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Jakob Bro: Searching for Beauty Through Sound

Jakob Baekgaard By

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The New York Jazz Scene and Paul Motian

In America, the musical relationship between Rune Kielsgaard, Eske Nørrelykke and Bro started to dissolve, and he moved back to Copenhagen after studying at Berklee and formed the band Beautiful Day with saxophonist Jacob Dinesen. The band was his entry into the Copenhagen jazz scene, and they played a lot of concerts and received many positive reviews.



After Copenhagen, Bro finally moved to New York to study at Manhattan School of Music, but he found himself unsatisfied with the musical milieu of the school. Instead, he formed new connections outside the school, taking lessons with guitarist Steve Cardenas and bassist Ben Street, at whose apartment he lived for a period. Street introduced him to a lot of people, including saxophonist Mark Turner, and he gradually became aware of the New York jazz scene, with people like saxophonist Chris Cheek, bassist Larry Grenadier and pianist Ethan Iverson.

Bro returned to Copenhagen and was in doubt as to whether he would go back to New York again. At this point, he played with Beautiful Day again. But then, one day, bassist Anders Christensen told him that he had been considered for a position in Paul Motian's Electric Bebop Band. As it turned out, the guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel got the gig, but it was amazing to the guitarist that they had thought about him. However, the dream would actually come true. Later he was told to contact Paul Motian, and he phoned him, and things were set up. Bro says: "I prepared for six months and memorized Motion's repertoire, all of his songs, so when I started playing with him [in 2002], and he announced the compositions on stage, I could play them by heart, while the others were looking at sheet music. Playing with Motian was the greatest thing. It doesn't get better than that, and it opened a lot of doors. It's a whole network I have gotten access to through him."

Making Records and Working as a Sideman

Speaking of his network, Bro says: "I have been very happy working with Danish saxophonist Niels Lyhne Løkkegaard and trumpeter Jacob Buchanan, and generally I try to find jobs where I can be myself but also be challenged musically. I am very privileged because I haven't been in a situation where I regretted that I said yes to a job. I have learned incredibly much from playing with Paul Motian and Tomasz Stanko. When I started out in Stanko's band, there wasn't room for a guitar, so I had to create a space where I could play, and a situation like that has taught me a lot. But ultimately, my goal is to play my own compositions and immerse myself in the music, but I'm still young and have a lot to learn. Hank Roberts has given me the opportunity to be in his band, and this is another way I can develop my musical language. So there are offers you can't refuse, but there might come a time where I will have to cut down on the jobs as a sideman."

While being in demand as a sideman can potentially create a conflict in terms of finding time to focus on his own projects, Bro has also found that working as a sideman has given him the opportunity to include players of a very high caliber on his records: "Playing with people like Paul Motian and Tomasz Stanko has given me the opportunity to hire some musicians who can bring a lot to my music. This has especially been the case on my last two records, Balladeering (Loveland Records, 2009) and Time (Loveland Records, 2011), where it has been unique that I could just say to guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan, 'These are sketches. Let's just play them and see what happens.' And then an aesthetic rises out of it all. It just blooms, and it has been unbelievable to witness. It is a case of bringing just enough to make the music happen."

There is one guest on Balladeering and Time who especially stands out: Lee Konitz. Speaking of his experience of recording with Konitz, Bro says: "When I heard Konitz play, it was so fragile. It was as if it could collapse any moment. It was a process where it was hard to tell what was going on, but something was released. I stood beside him and had never tried a thing like that before. I didn't know whether it was right or wrong; it was a strange feeling. But then, when I heard it outside the studio, it was, like, incredible—it became more than music. When Lee plays, it is something bigger. It is some kind of sound you become witness to."

Jakob Bro—BalladeeringElaborating on his experience of hearing Konitz, Bro says: "When I hear Konitz, there is something. I think he sings directly from inside. It doesn't matter whether he makes a mistake, it touches something. There are others who might be better technically and have developed their own language but still don't touch me, so there are many things that have to fall into place before a musician makes sense to me. You can take Coltrane: he was incredible in terms of technique, but I never think about that, it just goes straight into the heart. That's what I aim for. And the thing is, you can also do this with two chords and a blues scale, but no matter what, it takes a lot of practice."

Looking back at his musical journey, Bro sees it as divided into two paths: "I believe my career has been two things. One has been to create records—simply create a kind of beauty—and another has been to practice my instrument and develop myself that way. I don't feel like Balladeering and Time are guitar records. That's not the way I hear them. It's music. I wanted to make music that I would like to listen to, and this is a development I have gone through. I have played long solos and experimented a lot, but soon I became aware of the aesthetic I wanted to follow. I would rather play a few choruses where I tell a story than just try a lot of different things. I have also thought a lot about leaving out the solos. Sometimes the song only needs one solo, and this is an approach that is reflected in my writing. I heard saxophonist Chris Cheek play a solo on his record I Wish I Knew (Fresh Sound New Talent, 1997), and it was only one chorus, but that chorus really meant something. I have listened a lot to Coltrane's records and still do, and you cannot really compare the two universes, but I just realized I couldn't do it Coltrane's way when I played live. You can play a solo for 15 minutes, but something is lost. There are very few musicians who can play so long a solo and still keep it interesting. I prefer to play it short and profound rather than long, drawn out."

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