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Take Five With...

Take Five with Chris Abelen


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About Chris Abelen

Chris Abelen started, as many trombonists, with the trumpet (at the age of 11). At the age of 18 he switched to the trombone. He studied classical trombone with Charles Toet and Henri Aarts, and after four years moved to Amsterdam to study jazz and improvised music with Willem van Manen, former 1st trombonist of the Willem Breuker Kollektief. When Van Manen left, Abelen started to perform with the Kollektief in the summer of 1984. After extensive touring with this band he left at the beginning of 1988, to start his own bands. Over the years Abelen produced seven albums, from a quartet to a tentet, and wrote all the compositions and arrangements for these bands.

Beside his own bands, Abelen toured and recorded with the Contraband, from his former teacher Willem van Manen, and with other bands, such as the Paradise Regained Orchestra, Eric van der Westen Octet and Dick de Graaf Septet. Chris Abelen is also working as a professional engraver.


Trombone, piano.

Teachers and/or influences?

I had a lot of teachers from my childhood but I would like to mention Charles Toet, a baroque trombonist and my 1st trombone teacher at the Academy of Music (I started with classical trombone), and Willem van Manen, with whom I studied jazz and improvisation in Amsterdam.

About the influences, on trombone Dick Shearer, when talking about sound and J.J. Johnson (clarity). I hardly listen to other trombone players but Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton and Keith Jarrett are my main influences in jazz.

Your sound and approach to music

As mentioned before, Dick Shearer for the sound.

And the approach to music, I learned from Willem Breuker when I played in his band to listen to other music than jazz. So I started listening to Mozart, and later on expanded this to all the great classical composers. But my favorites are still Mozart for his Da Ponte operas, Beethoven and Schubert for their string quartets and piano sonatas, and Stravinsky for The Rake's Progress.

Your teaching approach

I don't teach, but when someone asks me advice on how to improvise I tell them to take long breaks between their phrases. This gives more room to the music, otherwise you will be listening to a kind of 8th note exercise instead of a solo with a story or idea.

Road story: Your best or worst experience

Once I had a concert with my quintet and during this concert there was a lady who was talking the entire time. Very disturbing, so I asked her after the concert why she didn't stop while we were playing. She said 'O, I supposed this was allowed because it is a jazz concert.' I asked her if she didn't notice she was the only one. But she had no idea what I was talking about, so I gave her my CD of the band to listen at home so she could hear what she missed.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

Space, with my quintet, Ab Baars on clarinet and the Zapp String Quartet.

The first jazz album I bought was:

I can't remember, must be something with a big band, I think from Stan Kenton, Live at Redlands University. The Kenton albums were hard to get in those days, but one day I was shopping in another town and in a department store like Harrods they had to my surprise a few Creative World Kenton albums. But I didn't have any money with me, so I took the train home, and hoped they would still be there when I returned. Fortunately for me most people didn't know Kenton in the Netherlands so I went home as the proud owner of some very rare Stan Kenton albums (among them the Graettinger's City of Glass and Adventures in Standards with the mellophones).

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

A fine state, but it could use some more listeners and performers.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

Education, the risk nowadays is with everybody listening within their own bubble, young children don't hear any (jazz) music outside it anymore. The same goes for classical music.

What is in the near future?

At this moment I am working on a new project, Songs on the eve of dismissal, with a friend of mine, Bastiaan Geleijnse who wrote the lyrics. We first wanted to write an opera, but this project it more manageable to start with. It's about working in an office, with the fear of being dismissed, instead of the usual love song themes.

For this project I released two albums, the Songs album and A day at the office, the instrumental part of the project (Lorena del Mar sings the Songs titles). We are organising a tour for this project in western Europe.

What is your greatest fear when you perform?

It is not really a fear but more an inconvenience, dry lips which limits my range. So don't eat a pasta with Parmesan cheese before a concert.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

"Walk Softly" by theStan Kenton Orchestra, from the album Live at the London Hilton Hotel. And my relatives should play "Shout" from The Trammps and "California Soul" from Marlena Shaw during the afterparty.

What is your favorite song to whistle or sing in the shower?

I usually whistle the song I last heard or played.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:

1st violin player in a string quartet.

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