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Guillermo Klein: Muse and Roots

Eric Benson By

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GK: Since the moment I started playing music. The first thing I played was my voice. I sang songs in school. For me, the voice is more linked to the soul than anything else. A lot of melodies occur to me when I'm out in the street, and if they come to me as sung melodies, then why would I take out the singing? I sing a lot. I don't know if you've heard the stuff I've sung...

AAJ: I have Una Nave (2005), which has a lot of singing...

GK: Yeah man, that's me singing. I hire myself. The idea of singing works like this: If a melody occurs to me that has singing in it, why wouldn't I sing it? It's a very conscious decision that I've taken. When I write for orchestras and bands it's all very sleek, but when I sing it's much rawer. [Singing] puts me in another dimension. It's riskier. It makes me feel alive.

AAJ: Most of your bands are on the big side, which is a big contrast to New York, where I feel like it's rare to see a group with more than five people. Why do you put together big groups?

GK: First, because I like the way all of those musicians play. I call up people, not instruments. I also like the sensation of tone and the ability to combine the sounds of different instruments. I've always considered myself an orchestral composer. Sometimes I like to leave that world and play in a trio or a quartet, but I've dedicated myself more to writing. [Having a big band] is a lot more difficult logistically in every sense—rehearsing, finding gigs, getting paid, a whole lot of things.

AAJ: But it's worth it?

GK: Yeah, absolutely it's worth it. In the case of the Barcelona band, we're seven. When all seven of us are pulsing at the same time, it's very powerful. It's what I look for in my music. When a lot of people are feeling the same thing at the same moment, it's a very powerful relationship.

The Berklee Gang

AAJ: There seem to be a disproportionate number of Argentine jazz musicians who studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Why did you decide to study there, and what was the experience like?

GK: I had a teacher who taught me classical music here in Buenos Aires, and he told my parents that it would be better if I left [Argentina]. He had studied at Indiana University, and he told my parents, "it would be good for Guillermo to leave to organize his learning a little bit." At the time, I was very disorganized. I played in a rock and roll band, and my father wanted me to study more seriously.

Berklee was great. They have everything there. The most important thing is the people, the other students that you meet. For example, I put together a big band, my first big band, and all of the members of the band were students at Berklee with me. That's how I know Richard Nant, that's how I know Juan Cruz de Urquiza, people that I've kept playing with. Jorge Rossy is another one. You can count up a whole gang of musicians. I met Danilo Perez there too. Miguel Zenon, who later came to New York, had gone to Berklee. How can you say that you're against Berklee? A lot of people like to complain about Berklee, but if Berklee was the place where I saw all these musicians developing, how could it be bad?

The New Buenos Aires Scene

AAJ: You played in New York for six years at Smalls and The Jazz Standard and then returned to Argentina. Why did you go back?

GK: Because I had a lot of desire to. I was [in Argentina] for two years, and they were very, very intense. I wrote a ton of music, I played a ton. It was an unforgettable experience. It was very important for me to return. Sometimes you can't explain your decisions thoroughly. Although I think that if you let yourself follow your desires, later, you won't regret anything.

AAJ: A lot of musicians have told me that ten years ago, jazz in Argentina was very different from what it is today; that there was a lot of jazz-rock fusion and the music was more imitative. When you returned to Argentina in 2000, what was the scene like?

GK: It's true. There was more fusion. But in New York it was that way too at the beginning of the 90s. What's happened is that, I think today jazz in Buenos Aires has a stronger connection to its roots. I feel that every time I go, there's more happening. It's much more interesting than before. I think jazz [in Buenos Aires] has evolved a lot over the last ten years. If you think about it, there are many more jazz musicians than rock musicians now. It used to be the reverse. It's probably up to a sociologist to see why this has happened, but thankfully, now when you go to Buenos Aires, you can always catch good bands.

AAJ: So when you went back to Buenos Aires there weren't a lot of great players, but there was something of a scene for creative jazz?

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