At the turn of the decade, German-born pianist Matthias Bublath got organized at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA. After a free-wheeling stint in Linz, Austria, his musical education began in earnest, but it was also at Berklee that he took up the Hammond B3 organ. Since then the young pianist has become an enthusiastic organ specialist, using both instruments to develop his musical ideas.
Although he's a thoroughly proficient player, the range and richness of his compositional prowess is especially striking. Starting in 2006 he has released a CD every year featuring his own material. His music is at times complex, but always melodic and greatly enhanced by his close collaborative relationship with Tim Collins (vibes) and Takuya Kuroda (trumpet). Their creative input, along with their tasteful and inventive playing, form the core of Bublath's distinctive sound.
His debut, Matthias Bublath Band (Matthias Bublath, 2006), was split between his piano trio and his Hammond B3 band, while Second Angle (Matthias Bublath, 2008) was entirely devoted to the B3. Both received glowing and well-deserved reviews here at All About Jazz. In between, Latin Jazz (Matthias Bublath, 2007) was an excellent piano outing, featuring Latin and Afro/Cuban-inspired material. Voices (Downhill Music, 2009) is, perhaps, his best to date, enhanced by the veteran rhythm section of drummer Zach Danziger and bassist Tim Lefebvre, along with Ezra Brown's soulful sax.
AAJ: It's a bit unusual for come across someone who seems equally at home on a Hammond B3 or a piano. Lots of pianists also play Hammond, but few kick bass lines on the B3 pedals. You started playing organ and piano at age 8 and were more or less self taught, how in the world did you learn foot bass?
MB: Yeah I started on piano, playing boogie-woogie and a lot of blues stuff, you know, and playing left hand bass. But I really didn't start playing the organ until I moved to the States in 2000. I played organ in funk bands as a keyboard player, but the first time I actually played a Hammond organ was in the States because it isn't such a big tradition here in Europe and there aren't too many Hammond organs around.
AAJ: Back to the foot bass, if I'm listening correctly you are doing some foot bass lines, or are you mixing it with your left hand?
MB: Right, it's both, left hand and foot pedals, often doubled, with some changing around, it's my special technique, not only with the foot.
AAJ: A bit like Jimmy Smith?
MB: Yeah, but Jimmy Smith was mostly tapping with his left foot. In an ideal situation you would double everything you play to get a bigger sound, but sometimes you need to play chords with the left hand so it's just the foot. But if it gets really fast, for me it's better to do it with the left hand and just use the pedals to accentuate certain notes.
AAJ: You started so early, I wonder if you've noticed this. Like when learning a language, if you start before puberty it is all very natural and intuitive. I suspect that it's similar when learning a musical instrument. What do you think?
MB: Yes, I think that is an advantage because you kind of grow up with it. I listened to so many blues records when I was very young and I tried to imitate them, so I sort of have that feeling in me. But yes, that's totally right, it's like a language.
AAJ: Listening to your first three CDs it sometimes seemed to me like there were two very different musicians using the name Matthias Bublath. It's not just that the piano and organ have such different techniques and sounds, your musical personality, tastes, and approach also seems to changeon piano adjectives like complex and elegant come to mind. On organ, you seem funkier and much more about groove. Any truth to that?
MB: Yeah, I never thought about it like that because many people have told me that my organ playing is influenced by my piano playing. When somebody knows me as a pianist and then they hear me play organ, then they'll say, "So that's where you get that funky stuff from!" So I never thought the other way around, but I guess the funky thing is the nature of the organ. And in the last few years I guess I've explored my more lyrical side on piano. Perhaps because I've been working a lot more on classical music over the past few years and that's flowed into my piano playing.
AAJ: The music we hear as children seems to have an impact on the development of our musical tastes. What music was playing in your home during your childhood?
MB: My parents listen to Chopin a lot. I listened to it then, but didn't try to play it, so I don't know how much of an influence it was. But perhaps from just listening to it I absorbed something. And in Germany, of course, there's a lot of Mozart and Beethoven, so my parents are classical music fans. They weren't musicians, so they just listened for the joy of it.
AAJ: Any brothers or sisters who played a musical instrument?
MB: I have a sister who played a little flute, but she became a doctor so she had a very different direction.