In conversation with hans glawischnig

By Tomas Peña

Your father, Dieter Glawischnig is a classically trained pianist and composer whose heart lies in the jazz idiom. He obviously had a big influence on you.

My father is a renaissance man. He is classically trained and well versed in the jazz tradition. He was one of the first musicians in Austria to embrace free jazz and traveled extensively with his trio, The Neighbors. He is also trained as a conductor (classical and jazz). He was musical director for the NDR Big Band (North German Radio) for over 25 years. My father was very encouraging and made me aware of the basics; versatility, studying and internalizing the tradition of whatever type of music one is investigating, while moving the art form forward (too bad the latter gets forgotten all too often). He urged me early on to practice with the bow, a sound I'm starting to use more and more.

You have been involved with music since you were six years old. Initially, you started out as a violin player then switched to the electric bass and finally settled on the acoustic bass. Why the acoustic bass?

I came to the acoustic bass via the electric bass. My uncle (on my mother's side) had a small music store. On a summer visit to the U.S. I sat down with an electric bass and I immediately felt comfortable. It had 4 strings like the violin but was tuned in fourths, which made the fingering more logical in my mind. Fueled by my progress, I improved rapidly. When I was 16 my father recommended I try the acoustic bass. I took lessons from bassist Wayne Darling at the university in Graz, my hometown. For years both instruments co-existed in my musical life. I was doing all sorts of gigs, from funk to singer-songwriter stuff to rock to jazz gigs, and eventually to Latin music. Since 1998 I've focused more on improving my upright (bass) playing.

You credit the late (percussionist) Ray Barretto and (saxophonist) David Sanchez for inviting you to perform with them even though you lacked experience.

And speaking of Ray Barretto, Barretto’s Way is one of my favorite tunes on this recording.

At the time Barretto was looking for a bass player. I had dabbled with jazz at the Manhattan School of Music, which in included vibe player, Stefon Harris and pianist Luis Perdomo. We were playing in the style of the Fort Apache band but my knowledge of the idiom was marginal. I listened to a few records and checked out a few books like Funkyfying the Clave by Lincoln Goines, which had a lot of basic information. But playing with Barretto meant that I had to become familiar with the idiom and be expressive within it. It involved internalizing the feel of the music, how the various parts and rhythms all connected, what makes the music swing etc. Ray was willing to put up with my deficiencies and lack of experience because he knew I was committed to his band and saw my potential.

It’s the same scenario with David Sanchez (two years later). With him I had to go one step further: his Melaza group was about stretching the idiom and abstracting it without losing the flavor of the source material. A good example of this is his CD Melaza, where you can hear the abstraction of plena (a folkloric music from Puerto Rico) on "Puerto San Juan," or the harmonically dense bomba piece "El Ogro." "Orbitando" dealt with dissecting the Cuban angle. This required that I investigate a lot of traditional music. David suggested I listen to records by Ismael Rivera and Los Munequitos de Matanzas to help me understand bomba and plena, as well as Cuban Yoruban music.

“Barretto's Way” started out with a bass line. Originally the song was to have more of a Spanish flavor but when I came up with the Bach-Middle East inspired melody it occurred to me to make this a tribute to Ray by adding a montuno (vamp) at the end for a drum solo.

You credit the “Latin guys” for inspiring your rhythmic style. How so?

Dealing extensively with Latin music helped me to understand the concept of rhythmic counterpoint, how certain parts connect and create a whole picture, and all those musicians wound up being conduits because they gave me the freedom to learn by trial and error. David would always talk to me after our concerts to make remarks and give constructive criticism. He wanted his music at that time to have the feel of dance music, no matter how abstracted the music got. That meant we had to feel rhythm and time as a whole, to really connect to open up the music without sacrificing the feeling.

Is there a particular bass player who influenced you above all of the others?

Dave Holland and Jaco Pastorius, for their iconoclastic approach to the instrument, their role as not only bass players but composers, and, more importantly, “conceptualizers” in their bands.

Your first CD, Common Ground was based on lead sheets and giving the musicians plenty of room to stretch out. Panorama has more moods and colors. What was the concept going in?

It started with a couple of ideas I was experimenting with that turned out to be the songs like “The Orchids,” and “Line Drive.” I wanted to have more contrasting pieces on this recording, like a frenetic type of piece like “Gypsy Tales,” which came about during my time with Chick (Corea). I also wanted to have a simple “blowing vehicles,” that was the purpose of “Rabbit Race” and “Panorama,” which is an older piece.

You composed and arranged all of the tunes for Panorama. How does the creative process work for you? Explain what inspires you and the methods you use for arranging and composing your music.

