schermer By

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AAJ: That's a very interesting observation.

EI: They are really not afraid to hit it and to play it. That's getting better in Europe, but here only a few guys really have that sound on drums. I work with my students to get that sound and a great swinging groove in their cymbal beat, which -like playing with brushes -is becoming a lost art.

Ineke on Mainstream and the Avant-Garde in Europe

AAJ: Let's step back now and look at the big picture of jazz in Europe. Let's try to get an aerial view. Flying over the whole jazz scene, could you reflect for us about jazz in Europe? How's it going these days on the whole?

EI: I would have to say that on the whole, the feeling for straight ahead jazz, what I call the real deal, is getting less popular now. Most of the younger musicians feel they have to be innovators. They think they're geniuses, and they have to come up with something new. The problem is that what comes out most of the time is nothing.

AAJ: That's a very strong opinion! Are you referring to musicians in the avant-garde?

EI: To me it sounds more like improvised contemporary music. There's not what I would consider jazz in what they play.

AAJ: Do the musicians who are doing this kind of music first immerse themselves in the jazz tradition and master what came before them in this respect?

EI: My feeling is that many of them do not have a strong jazz background. And don't get me wrong; they can make some beautiful music. But for me, it's not jazz. It's improvised contemporary music. The whole jazz element is gone. The rhythm, the feel of jazz is not there. Timing and groove is the biggest problem in the schools anyway and this so called 'Contemporary Music' is for some of them a perfect escape route.

AAJ: Do you mean there's no jazz syncopation, and no blues?

EI: Right! In all fairness, there are some younger guys who are still doing it well. In every country in Europe, you can still find some guys who can play their ass off! For example, in Italy there are two great tenor saxophone players, Emanuele Cisi and Max Ionata. In Germany, there's the trumpet player Till Bronner. In Finland, there is Pekka Pylkkänen, a great alto saxophonist, Mikael Jacobsson, a great pianist, and Jussi Lehtonen, a wonderful swinging drummer. In Estonia, I played with an outstanding young bassist, Heikko-Joseph Remmel. In Ireland, there is a great tenor player, Michael Buckley. And also in Ireland, Ronald Guilfoyle, a great composer and bassist. His son, Chris Guilfoyle , is a monster guitarist and a perfect example of a young guy who has one foot in the tradition and one foot in the present. Austria has a fantastic young drummer, Peter Primus Frosch, and in Hungary there is another fine young drummer, Atilla Gyarfas. Both were students of mine with one foot in the tradition and the other in the present. These are great players, and they play with the real spirit, like what I experienced when I played with Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin , George Coleman, Eric Alexander, and all those guys from the U.S. That spirit, it's there from the first note on!

AAJ: But are they pushing the envelope, doing things that are new?

EI: Yes, and yet it makes me so happy to hear them. And then in Holland, we have a few young guys who can do it, like alto saxophone players Ben van Gelder and Tineke Postma and tenor player Gideon Tazelaar. These guys can really push the envelope into new territory. And then we have the legendary founding fathers of the avant-garde scene in Holland, like the late Mischa Mengelberg, and of course Han Bennink. But we also have some really great players who are deeply rooted in the Jazz tradition like the tenor players Sjoerd Dijkhuizen and Simon Rigter, alto player Benjamin Herman, trumpet player Rik Mol, and piano players like Rob van Bavel, Peter Beets ( his brother Marius is a great bassist), and Juraj Stanik.

Working with Dexter Gordon and Other Legends

AAJ: So there's no shortage in Europe of homegrown musicians who are steeped in jazz but breaking out into new things. But now let's take a little time to reminisce. I think our readers would love to hear a couple of stories about the American expatriate legendary musicians with whom you've worked, like Dexter Gordon and Johnny Griffin.

EI: The most important thing is that they were just such great people! They appreciated what I did, they stimulated it, and they always had a positive attitude towards me. They liked when I kicked their butts with my playing. Dexter played behind the beat, so he loved it when I pushed the rhythm forward with my drums to keep the momentum up. And Johnny Griffin would come into the dressing room and tell me I had to play the drums like Art Taylor. So once I started playing on top of the beat and kicked the bass drum we got along great.

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