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Gunter Hampel: Bringing Music to the People

AAJ Staff By

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By Gunter Hampel

As a composer, arranger, bandleader and now the owner of BIRTH Records, I have been undergoing changes in publishing my music on LPs, CDs, cassettes and video. As a new carrier, the DVD has arrived and seems to be the new way of bringing music to the people.

Actually, in the '80s, when CDs were coming out, I didn't believe it as the successor to the the LP. The CD did not add anything but length of performance. As a matter of fact, there are many who still think that the sound on a LP is much more alive than CD.

Jazz, besides being a great inspiration to my fantasy, is where I get turned on to things in my mind when I listen to great music. The attraction of jazz is much more intense when watching the band playing. This is why I bought myself a camcorder and started to document concerts on video, because if we need a new way to present our music, it would have to also be visible. This is why I go to concerts as I can see much better how the music is being played, nothing new to anybody who goes out and enjoys live concerts.

But the industry had it otherwise. Now, after 20 years of reissuing everything we already had on LPs (the industry figured they could use all the material they have stored in their vaults without having to pay musicians). That resulted in having the standards ("Tea for Two", etc.) coming back onto the scene. If we are having a free jazz revival, we also are having a revival of a scene where countless music students from countless jazz schools, where they teach jazz like classical music, are replaying the songs from the past - the historic jazz - largely coming from the 20 years of reissuing everything on CD.

What this has done to a contemporary musician who plays the now, can be summed up by a then young jazz musician, who told me 15 years ago: "We are the generation with no audience." So, I thought that videos would be a better way to enjoy our music. But the way videos were mostly done, it couldn't work. If you bought a video, It's tiring to have to listen to all the talk of the narrators, witnesses and "important" anecdotes. That went so far that a musician's solo was cut off; actually they never played a piece of music all the way, someone always had to talk.

That makes videos like newspapers. One time listening and watching and you had enough. I conceived the filmed performance as a piece of art in itself, a self-explaining, wonderful, educational experience. As a musician, always trying to learn, it helped me to see how Lionel Hampton or Milt Jackson were executing their music. I could see in the movements of their hands, fingers, arms, body, where the music comes from.

I thought, in the '80s, that that would be the new way to enjoy a concert in my own home. The CD is on the decline, and as much as I welcome a medium that can carry music around the world, DVDs are already selling more than CDs. Worldwide there seem to be more DVD players than CD players. On a recent tour in the US, with my New York Trio (Perry Robinson and Lou Grassi), I sold at concerts more DVDs than CDs, and the same while on a European tour at the moment of this writing.

I publish sets, or complete concerts on DVD. This way the music can unfold and I can put one or two hours of "live" music onto a disc and my vision of the '80s can now finally proceed. Everything, which has to be said in words can be added in easy accessable sections, or in writings. Alto saxophonist Marion Brown once said that these videos give you the impression ofsitting in the audience.

I am doing a lot of musician and children workshops these days, and in addition to concerts, we do afternoon workshops as well. We are turning the children on in having them play with us. This way they experience, by way of dancing, to move, and to transform the movements into rhythms, teaching them to listen, to play on call and response actions, and play with them by way of percussion instruments.

There are always, in each new generation, new young musicians who will keep on playing jazz, historic jazz or their own version, as to document the sound of their generation. I meet them every day. What we all have to take care of is to turn on new audiences, as Louis Armstrong turned me on, and as I have turned on others in my now 50 years of playing jazz professionally.

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