I've found that if you have a strong embryonic idea, and it can be anything, a special melody, bass line, a set of chords or rhythmic cell, the music will almost write itself in that it becomes clear where the piece needs to go. I write slowly, naturally and trust my instincts. I also do a fair amount of fine-tuning. Sometimes I feel that a piece needs to go in a different direction and I will scrap half of what I wrote. The inspiration for me usually happens when I am under no pressure, often I'll be practicing or playing around at the piano, and by coincidence I will stumble on that embryonic idea.

I have recently challenged myself to write in more specific moods which involves being able to see the big picture and to evaluate where a piece is going, what fits into the mood and what detracts from it. Hence, the idea of 'filling in the holes' to create a work of contrast without sacrificing continuity.

“Set to Sea,” “Oceanography” and “Beneath the Waves” are a nod to Stanley C. Shaw, your maternal grandfather.

Actually, only “Set to Sea” is a dedication to him. The other pieces are only connected by their maritime titles. My grandfather was a sturdy soul, conservative by nature but very fair. He liked music and art. He took extension classes at Harvard University and jogged an average of 800 miles per year until his late 60s when a couple of heart attacks forced him to lay low. He was a man of few words. He only spoke when he had something to say.

Chick Corea, who appears on “Oceanography,” was the person who encouraged you to go out on your own. “Gypsy Tales” and “Rabbit Race" were both written while you were in the rhythm section for Chick's Spirit of Mozart tour. What is it like working and performing with Chick Corea?

It was a real eye opener to watch a leader assemble a work of such complexity as his second piano concerto. It was a lesson in grace and self-confidence. Like every master, he manages to internalize and make something his own immediately, something I witnessed when he came to record with me. On his tour we had an immediate connection, both musically and personally. The fact that he had so much trust in my abilities and confidence in my judgment was a real morale booster. It played a large part in my deciding to pursue a career as a leader (playing my own music).

As a leader you manage to be dominant without being over bearing. How do you straddle the line between being a leader and a sideman?

When you assemble a group of musicians with common ground the music will play itself out without the intervention of a leader. I call on musicians because I know how they play and can usually forecast how they will interpret my music. "Line Drive" was written with Miguel's strident upper register in mind. If I need to say anything, it will only be in the most general terms and without getting into the micro management of each player's realm. While recording Beneath the Waves I asked the musicians to record a second version that was softer and gentler. It captured the mood of the piece.

As a sideman I try to understand what the composer is trying to do with the music and expound on it. If there is something I don't understand I will ask for clarification. Generally speaking, my approach is to go forward and take the music in a new direction.

I have seen you and Miguel (Zenon) perform countless times at the Jazz Gallery. It’s obvious that you and he have a good rapport. What are your impressions of Miguel and what makes him so unique as saxophonists go?

Miguel is a highly trained musician. I yet have to come across something he can't play. But it goes way beyond that. He has a rock-solid sense of integrity and honesty. Miguel’s sense of rhythm is incredibly strong, but he also is extremely advanced with respect to melody and harmony. His sound is totally his own. Miguel is a great example of someone who has absorbed the tradition but is not hindered by it. He has managed to fuse the intellectual and visceral components of music, something few musicians have achieved. Miguel has earned every bit of his success because he's a hard worker who still practices several hours a day and composes on a daily basis.

You, Dafnis Prieto, Yosvany Terry, Miguel Zenon, Luis Perdomo and Marcus Gilmore (among others) represent a new wave of up-and-coming artists. Where do you see the music going?

I get a sense that rhythm is going to play an increasing part in the music in the years to come. Musicians will draw from different cultures, mix and match elements from diverse musical sources. Technology will be a factor as more sophisticated ways of interacting with computers become available. For example, a program resembling a musical version of speech-recognition software could enable a musician to store different musical cue melodies that could act as triggers. These triggers could turn on sounds, different loops or other real-time alterations. But acoustic instruments are safe from time stamping. I doubt they'll ever go away, as long as there are talented musicians.

What are you listening to at home, or in your car as we speak?

I go through phases of listening to a lot of music then I will go for a month without listening to anything. My taste is very diverse, it ranges from alternative rock to classical music and Beck to Bach. Both make strong statements and have artistic value.

Any parting thoughts?

I've always believed in artistic forward momentum, something young musicians need to be aware of. However, that momentum should not happen at the expense of knowledge of the tradition. The most successful musicians are keenly aware of the need to pay homage to the past but not but to be governed by it, therefore their efforts are much more likely to bear fruit.

Hans, it has been a pleasure speaking with you. Good luck with Panorama.


March 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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