Saskia Laroo: Lady Miles

Gina Vodegel By

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Maybe it's because I hope to connect people through my music. I like all kinds of music and all kinds of people, so maybe my music can connect different people to each other as well.
saskialaroo A new album will hit the streets on March 15. Her name garners respect and admiration. Trumpeter Saskia Laroo, also referred to as a trumpet stylist, has been performing more than three decades on various stages across the globe. We had agreed on an interview for AAJ in 2006, but somehow timetables didn't match up. A year had passed and miss Laroo sent an email apologizing about the delay. In the meantime, I came across a blog from Koen Scherer, a former orthopedagogy behavioral scientist who now occasionally coaches people in improvisational music. He improvised a piano piece titled "Love" which offered room for a musical dialogue. Laroo came to mind, because she had just written me. The sound of a trumpet would be perfect for the piano piece. I asked her whether she'd like to contribute and improvise a trumpet part. She did.

Scherer then went to see Laroo perform in the cafe Alto in Amsterdam, to thank her for her contribution. He ended up on stage with her, playing the piano, thinking it was a jam session. It wasn't until afterwards when Laroo told him it hadn't been a jam session, but a regular gig with her band Jazzkia. It was the start of a wonderful new friendship.

Since Scherer lives in a city near Laroo's hometown Amsterdam, he was in the position to interview her up close and personal, so he agreed to represent AAJ.

Koen Scherer: We met early October 2007, she had invited me to meet at her home in Amsterdam. Laroo had just returned from China and would spent a few days at home before traveling to Taiwan and Bangkok with the Saskia Laroo Band, a groovy dance jazz band. This is typical for her versatility concerning instrumentation as well as genres and styles. Because next to Jazzkia and her dance jazz band, Laroo's also skilled in Salsa, performing this music with her Salsabop Band. On top of that, she's involved in individual projects and duo performances with her lifetime partner, a remarkable pianist from the United States, Warren Byrd.

Saskia Laroo explains her preference for versatility by thinking out loud: Maybe it's because I hope to connect people through my music. I like all kinds of music and all kinds of people, so maybe my music can connect different people to each other as well. It's like falling in love with a certain style over and over again. I've always considered it strange, for people to stay put in the world they know. Reality taught me that playing the "wrong" music for a "wrong" crowd is awful. When I just started out, I had no clue whatsoever. I was asked to come and play, but people had a different style in mind and were disappointed. I hated that, so I decided to learn as much genres and music as possible, so no matter where I was, there would always be something I could play so the audience had a good time that evening.

All About Jazz: How about your musical upbringing, why did you choose the trumpet?

Saskia Laroo: When I was seven years old, I started with recorder lessons at our local music school. I followed lessons until I was 11. It was merely a coincidence how I got introduced to the trumpet when I became a member of the village brass band at eight. During my high school years I picked up playing the cello. I did that for three years, because it was a genuine instrument. But by the time I'd reached the age of fourteen, I thought it was a stupid instrument, being in puberty. A guitar was the real deal then! And singing.

At high school (the Zaanland Lyceum) I joined the school's big band at age sixteen, playing my trumpet. Leader was Jan Molenaar. I remember thinking wow, what is that? I saw and heard this horn section and I so wanted to be part of that.

Soon it became clear that Laroo had a real talent for improvisation.

SL: I had no idea I was capable of that, to be playing something at the spot. I thought it was impossible, I wanted to analyze it, to reason about the idea intellectually. At the time I couldn't realize that improvising depends on having faith in your intuition. It was such a magical thing.

At age eighteen, Laroo went to Amsterdam, to study Mathematics. A whole new world dawned upon her and she soon discovered the music scene; she took part in workshops of Arnold Dooyeweerd (teacher at the Amsterdam Conservatory) and trumpeter Nedley Elstak.

SL: I was so driven by music that I soon learned about schnabbels, earning a few bucks by playing anywhere you can. But to let me play the lead on trumpet, no, my fellow musicians didn't trust me with that yet. Then I wondered what other instrument there was where they would need more musicians for. That's how I started playing the double bass. I practiced for three months, 9 hours a day. I went to jam sessions carrying the Real Book under my arm and that's how I got the gigs. I also took classical lessons, because I wanted to take this whole bass playing seriously. I wanted to learn all the techniques and figured I would be able to learn jazz along the way. I started to study how others play bass and found out that audiences seldom notice when mistakes are made. That's entirely different compared to the trumpet, every mistake you make is heard.

Playing as a bassist got me into the scene of schnabbels and after a while, people got used to the idea that I schnabbelde as a musician (being a math student) and they also hired me as a trumpeter. I was accepted as such, yes.

Laroo quit university and enlisted for a music education instead. She studied classical trumpet at the Muziekpedagogische Academie in Alkmaar followed by two years at the Amsterdam Conservatory studying under Boy Raaymakers where they expelled her because she "lacked the talent."

SL: In a way they were right, I was so busy organizing gigs and putting together bands that I hadn't studied much. But I already studied music for 4 years, so I wanted a chance to finish it. That's why I went to Hilversum, my teacher there was Ack van Rooyen. Things weren't really smooth there either. Both Raaymakers and van Rooyten thought I played without emotion. They were right, to some extent. So I decided to play in a way that wouldn't require emotion, or wouldn't give away I couldn't understand what they tried to teach me. It's like learning to speak a language. I hadn't mastered the dialect of jazz yet, all I knew was the countryside-like dialect of the local brass band, you know.

My graduation in Hilversum was perhaps a little unorthodox. I played more relaxed when on stage than at school, so I made recordings of my live performances and played those for the teachers. They thought it sounded good and then van Rooyen let me take the exams and graduate.


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