Hanna Paulsberg is a charming tenor saxophonist from Norway accompanied by three music magicians who just take your breath away with the way they play. The Hanna Paulsberg Concept has enjoyed praise from both well-known critics and wider audiences. Energetic rhythm and recognizable themes from the Afro-American jazz are uncommon in the Norwegian jazz music scene. How did they meet and what drives them to cook up these brilliant tunes will be revealed in our talk with lovely Hanna.
Interview by Emilie Toomela
How did you make your way to music?
My father was a jazz drummer, so we had a lot of jazz records at home. My mother made my two sisters and I play the violin for many, many years. So I guess, my family is very musical, if you can say that. The violin was a very difficult instrument to learn. I started to listen to music with more power and energy like the Red Hot Chili Peppers – I really loved them. They’re so cool! You can’t play that on the violin, you know! You don’t get the same sound and vibe.
Another great influence was an album by Stan Getz – Café Montmartre. I really fell in love with the way he played and I wanted to sound just like him.
Your style has been compared with the way John Coltrane plays.
Stan Getz was my role model at the beginning of my career and I will always love him very much. But I think now I have many different role models. But Coltrane, of course you can’t escape him, he is amazing, though he isn’t my favourite. I like Wayne Shorter more because of his way of making music. The songs he writes are just wonderful and I find him a great composer. That’s also what I like about music. I don’t think of myself as just a saxophone player. I want to create things and make music. I’m a musician, a composer and everything – it’s a whole package.
How did you form the Hanna Paulsberg Concept?
We were studying in the same school in Trondheim Jazz Conservatory. When I was at my last year, I had to perform an exam concert. So I spent a lot of time thinking about whom I would like to play with because I wanted them to be exactly the right people. I had already played a lot with the bass player and I knew that we had a great synergy.
Oscar and Hans, the piano player and the drummer, were just perfect – I knew instantly that we had the same kind of feeling about music. We wanted to have the same sound. The exam concert was a lot of fun and it went very well.
After the concert I realized that we could also play outside of the Conservatory. I knew I wanted to have a band anyway. I think it’s very important to have your solo project so people can see who you are and hear your name. So I just started working to book us gigs. We have been playing a lot ever since, in many different countries but mostly Norway. We really enjoy playing outside of Norway as well.
Have you thought about booking any gigs in the home country of jazz, the United States?
Playing in America seems very difficult. You need to have a work permit and getting it seems to be a lot of work. I am also doing all the managerial stuff, as this is my priority project. I hope we can find someone to help us. Especially when we want to go outside of Norway – it is necessary to have the contacts and that takes a lot of time to get them. Right now we are planning a tour in Germany so we are trying to find someone for doing the booking. But of course we would love to go to the U.S. sometime. That would be great!
In a nutshell – what is the Hanna Paulsberg Concept about?
It’s music that everyone can enjoy, even when you don’t like jazz in general. I think in a way it is very accessible and at the same time it is not commerce, it’s melodic and it grooves. Many people can enjoy it and be surprised!
Could Norwegian elements be found in your music as well?
Not really. The music we love to play is very much inspired by Afro-American jazz, like Wayne Shorter. We don’t have a Nordic sound at all and that is a bit uncommon here in Norway. There aren’t a lot of musicians who play jazz like we do. People just want to find new ways and approaches to playing jazz. We as well, of course, but we like to do it through the traditions. Some people say that we have some Nordic influences as well.
All about jazz, the American jazz magazine also wrote in their review that there is something Nordic about us but we can’t really hear that ourselves because for us it’s just the way we play.
How has your debut album Waltz for Lilli been received in Norway?
Really good, it has been amazing! I never expected to get so much attention but we are so happy. I think people are really noticing the album. It’s embarrassing for me to say, but they say that it’s really a great interplay, the communication between us in the band speaks of good synergy. Many have said that it is very mature, that it sounds like we have been playing together a lot and for a long time. And also that the compositions are very good – many kind words.
And who might Lilli be?
Lilli is my grandmother. She passed away last autumn. We were very close. I wrote the song to her many years ago and then she passed away just before we released the album. It felt right to name it Waltz for Lilli. Also, the title of the album comes from that one song – it’s really hard to find a name for an album (laughs).
Do you prefer playing at single concerts or at big festivals like Jazzkaar?
Festivals are always a lot of fun. So many people there, you meet other musicians. At times it is a lot of fun to be on tours – you have gigs every night and you get really into it. We have played a lot of gigs this spring and now we’ll have a few concerts here and there at festivals this summer but in general we’re going to have a little break now.
What are your impression on playing at the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra?
It’s the best job! It’s amazing, I am so lucky to be a part of that! Every time they ask me to come play a concert, I am really, really happy! It’s very cool. The leader, Eirik Hegdal, he is one of my biggest heroes. He writes amazing music, he is so open. Even though it’s a huge band, he always tries to act like it’s a small group. He is trying to make it as personal as possible.
Tell me about your other projects where you are not the main composer. How do you decide which melodies go to which bands?
It used to be easy, because I had only one band but now it’s getting more complicated. It’s mostly Hanna Paulsberg Concept in my head all the time because that’s my main project. It’s possible to do the same tune in different bands as well – it will just sound different, which can be also very cool. I love being in bands where I am not the composer. To be in charge is great but also can be tiresome. Sometimes it’s really nice to just play the saxophone and not think about arranging and organising gigs.
Your time seems to be packed with all kinds of different projects and music sessions. What do you like to do in your free time?
It depends – sometimes there are a lot of concerts and sometimes there’s nothing. Then I can take some time off to compose and practice alone. There is indeed a lot of music in my life – even at my free time I go to concerts with friends. I also try to work out, when I have the time and I really like to be outdoors in the mountains. I love to ski. I’m a Norwegian you know!
I loved the way you mentioned the expression ‘cooking jazz’ in an earlier interview.
It’s the best word! Some people think that cooking jazz and taking jazz seriously don’t go well together, but I don’t agree with that. When it’s really cooking – then in my opinion it’s the best jazz. The boys used it at first and now it’s the best word to describe what we want to have in our band. We want to achieve exactly that when we play.
Hanna Paulsberg Concept is:
Hanna Paulsberg – saxophone, composition
Trygve Waldemar Fiske – acoustic bass guitar
Hans Hulbækmo – drums
Oscar Grönberg – piano