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Tineke Postma: Keeping Honest in Holland


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It's like a mirror. If I, as a person, am in a certain state, you definitely hear that in my music. It forces me to be a real person, be honest looking at myself and the world around me--to be able to express myself in an honest way.
Tineke Postma's bright voice from Holland has been making a mark on the U.S. scene over the last couple years, with its a bright, clear alto sax sound and a penchant for thoughtful, enthralling melodies. Postma started listening to classical music while growing up in Heerenveen in the northern part of The Netherlands, starting on flute before switching to saxophone. As she moved into music, she began exploring jazz little by little, among other forms of music. But her spirit and creativity have been unleashed in jazz, as evidenced by a brief, but noteworthy recording career. She jumped more into America's consciousness last year with the release of The Traveller, with superb U.S. musicians Geri Allen, Scott Colley and Terri Lyne Carrington. But all her records sound good.

Recently, The Dawn of Life (Challenge Records) was released in Europe. It is scheduled to come out on September 13th in the U.S., and there will be some American performance dates around that time. It features her regular Dutch Quartet of Marc van Roon on piano, Frans van der Hoeven on bass and Martijn Vink on drums. Esperanza Spalding provides her distinctive jazz vocals on one of the cuts. Postma's recordings show a maturing jazz musician with a clear, yet wistful, sound. She soars dreamily and digs in firmly. There will be a lot to come from this imaginative artist.

"I love the improvisation part. I'm really happy to have the luxury to express myself through jazz because it can go anywhere," she says. "I love the interaction between the musicians on stage. I'm not the kind of musician who only wants to play a solo, show what I can do and be on my little island on stage. I like to have collective improvisation with all the musicians around me—having a dialogue. I think that's really magic. It's so diverse, it can go everywhere."

She avows, "Art is very important to keep people inspired, critical and in touch with spiritual and social parts of life. Jazz can make people grow and develop creative thinking; it touches all those aspects. Jazz is life."

Life jumps right out of the speakers, evident from the first strains of "Cancao de Amor (Suite I Na Floresta do Amazonas)," the opening cut on the new disc. Postma shows her ethereal was of darting around and through a melody. She colors the music with her sweet alto sound, in conjunction with the other musicians. She doesn't just blow over changes. As she says, it's a dialogue, and a blissful one, throughout the recording. "Before the Snow" is pensive and elegant. It's nearly a minute and a half before she steps into the soft cushion the band has laid out, and she sings over it with a deep beauty, a languid and striking statement.

"Leave Me a Place Underground" is music Postma wrote for a poem by Pablo Neruda, The words are brought to life by Spalding, backed by soprano sax this time. This is no pop song tossed in for appeal. It is a twisting, twirling melody where Spalding magically weaves words and wordless cries that are sublime. "Tell It Like It Is" is a Postma ballad—she's crazy heartfelt on ballads—her sound in perfect cohesion with the band to bring about a soft, uplifting mood. Her writing and her airy, but rich, sound have a distinguishing stamp. She wrote most of the new disc and all of the tunes on The Traveller.

Postma says her writing is influenced by everything from classical music—modern composers like Heitor Villa-Lobos, who penned "Cancao de Amor"—to popular music, jazz, "and life itself ... I write in a way that feels personal to me."

"I think this is definitely a step forward," says Postma of her new CD. "I'm getting closer and closer to getting my own voice, in a way. ... I'm very happy I got to record with my Dutch quartet because we've been playing since 2006, traveling a lot."

Postma was in New York City early this year, hanging out with friends like Greg Osby and Donny McCaslin and having fun. She returned to Holland for a tour in that region and parts of Europe. In addition to touring with her compatriots, she wants to tour with American colleagues and play more U.S. dates.

Postma says there are no musicians in her family, but they supported her taking the path into music. "My father listened to a lot of jazz. My mother was singing in a choir. So the love of music was there. It definitely helped me," she says. "But he also listened to pop music like Phil Collins, Dire Straits or Tina Turner. He had a very diverse CD collection. I basically listened most of the time to jazz when I was a little girl. Listening to pop music actually came far later."

In her informal jazz education, Postma "started off as a little kid listening to Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley." It was years later, in her 20s, that she started seeing U.S. jazzmen live when she moved to Amsterdam and started going to the North Sea Jazz Festival. In her hometown area, and later in Amsterdam, there were opportunities to both hear and play jazz.

Tineke Postma (center), with Brad Mehldau (left) and Fleurine

Postma switched from flute to sax at age 10, and was also studying piano. "My favorite player was definitely Cannonball Adderley. I was listening to a lot of Dexter Gordon. I had this CD of him playing ballads. I was technically not yet so skillful, so those songs, those ballads, were accessible for me in a way. I could play along with them. Not perfectly, but it was easier than others ... Even on the flute, I always felt the need to play along with the music I was hearing. I was always trying to fetch the music by ear and play along with it."

