The New Ross Piano Festival is happening this week from 26th to 30th with a Jazz Day curated by Phil Ware. To get you warmed up here is an interview with Lars Jansson, the headline act for this year’s jazz day. Interview by Simon Sargsyan of http://jazzbluesnews.space
First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
I grew up in Örebro, Sweden, went to piano class when I was pretty young. It was sooo boring but my mother found a German piano teacher that got me going. It´s thanks to her that I play. She was a tough teacher but when I started playing jazz she listen to radio recordings I made and came with feedback although she was only teaching classical piano music.
A friend of my parents had a big jazz LP collection and borrowed me some records, Miles, Coltrane, Petersson, Hamton Hawes (I loved it) and that got me started.
What got you interested in picking up the piano? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the piano?
My mother wanted me to play. She played the piano on an amateur basis. After leaving the dentist school after 1 1/2 years a started at the Conservatory. I had a great teacher, Berit Tohver (actually my wife’s teacher too, Kristina Svanberg, please listen at Spotify on her recording, the latest is Debussy, fantastic). I always had classical teachers, but that was good for my technic and to get a nice touch/sound.
How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
Practicing slowly, mindful listening on how to get a beautiful sound just by playing a scale. My wife and my teacher had a teacher Gotfrid Boon who taught that. More focus on the piano as a sound instrument, not a percussion instrument. Indirect through meditation.
What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
1 Slow scale practicing to develop a beautiful sound.
2 Classical finger exercises, Hanon, Hertz, David Baker etc.
3 Bill Dobbins piano books are amazing; they have it all, scales, chords, style….he also made beautiful transcriptions on C Coreas Now he sings now he sobs
4 How to Improvise by Hal Crook how to practise pause between phrases, different length of phrases, articulation, how to build a solo etc.
Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?
I practice a lot I got rhythm, major and minor blues, standards, modal things, free tonality, all kind of different styles. I focus a lot of getting a beautiful line, melody in my solos. Lee Konitz, Coltrane, Evans...
What do you love most about your new album 2017: (Green Moss Black Sand), how it was formed and what you are working on today?
Well actually it´s not my album. It´s totally Sigurdur Flosasons project, music. I just brought my band, Lars Jansson Trio with Danish bass player Thomas Fonnesbaek on bass and my son Paul Svanberg on drums. We have made several collaborations with horn player; Ove Ingemarsson Everything I Love (Spice of Life) and Hans Urlik Equilibrium(Stunt). I have known Sigurdur for many years, actually had his daughter as student for a while. Played my music with his big band in Iceland.
Which are the best jazz albums for you of 2017 year?
Ha ha my wife’s Kristina Svanberg plays Debussy (Nilento Records), I release one trio cd; More Human-Lars Jansson Trio, I recorded new versions on my own ”hits”, More Human, Hope, Mothers in Brazil, Inner Room, I am That…..(Spice of Life) The situation today is that I record for a Japanese label who also make tours in Japan (I have many sweet fans in Japan, look at www.lars.jp), but the distribution is poor, you can’t find my cds except in Japan. I have to buy them and bring to all my concerts. Flosason’s cd has made my playing more known than my own cds.
What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
Often students ask, well when actually performing (you can do that when you are alone in your practice room) you should forget about everything and just come in to that space (Kenny Werner) and as Miles said just listening, just blowing, go for it, be present, mindful.
The intellectual thing can be working on scales, phrases, chords through the circle of 5th, Hal Crooks exercises. You need both but it takes time to integrate the musical language and grammar intuitive in your playing. Meditation practice is to quit the monkey mind so you get open for the music to unfold itself.
Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
My first recording with ECM and Arild Andersen in Rainbow Studio in Oslo with Jan Erk Kongshaug and Manfred Eicher. That was an exciting start as a young piano player. That week I also met Pat Matheny who was recording one of his first cds for ECM.
Last Saturday I played with my son Paul, bass player Christian Spering and trumpet player Peter Asplund at a friend’s birthday party. My friend became 80 and paid us to play and eat and have fun with his guests.
Next week I go to my home town Örebro to teach and have workshop at The Conservatory and at my high school where I graduated 1970. After I will perform a wine tasting with the music teachers.
Many aspiring musicians are always looking for advice when navigating through the music business. Is there any piece of advice you can offer to aspiring students or even your peers that you believe will help them succeed and stay positive in this business?
With the internet so many things have got easier. When I was young I had to make so many phone calls just to get through to the jazz clubs. On the other hand there are many more great musicians today and not many gigs. You really have to ask yourself how important the music is for you, there are a lot of sacrifice and struggle. Especially if you get kids and have to support a family.
I am happy and proud that I have succeeded. I am married and have two kids and two grandchildren.
A lot of young people have to have another job beside the music. My son is a pilot and is teaching that in Malmö besides his playing.
I have composed and promoted my own music, working as a side man, teaching music (and wine), teaching yoga and meditation, compose for chamber orchestra, big band. Doing a lot of different things in my field.
Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?
I really hope it will survive. I work in Oslo with a drummer, Carl Störmer who have a project; Jazzcode.com We visit banks, different kind of business and play jazz and talk about how the business world can learn and use the tools from jazz.
We started a jazz club in my village, Ljungskile and it has been around for more than 30 years now. A lot of good players have visited the club, Maria Schneider, Kenny Wheeler, Art Farmer, Red Mitchell (I used to play with him).
Which collaboration have been the most important experiences for you?
Arild Andersen was a very important start. The year with Jan Garbarek was inspiring. Playing big band with Bob Mintzer and Maria Schneider. Of course having my own Trio for more than 30 years has been my bass.(Ground of Being)
How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
Good question. There are still a lot of jazz at the different levels of music schools. Too little of jazz in TV. That’s why I visit schools to inspire and talk about/play jazz. The Jazz festival in July in Copenhagen, Denmark is hope for the future. More than 1000 concerts in 10 days. Outdoors, at cafes, big venues…...
John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
I have always thought I was a pretty poor player and I have been thinking so many times to stop playing. Now getting older it´s getting easier and actually more fun. And I must say that through the struggle and hard times that’s when I really learned something about myself and life. The music kind of leads you. It demands honesty and sincerity. The music made me start with meditation that I have been practising for 40 years. I went to India in the late 80’s to meet a guru…..and Japan with the Zen tradition is my second home. I have been there 21 times.
What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?
Of course the climate change and the terror in the world. I am thinking of my grandchildren. A friend and neighbour died in Stockholm in the terror half a year ago.
If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
That the politicians and media people would give more space and time for jazz. I know they would love it. (That’s why I am happy you asking these good questions, thank you)
What’s the next musical frontier for you?
Just now I am writing a big band piece and I have about 6-7 new songs for a new trio recording in April. I think the title will be; Just This (zen thing)
Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?
I have not played that kind of style but I guess that grove, time, dance and improvisation is equal important
Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
Ha ha Kristina Svanberg plays Debussy…….Alban Berg, always go back to the masters, Monk, Hancock, Coltrane, Corea…...
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
If I would go into the future it would be interesting to see if we will have our summer house on Mars and go there in the weekends or even further out in space.
If going back it would have been fantastic to see Buddha. Also just go back to the 60’s to meet Jan Johansson, the Swedish piano player and same time vist C.G. Jung for lunch.
I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
If you live in Boston, were you at the concert I played with Jan Garbarek 87 with Eberhart Weber and Nana Vasconcelos? Lyle Mays was there.
What instrument do you play?
Take care, Lars