Philipp Gropper’s Philm: “All the people who are remembered now have added something new to music back in their times”

11. December 2018
Tiina Adamson

Philipp Gropper’s Philm performed at Christmas Jazz festival 4th of December at a cozy Philly Joe’s jazz club.


Jazzkaar’s reporter Tiina Adamson talked to the band leader Philipp Gropper.


What has been Your journey to the music You are writing right now? Did You start from classical music, from jazz – from something else?
I started listening to jazz when I was a kid, so I got to know a big part of the tradition early on. I also listened to other styles like Western-European classical music, but really all kinds of different music. When I started playing the saxophone, it was standards, the mainstream. I was doing that until my mid-20ies. I stopped playing traditional music not because I didn’t like it anymore, but because we started composing ourselves, developing our own ideas. It was not a decision, it just happened gradually. Maybe one explanation is that when I look the history of jazz – not even only jazz, but all music – the people who are remembered now have always added something to the music, have brought their own ideas to it. I think this is the most convincing, the most exciting for yourself at least. I mean, if I tried to play like Dexter Gordon I would never feel the same excitement as he did. Even if I could play like him, I wouldn’t feel the same because he came up with it and it was connected to the time he lived in, the things he listened to and the news he read. And when you have this intense feel, only then the audience might feel it too. Of course it’s difficult for listeners, because they don’t have anything to hold on to, they don’t know what to expect.


Besides saxophone are there any other instruments You play or feel a connection to?
I played clarinet and flute and soprano saxophone like most of saxophone players do. At some point I realized that the tenor saxophone is enough for a lifetime. I sold the others and decided to go for one instrument fully.


What inspires You?
Not necessarily listening to the kind of music I do. Different instruments, different styles. It can be nature, it can be a story I heard, a mood I saw. It can be a lot of things.


What music do You listen to at home?
All kinds. Some electronic music, some hip-hop. But also traditional music from all over the world. Also Western-European classical music, pop-music… In the end – everything! I always say Western-European classical, because it’s kind of weird that Europeans claim the term “classical music” for themselves, because in other parts of the world there’s also classical music, there’s Indian classical music for example.


Do You listen to Indian classical music at home?
Yeah. Really, I think I am not limited to a style. Like Steve Lacy put it – it comes down to one question – is it alive or is it dead. But probably the music I listen to the most is jazz. It is such a big field that is open to all directions.


How much of the music You compose You pre-hear in Your head? You are said to write in structures, are these structures more rhythmic or harmonic?
Yes, well… Rhythm is definitely playing a big role in this band’s music. Sometimes I have something in mind, for example waves that go to the coast and back again. I have a feeling for it and then I try to find the rhythms and notes that express that feeling. I can’t play piano at all, but still compose all my music on piano. It’s not so much about thinking while composing, but later, after I have written it, I analyse and I see – oh, this could be a C-minor chord for example. To have a base to improvise on. I try not to start from a motive, a musical idea or a constructed thing. I do pre-hear some of it, but more as a sound or a structure. Especially because I’m not a piano player it takes a while to find exactly the notes that express the sound.


How much do You see composing as a game? Do You have some kind of playful attitude towards it?
I take music very seriously. Of course it’s not about life or death, but there are people in the audience and you want them to have a good time, you want to give them all. Often I have deadlines to finish compositions, which adds stress, but my wish is to keep it playful. My music is complicated, but I hope that you don’t have to understand it intellectually or know anything about my music to enjoy it, to get something out of it. That’s why I play all my music by heart. I learn it, memorize it, because then I’m more free to go and play and shape it in the moment. Not to think, but to feel and go with the flow. By far the strongest-shaping force of our music are these amazing musicians – Elias Stemeseder, Robert Landfermann, Oliver Steidle – each of them is so amazing and while we play everything is allowed in a way. If somebody has an idea, if there’s something completely new that has never happened before in a song, the creation continues. So composing is also just creating a starting point, like the first pages of the book.


How much of Your music is improvisation?
It’s hard to say because sometimes the improvisation happens in very tight frames and sometimes it’s completely free. We played three songs each set, but these songs have several parts. When one song ends we improvise to the next one and connect them that way. If I should put it in numbers then more than half is improvised. Maybe 2/3.


Have You had any setbacks in being a musician? Have You ever doubted in being a musician?
Of course. Again and again, always. It’s maybe comparable to being a human. Only when you question yourself and ask questions you can grow. If you are too full of yourself and don’t question yourself, then… I think it isn’t only a bad thing to doubt yourself, it’s very important. But it must be balanced somehow.


At last… What are the topics that interest You at the moment? Do You wish to add anything?
I could go into politics now, talking about all the neo-liberalist crimes, that destroy on so many levels… Well, of course you wish that the music you do is relevant, that it’s valued in a way, it gives people something. Our music has no words, but everything that is on your mind is somehow perceptible in your music. In the end you can’t really know what it’s doing to people unless you add text to your music. But we don’t do that. Maybe it’s more a form of energy or attitude that comes through.


Philipp Gropper’s Philm
December 4th 2018, Philly Joe’s jazz club
Philipp Gropper – saxophone
Elias Stemeseder – keyboard, piano
Robert Landfermann – double bass
Oliver Steidle – drums


Check out the photos from the concert here.