Interview with Danske Jazz Prize winner Mart Soo

26. April 2017
Jan-Erik Aavik

Mart Soo (born on October 2, 1964 in Tallinn) is an Estonian composer, guitarist and music teacher. He is one of the founders of ensembles Weekend Guitar Trio and Tunnetusüksus as well as the creator of the musical improvisation festival ImproTest. He is this year’s Danske Jazz Award winner and below is Jan-Erik Aavik’s interview with him on the evening prior to the award ceremony.


Prior to projects and bands such as Improtest or Weekend Guitar Trio, how did the guitar music emerge into your life.


Mainly due to some of my friends and schoolmates who played in bands. I had received a guitar as a present but it was just gathering dust for many years. When punk rock became a thing, I also formed a punk group. We even recorded as song and it was played on the school radio. After that we got invited to the principal office and were told “One more time and you are out!”. So, I got into playing guitar through punk-rock.


Punk and jazz have a big contrast. Did jazz come naturally to you or did you discover it through a certain path?


Of course there were many steps in-between. There was heavy-metal and then jazz-rock. During the rock period, in 1984, I met a guitarist Ants Laig. I learned a lot from him about jazz. Some encounters in life are path-changing. This was one of them.


Do you think that to create or understand jazz you need to have attained a certain level of maturity?


I think it is different for everyone. I had a very minimal understanding of music when I got into playing, so I had to invent, practice and try different things. It is definitely easier for those who study music from early on or go to a music school.


You generally incline towards minimalist jazz. Why minimalism?


I’m not sure if my style can be called solely minimalist, not certain what it can be categorised into, but for sure it is not pure jazz…


What is your subjective goal in music. Do you want to express some kind of a message, emotion, feeling?


It varies with different projects and albums. There are things that have a concrete theme and there are places where they mix. I have thought that in the future there might be a project where I combine my thoughts, aspirations, goals and emotions, although at the moment I cannot imagine what it would look like.


The most interesting is to map the unknown. In some way, music is similar to alpinism. Behind each mountain you tackle, you see another one that looks higher than the first one. The goals and roles are different for each album and project.



Did the project ImproTest have a specific goal, or was it created just for entertainment?


One of the main goals of ImproTest was to create a sub-group of impro-musicians in Estonia. I have done that for 12 years now and I’m not sure if it has fully reached its goal, nevertheless it has brought together many interesting ideas and people, also from overseas.


In improvised music, do you rely on intuition or do you also use rational thought?


It is different for when I write or play music, as if I use different brain hemispheres. But it is hard to say what actually happens.


Perhaps something mystical?


Not always mystical. Often you need to search and discover in order to create a certain musical language. And then when a spark of some kind appears… That is a real gift, because it does not happen every day. All those who improvise, even those who claim to completely “go with the flow” have a predetermined musical schema, and in the frame of that schema they then improvise. In improvisational music, in a way, you also can have routine, sometimes even as much as in, say, classical music.


Is it simple to notice a professional impro-musician?


In the frame of certain styles, for sure. In different styles there are certain rules you have to follow, so people who practice or study a specific branch will definitely notice.


Let’s talk a little about talent and will. Is it possible for the one who tries and wants but who has no direct talent, become a professional music through musical theory and rigorous practice?


There are cases in which no practice will guide one “to the top”. Although having much talent can also be dangerous. Sometimes for someone very talented everything comes easy, in a second, so they may lose the elements of thrill and excitement. It goes differently for different people.


In your life, in relation to music, does the thrill still remain?


There is a great deal of thrill, of course. I would still like to “tie the knots” so to say. Achieve something that I have not yet achieved.