Jochen Pfister: Touring with Sheila Jordan

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German pianist Jochen Pfister had played in workshops with Sheila Jordan in Germany and, at her invitation, in the United States. In 2008, while in Cologne, he asked her if she might be interested in a German tour. "Yes" was the answer, and now it's about happen The first gig is Friday Match 6, 2009, in Pfister's hometown of Nuremburg.

Pfister and his trio, Tr3ibhaus (in German, the word means "hothouse"—a Dexter Gordon influence?)— which, in addition to Pfister, includes bassist Alexander Spengler and drummer Julian Fau—will be accompanying Jordan on a tour through several German cities and towns: Nuremberg, Villingen, Munich, Franfurt, Oberasbach and finally on to Heilbronn on March 14, 2009. Of Villingen, Pfister says, "It's a little town but they have a pretty good jazz club there where all the American artists come to play [the gig is at the Jazz Club], and the next day, on Sunday, we're gonna play in Munich. The Unterfahrt is the name of the club, it's also pretty prestigious. Then she's going to teach for two days in Munich, and then we're going to Frankfurt."

Tr3ibhaus / Jochen Pfister Tr3ibhaus

Pfister's own jazz background began when he was entering his teens and he took lessons in piano from a teacher who taught him a lot of boogie-woogie and blues. Earlier, he had taken classical lessons for two months, but the approach wasn't working. A few years later, with the new teacher, he found what he refers to as the "fun of music." At school he played in rock/funk/soul bands, including some arranging for three horns in the ensemble. He went to university with the idea of becoming a school teacher, but after learning more about the music world in general, he knew he had to go on to music school, and attended the Nuremburg/Augsburg Conservatory. He says "I knew had to at least try the Conservatory." In 2006 he went on to the Baroque city of Wurzburg for his Concert Diploma, for new influences and different teachers.

Pfister's piano influences soon coalesced around Bill Evans—he was listening to him a lot—but some of his conservatory teachers suggested other music also. Pfister explains, "They said, 'it's good what you are doing, with Bill Evans' playing, but you should check more really straight-ahead swing things, and the best guy to listen to is Oscar Peterson.' So a kind of Oscar Peterson period started. And I liked it, but in a way it was frustrating because he was so technically 'on top.' I was transcribing things and was never able to really play it like that—[in] the tempos. It was frustrating, and that's the reason I switched to other people." But the "call of the wild," of the less mainstream, returned with Pfister's encountering Jordan.

Jordan had studied with Lennie Tristano, and she gave Pfister music of Tristano's tunes and solos. Coincidentally, a teacher at his new music school in Wurzburg was also a fan of Tristano. Pfister says, "And so returning to Germany—this was the time I was at Wurzburg—I went over that book and my teacher [at Wurzburg] was pretty much into Lennie Tristano, and there I discovered him. And so, let's say [in] the last two years, I have listened to him quite a lot. I like his approach, to see the harmonic progressions and what he did melodically. He was really ahead of his time and everybody else. It wasn't really hip at that time, it wasn't common, and he discovered it. If you listen to all the modern players today there is always a little kind of Lenny Tristano-ish influence or view of things in their playing. And that's fascinating to me because he was really ahead of his time. He died too young to see all the influence he has had on people. But I think the main reason for that is that he was teaching so much in the '50s and '60s."

Another influence is Bud "Hammerfingers" Powell. Says Pfister, "For bebop he is the main address. Powell used a lot of double time, really fast. [It is] difficult to transcribe these things." Powell also occasionally exhibited a Latin influence, for example on "Un Poco Loco," something of which Pfister is a big fan. He also recommends Bud Powell's trio recording of "A Night In Tunisia," with Max Roach on drums.

Looking at a classic recording, Pfister says he occasionally picks up "the tune by ear, but [to study the harmonies and] to really see what is happening," he says, "it is necessary to study a track note by note."

Before he became interested in jazz, he not too surprisingly went through a rock phase, as a teenager. He makes the interesting comment that rockers AC/DC are really boogie-woogie with electric guitars. "There is a connection there." And so he made his way through to jazz itself, with its greater variety of aspects. Before that, though, his secondary school experience was useful, arranging numbers for a funk band with three horns and a singer. After he left school, Pfister had a job with a "real rock and roll/soul band" that played fifties music. He says it was good to be in a band with "kind of professionals, pros" who toured around Europe. Hee says the music, however, "was not my bag." And so he turned to jazz. "[I have] ended up where I want to be, "Pfister declares. His arranging has also included the obvious trio format, and a quartet including a singer, Sabine. "I also did some arranging for big band once—for a vocal quintet—sometimes they play live."

Chapter Index

  1. Jazz in Germany
  2. The New Standards
  3. Sheila Jordan
  4. Tr3ibhaus


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