With Adderley, what appealed to her was "his spirit and beautiful tone and the bright recordings. They were very beautiful to me. Listening to Charlie Parker was great as well, but the recording quality was maybe not always that great. As I kid, I had more trouble feeling much for (Parker). That came a couple of years later."

Postma was in the band programs in high school and decided to pursue music at the next level. "The idea of going to a conservatory made me very happy. I was very excited about that. I guess the love for music was very strong. Once I was studying at the conservatory (first in Hilversum, then Groningen, and eventually Conservatory of Amsterdam), I thought that was going to be my profession. But of course, during school I also had to form an idea of how that was going to be." She had done some gigs in the north of Holland before moving to Amsterdam, and but most of that occurred in Amsterdam while at conservatory. That was part of the learning process.

"There were playing opportunities," she notes, "but during my conservatory years I also played a lot of pop music to support my studies and everything. So the real jazz gigs, and playing with my group and as a guest, started a couple years later." She came on scholarship to study at the Manhattan School of Music in New York, in 2002. Among her instructors were Dick Oatts, Dave Liebman and Chris Potter.

She was only in New York for about half of a year, working in an exchange program with the Conservatory of Amsterdam. "I was very busy just studying and being part of the program," she says of schooling in Manhattan. "The gigging came later." But it was during her master's degree in New York that she started composing. She won a Sisters in Jazz Award (at the time, part of the International Association for Jazz Education).

At an IAJE conference, she ran into representatives of a Dutch label, Munich Records. "The A&R manager was very convinced he wanted to work with me. He heard me playing in Los Angeles," explains Postma. "From that moment on, I started recording my music." Her debut CD, First Avenue (Munich), was released in 2003, right after she earned her master's degree.

Terri Lyne Carrington, whom Postma met at IAJE, wrote some liner notes for that first album. "Two years later, I asked Terri Lyne to play on my second CD, For the Rhythm (215 Music/Munich Records, 2005). Then she asked me to go on tour with her group with James Genus and Mitchel Forman and Dianne Reeves and Nancy Wilson. We played at Carnegie Hall and Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C." Her career was off and running. "It went pretty fast. I got into the scene pretty fast. So that was great."

Postma has won numerous Dutch and French jazz awards. It's likely she will need to have more room on her mantle as her career grows. But for the saxophonist, she is still, and always, learning. "I am growing much more in it," she says of her career. "Every day, because of beautiful experiences in music ... playing with great musicians such as Terri Lyne Carrington and Esperanza Spalding and my own Dutch quartet, and recording and getting great response and stuff—that stimulates me to go on. But actually, music has always been very important to me and it felt very natural."

With a noted booking firm behind her, International Music Network (Wayne Shorter, Brad Mehldau, Dianne Reeves), she hopes to do a lot more U.S. dates to go with her extensive overseas bookings. She is also part of the Mosaic Project, with Carrington, a group that made a recording last year that will be released before long. It's an all- female project with Spalding, Allen, Helen Sung, Ingrid Jensen, Dianne Reeves, Cassandra Wilson and Dee Dee Bridgewater.

"I hope to keep on doing what I'm doing; keep on improving and developing," says Postma. With her consistently interesting and delightfully creative music, and her captivating sound, it will be a pleasure to watch this musician grow further. She's aware of what is ahead and is looking forward to the challenges and the experiences—in music and life. Just like the title of her 2007 CD, it's a journey that matters.

"It's like a mirror. If I, as a person, am in a certain state, you definitely hear that in my music. It forces me to be a real person, be honest looking at myself and the world around me—to be able to express myself in an honest way. I know from the reaction of the audience. When I'm in the flow and being honest and trying to express myself in a humble way, the audience responds to it. For me, it's a way of living. It's a beautiful path. You never stop growing ... The most important thing is to be there and show your spirit and be inspired creatively, get the best out of yourself," she says. "I love the fact that the outside and all the outer factors are less important ... You can keep on doing it your whole life. The older you get the more wise and inspired you get if you're doing it right. So it's a beautiful thing.

"Every day, I hear new artists that inspire me. There's such a great, large jazz community with different voices. It's very inspiring. The beautiful thing is also that through my music you can also inspire people to take maybe risks or changes and be in the moment. I think there is a great quality to that as well."

Selected Discography

Tineke Postma, The Dawn of Light (Challenge Records, 2011)

Tineke Postma, The Traveller (Self Produced, 2009)

Tineke Postma, A Journey That Matters (Foreign Media Jazz, 2007)

Tineke Postma, Live in Amsterdam (Munich Records, 2006)

Tineke Postma, For the Rhythm (215 Music/Munich Records, 2005)

Tineke Posta, First Avenue, (Munich, 2003)

Photo Credits
Page 2, with Brad Mehldau: Hans Speekenbrink
All Other Photos: Courtesy of Tineke Postma

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