Jazzkaar hosted the well-known Swedish jazz pianist Jan Lundgren with his new project Tribute to Jaan Johanson. On Saturday evening Vaba Lava hall was full of people, listening to the Estonian, Russian and Hungarian folk tunes that were transformed into jazz compositions and enjoying charming musical conversations of the pianist and his string quartet.
This interview with Jan Lundgren is recorded directly after the concert, when impressions were still alive. We continued the conversation that started on stage through words.
What could you tell about your background as a musician?
I started playing piano when I was five years old, for fun. It was not forced by my parents. There was not so much music at home – my father was not a musician, he was a teacher. My mother took care of our home. But we had a piano and my father liked to play very simple cords and sing old songs. When I was very young I liked to jump up on the right side, trying to follow with the melodies. At that time I was classically trained, but it was that reason that later it was possible for me to understand improvised music, like jazz.
How did you come to decision to do this tribute to Jaan Johanson?
I listened to him when I was about 15 or 16. He meant a lot for me and I love his music. He is not so famous outside of Sweden or outside of Scandinavia, so I really had a dream to show his fantastic music to the rest of the world.
I had two big problems. One problem is that what he did was so good, you cannot imitate that and if try to imitate it you lose the basic. So you have to do your own, but strong version of it. That takes some years to develop. You have to be sure that you can do your own work of his work.
The second difficulty was to find a format, a setting of musicians which would be totally new with this kind of music; that hasn’t been done really, that Johanson never did himself. He often played with the bass and drums and I didn’t want to use any saxophone or trumpet. But one day it came, suddenly – “I want to use a string quartet. I’m going to use bass, piano and a string quartet because I won’t destroy an intention of his interpretations. I’ll keep the good vibes and good feelings, but I can create something completely new.” It was like “Oh,there it is!”. The next day I called couple of people that I had a new project. Half a year later we recorded the CD at my jazz festival in Ystad. So this [the album] is a live recording from the festival.
What is the next project you are planning to realize?
You always have different ideas, like this idea about tribute which was in my mind for 15 years but then one day it was there. This was the slowest project ever, but normally it goes much faster.
At the moment, as I started with this project, the focus is mainly on it. There was another project which was released, a CD with Mare Nostrum group. Richard Galliano on accordion and Paolo Fresu on trumpet. These are two important projects right now. Of course, I do lots of solos and quite many trio concerts with my old trio – piano, bass and drums.
And you also teach, right?
Yes, I have a teaching position as an associate professor in piano at the Royal College in Malmö.
What kind of attitude do you have as a teacher? What are the most important things you try to develop in a musician, for them to become a skilful?
It’s not easy but you have to have inner drive, you have to have passion for music and if you have that, you can go very far. There is no guarantee. It’s very difficult and tricky.
I think a teacher should be an inspiration and a guide for the student. He should be encouraging and of course, should teach elements of music, compositions, how to perform, how to practice and develop.
Could you tell little bit about your relationship with folk music? How did you come to the decision to use it in your compositions?
I went to the United States when I was 29 years for a small tour and recording session. Before that I just wanted to sound like an American jazz piano player, like from New York. I didn’t want to sound like I was from Sweden. It was not hip enough. When I arrived there I realized that wow, it is different. I felt very Swedish there.
I started to search for my own roots and that’s the point when I started to become interested in Swedish folk music and Swedish songs. As human beings we have a certain cultural history that we more less are raised with. It’s around us when we grow up, even if we don’t like or don’t see it. It more or less surrounds you but it can take many years before you appreciate it.
In your opinion, what is the essential thing a 21st century musician should possess? Originality is the most important thing to have! To get originality you have to learn a lot because if you don’t know what’s original, it’s difficult to develop your own.
If you want to be more than a very skilful musician, you have to really take care of what is special. You have to bring out your inner self, your inner dynamics and you have to bring it to your music. This, finally, makes music very original, because each individual is original. You just have to find it, but it’s not easy to understand that.
What are the most obvious obstacles that current musicians face in their career?
There are many obstacles, but economy is the biggest one, because everything is more expensive, everything goes faster. There are less possibilities and less space to sit down and reflect and dare to become an artist, so I think the financial side of it is a big problem.
How do you feel about the huge accessibility of musical information, of all the styles of music out there?
A big spectrum of different influences can be great if you can handle it. Some people don’t, as they are trying to be good in everything, and that is impossible. When you are at your starting point you are curious and you want to learn different aspects and styles of music. That’s great, I encourage that, but you should try not to lose yourself on the way, remember who are you and what your inner part is.
You should expose yourself in different cultures and different kinds of music and with time a natural selection of what you like or dislike, will happen. Maybe you like everything but certainly there is something you love. Eventually you find your own voice as a musician and then all the other stuff goes away and you feel that’s enough because you know where to go.