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Simon Toldam: A New Perspective in Jazz

Jakob Baekgaard By

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"Definitely. When it comes down to it, music is just sound. No matter the genre, if you bring that word on the table, or the type of sounds. In essence, It is just sound and you react on impulses. The more you are capable of being in the moment, the more you will be able to let the music speak its own language. If you get to the essence of it all, there is no difference to me between playing a song with a singer and playing abstract music with Stork. In essence, it is the same. Some sounds are created and they inspire you to do something or you throw some sounds out that provoke a reaction. It is about being faithful towards the music without thinking too much. Just let it play."

"I had a masterclass with the pianist Butch Lacy and he said that the music is there all the time. It is a river that flows all the time -this is also true when we don't play. When we play, we just jump into the river and let ourselves be carried away. It is a great metaphor that explains what goes on when you play, at least for me. You don't have to control the music, you can just float away. You can do this no matter if it is a song with simple chords or advanced music. The more you do this, the less work, because then it is dictated from somewhere."

The idea of the music coming from somewhere else points towards something metaphysical and spiritual. Toldam elaborates on the spiritual dimension in music that can also be recognized in a pianist like Keith Jarrett:

"I definitely believe that you need to have some kind of spirit, but it does not have to be religious, I don't think it should be that, but there is a spiritual layer. It is not because I feel that when I play that things come from above, I don't know where they come from -and sometimes there is just emptiness. When you play, there are certain sounds, surroundings, and you have the people you are playing with on the stage. It gives some impulses that provoke a conscious or unconscious reaction. That's the practical way of looking at it, but there is definitely also a spiritual layer. It has something to do with the fact that everyone can hit a cymbal with a drumstick, but sometimes it sounds so beautiful that it can make you cry. Why is it that way?"

Speaking of people who are capable of hitting a cymbal with a drumstick in a special way, Toldam plays in a trio with Dutch avant-garde drummer Han Bennink and comments on his relationship with the drummer:

"I'm really grateful because I have been allowed to play with him and still do. Not just playing with him, but also being with him. As a human, he is really exciting to be around and he is totally present when you are with him. Life and art coalesce all the time. And I have learned a lot from playing with him. The first couple of times I played with him I felt as if he could not hear what I was playing. The very first time was like a freight train that started when we played. If I had to do anything at all, I had to create my own freight train and hope that perhaps we would meet at some point. Because I could not hear that we played together."

"But after we played together for some time, I realized that he reacts on everything, but oftentimes with tiny details and he hears something in the music I play that I don't hear myself. He has an incredibly sense of rhythm -when I play something he finds some kind of rhythm or tempo in it that I cannot hear myself, in that way he is able to transform my playing so it becomes something entirely new because he hears a layer that I cannot identify myself. Therefore, it is educational to play with someone like him and, besides, he has this otherworldly swing that grabs you. He has old school jazz mixed with the Fluxus-movement and the avant-garde approach where everything can become art if you want it to be. He can both enjoy playing a good song without doing anything about it and he can freak out and become abstract."

The idea of moving in different musical areas that Toldam has experienced with Bennink is also something that he brings to his own trio:

"It is exciting to be able to move between these outer reaches. To be able to move in such a big area where you can play a beautiful song and a swinging tune and suddenly a new door opens and you are doing something different. This is also something I bring to the trio, the joy of doing both things without being limited by any band rules or restrictions. There is a more clear direction in my other project Stork and that adds something else."

While Toldam's two main projects, the trio and Stork, could be seen to represent two opposites, a free and more through-composed approach, Toldam himself is sensing a growing affinity between them:

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