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Kurt Rosenwinkel: Reflections from Berlin

Franz A. Matzner By

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AAJ: What is the jazz/music scene in Berlin like now?

KR: There are many very talented players in Berlin. There are a few places where these people can play. But I feel it lacks a serious scene in terms of bands developing their music on a regular basis. There is some of that, of course, but I think the potential is still untapped. There are more and more great musicians turning up in the city all the time.

AAJ:What do you get out of teaching? What has been the most surprising aspect of teaching in Germany?

KR: It gives me a place to meet people, students and teachers, to feel a certain integration with the city and the people who live there. It provides enough money to take care of my domestic needs on a steady basis, and is flexible enough to allow for my touring and recording career.

The most surprising aspect of teaching in Germany was witnessing the integration of the East school and the West school into one school—the Jazz Institute Berlin, or JIB. I came at a very interesting time where the two schools received a mandate from the two larger university systems to become one unified school.

When I came, there were two buildings being used—one in the east, one in the west—and the students were constantly commuting between them. Now we have been at our new, unified location in the west for about a year. At one point, though, we all attended a kind of retreat which was conducted by an outside consultant, hired by the school to help us come up with a functioning administrative entity. It was a democracy project==a constitutional congress where we debated the best way to organize the hierarchy and job descriptions and division of responsibilities of all positions in the school; the functional elements of the school itself! It was very interesting and at the end I think we all felt good about what we had come up with.



But a lot of what we proposed was later shot down by the heads of the two still separate east and west universities, the Hans Eisler and the UDK. They wanted us to be unified but they still wanted to retain their own distinct influences and control within the school, which undermined the possibilities of true unity. In the end, though, I don't think that really made all that much difference and I think people are feeling pretty good about things. But it was very interesting to be a part of a political science experiment. And it was also quite novel to realize that this was all a direct inheritance of the history of Germany, WWII and the Cold War.

AAJ: You mentioned, in a previous interview, that you moved to Europe because of a healthier lifestyle—better healthcare, etc. That was over six years ago, and while certainly the American lifestyle hasn't gone through a wholesale evolution, a lot has changed. It is arguably a different time in America now. Do you envision returning to the States at some point?

KR: For now I am cool where I am. I don't think it has gotten any better in the States in terms of the cost of raising a family. If anything, it's gotten worse. It costs next to nothing to send a child to school here, all the way through 'til [a] Master's degree. Health care is affordable. I am not bombarded with advertising everywhere I go, and people are generally pretty cool. That said, it is not my culture, and I do feel the sense that I "belong" more to the States than to "Europe."

But then again, I don't wanna belong. I don't want to be a part of that larger cultural conversation in the United States. I don't share the same experience or assumptions about life that most people do here or there, so it ain't really that simple.

Mostly it really just boils down to that my kids are in Berlin, so I will stay in Berlin.

Reflections

AAJ: You have a new album out, Reflections. This is a very mellow, contemplative album. Very elegant. What made you choose a trio setting as the follow-up to The Remedy, and can you describe what led you in this creative direction?

Kurt Rosenwinkel Standards TrioKR: I thought it would be a refreshing change to play trio for a while, playing standards. It [being mellow and contemplative] was the feeling and mood we had in the studio while recording.

AAJ: You chose to work with Eric Revis and Eric Harland. What about their playing fit this project?

KR: Eric Revis and Eric Harland are the musicians I wanted to play with because they are both open minded and spontaneous, listening musicians. And also, as Ethan Iverson puts it in the liner notes, they are "committed to the straight-ahead mission," which means that we aren't trying to reinvent the wheel here, but rather play in the more traditional jazz conception that we love and know.

That said, there is no dogma involved and that is a critical point. I cannot play with anyone who is playing music from a dogmatic approach. But I also am not about throwing the baby out with the bathwater either. I love the jazz tradition, that is to say the music of jazz. And I know that we share this attitude, and I have had great experiences playing with Eric and Eric in lots of situations.

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