Take Five With Simon Spang-Hanssen

Simon Spang-Hanssen By

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Meet Simon Spang-Hanssen:

First concerts in 1976 with John Tchicai and Strange Brothers, later also with Ben Besiakov, Jesper Lundgaard, Alex Riel, New Jungle Orchestra, Jan Kaspersen, Mozar Terra, Doug Raney.

In Paris, from 1985-98: Orchestra National de Jazz, Denis Badault, Andy Emler, Nguyen Le, Quintet Moutin, Ramuntcho Matta, Edouard Ferlet.

Since 1998, mainly leader of my own ensembles with, amongst others, Kristian Joergensen, Bob Rockwell, Marilyn Mazur,Linley Marthe, Dawda Jobarteh, Thomas Fonnesbech, Mariane Bitran, Xavier Desandre, Mario Canonge, Tony Rabeson, Irio Junior, André Queiroz. Also member of Art Ensemble Syd (DK), with Michael Gregory Jackson or Chris Stover.


Soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, flute.

Teachers and/or influences?

Mostly self-taught. Strongly influenced by John Tchicai, with whom I started out and also by Dexter Gordon, who was often performing in Copenhagen in the seventies/eighties. I actually caught him a couple of times at the Café Montmartre. Other main influences : Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Charlie Parker, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Joe Henderson, as well as Paul Gonsalves, John Gilmore, Steve Lacy, Johnny Griffin and Booker Little.

As a composer/arranger I would also mention Hermeto Pascoal, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Gil Evans, George Russell, Maria Schneider, Joe Zawinul, Fela Kuti, Chucho Valdes and Sun Ra.

In a more general way I have also been listening a lot to traditional and classical music from India, Turkey, Indonesia and Japan; African, Cuban and Brazilian Music (Elis Regina, Milton Nascimento), Art Ensemble Of Chicago, Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, Don Cherry, Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

At 14 I heard Duke Ellington's Money Jungle and was completely captivated (at that time I listened mostly to Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Muddy Waters. Soon after, I bought my first jazz records, the sounds of Johnny Hodges and Charlie Parker soon convincing me that I should become a saxophonist. I got an alto (rented) for my 15th birthday.

Your sound and approach to music:

It was always my idea to work on having a recognizable sound and develop my own ideas. On both soprano and tenor I like to explore the lower register. Generally my approach to music is quite intuitive.

Your teaching approach:

Each student is different, I try to find the best way to give them a taste for both creativity and regular work on the craft.

In ensemble teaching (which I do most), the focus is very much on the internal and external communication, sense of the musical whole, responsibility, energy, consciousness of form, duration, contrast. I usually use my own material; often we work out the forms and details of the arrangements together.

Your dream band:

I already have several ideal bands, some of them could play more often.

It would nice to play with Billy Hart again, it has been a while.

Road story: Your best or worst experience:

A couple of highlights:

A jam with Dexter Gordon at the La Fontaine, Copenhagen around 1982;

A festival-tour in France with Nenê's Band and Hermeto Pascoal e Grupo; the concerts usually ended in the street;

Rainbow Spirit at the Jahazi Festival, Zanzibar in 2012; lots of music, all-night jams in great surroundings.

The first Jazz album I bought was:

Charlie Christian, Live at Minton's Playhouse.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

A personal mix of things that I like, creating little surprises. In my compositions I would for instance use a straight-ahead 32-bar A-A-B-A form, but with not very bebop-ish scales and melodic turn; just an example.

These mixes are not done on purpose but pop up as the writing/playing goes along.

Having more or less started out with free jazz and later moved to modern jazz/bebop and experiences with Brazilian, Turkish, West African music etc., the possibilities of crossings are numerous. At the same time I try to keep the writing coherent and clear.

Did you know...

I am also a painter, mainly oil and gouache, and have had quite a few exhibitions during the last 12 years. Some main-influences: Klee, Miró, Picasso, COBRA, African and Oceanic art.

CDs you are listening to now:

Mario Canonge, Mitan (Kann};

Banda Urbana, Banda Urbana (Kalamata};

Nico Gori, Shadows (EmArcy};

Thelonious Monk, Genius of Modern Music vol.1 (Blue Note};

Chris Stover, Circle by Night (More Zero).

Desert Island picks:

Duke Ellinton, Far East Suite (Columbia};

Grupo Irakere, Live at Newport ( Columbia};

Wayne Shorter, Native Dancer (Columbia};

John Coltrane, African Brass (Impulse! };

Hermeto Pascoal, Zabumba (Bum-a).

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

very creative and becoming more worldwide; great musicians appearing everywhere and a continuous experimentation of mixing jazz with other musical cultures.

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

International exchange , quality performances and conditions, new types of venues and media, curiosity, efficient communication...

What is in the near future?

Concerts in France with my new Trio ( Sébastien Boisseau, bass; Christophe Lavergne, drums), the CD, Luna Moon, was released recently.

Tour in Denmark with my Brazilian Project.

Return to Zanzibar with "Rainbow Spirit" (Dawda Jobarteh, kora; Thomas Fonnesbech, bass; Niclas Campagnol, drums).

Octet "Alisio Ensemble" at Copenhagen Jazz Festival. New album, recording beginning of 2014.

Quartet concerts at Jazzhus Montmartre, fall, 2013

Mix and release of a quartet recording with Michael Gregory Jackson, guitar, voice; Niels Praestholm, bass; Matias Wolf, drums.

Concert November 23, 2013 with Art Ensemble Syd and the Soenderborg Symphony Orchestra (Denmark).

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


Photo Credit

Courtesy of Simon Spang-Hanssen

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