Peter Brotzmann
Brotzmann: You can’t change the world with music

Han Bennink, Peter Brotzmann and Brian Chase, along with Australian writer Jon Dale, were panelists in the first of three panel discussions at the Wheeler Centre. It was an opportunity to see these guys in civvies and reflecting on their craft, but the discussion was initially rocky. Moderator Joel Stern had done a lot of homework and was clearly a fan, but his long-winded efforts to pass on his knowledge may have irritated Bennink and Brotzmann. “I play music, I don’t want to talk about it”, Bennink told Stern sternly in the opening minutes. “Don’t make such a heavy load of it.”

That was tough for Stern, but illuminating to the audience. These guys have experienced too much of life to waste on warm-ups, and Stern needed to press ahead. It’s impossible to cover the discussion in detail here, mainly because this blog is running way behind in its festival coverage, but Bennink and Brotzmann said much of interest.

Brian Chase
Brian Chase

Chase seemed not to find it easy to express ideas — he talked when pressed, but if he said anything momentous it must have slipped by without me noticing. (I’m probably being a bit tough. Perhaps his ideas were complex and/or hard to express.)

Brotzmann recalled the links between Underground music and the Vietnam war, riots in Detroit and Berlin, and Angela Davis. “One kind of feeling that we had was we had to fight against something and had to change the world,” he said. “But you can’t do that with music. You can make people’s minds more sensitive.” Later he said “today is not much different from 50 years ago” and “Europe is on the way back with the Underground.”

Brotzmann also noted that “American jazz music was always concerned with making money” whereas in Europe “I saw doing the music more as a question of being an artist than being able to earn money with it”. When pushed to comment on the Australian scene he said “my impression is that you are at least 30 years behind”, but then said city governments at home were not interested in funding artistic endeavours. “If we don’t care about education and culture, we better give up immediately.”

“In most of Europe there is money for big blown-up events — the most stupid you can imagine — but there is no money for basic work, and without that every house falls apart. Don’t make the same mistake.”

Bennink: Don't make it such a heavy load.
Bennink: Don’t make it such a heavy load.

Han Bennink did not have such strong views, but often showed his sense of fun and a refusal to take things too seriously. He commented that Holland was so small that “we are shoulder to shoulder and up to our knees in cow shit, and that’s OK, but the smell …”

“I am really a bit of a coward about travel. I really want a little house in Holland where I can put a finger in the dyke,” Bennink said.

Discussion was better once Stern invited questions. Brotzmann weighed in again at the end, saying that much of today’s music learned by young people was “bullshit” and that it was important for musicians to learn on the road. “It’s a very intense social experience, not just a game. It’s a very good education and it is still happening each time again (when we travel). We should be able to pass this on to our younger colleagues … it’s about going somewhere deeper.”


That mad drummer again
That mad drummer again

It was strange, almost a shock, to see the man with the red striped tie in the fancy red Wheeler Centre chair turn into the drummer with the spotted red bandanna and the vicious sticks in the large room at Bennetts Lane. But a few whacks and fancy antics from Bennink and I was back in tune. He is amazing. What stays the same, whether in the forum earlier or any of Bennink’s concerts is that quizzical, challenging look of mock seriousness, as if he is inviting someone to take him on.

Well, they lined up to do that, with mixed success. Cor Fuhler on prepared piano knew what he was up against, but it seemed an uneven match. Fuhler’s subtlety was always going to be overwhelmed by the maestro drummer’s salvos. It was fun, but a more equal match came when Scott Tinkler on trumpet replaced Fuhler for the next round. They went at it and I’m not sure who won. I do think Tinkler has not been up against many more formidable foes. Is music meant to be a contest? In this light sense of that, yes. It was a spectacle to watch both men go at it. Next week at Bennetts, mud wrestling — to even up the gender balance.

Next into battle came Erkki Veltheim on viola. He fought valiantly, even stridently, with hairs flying off his bow and his instrument wailing in protest. He was a match for Bennink’s speed, but not quite in volume. But there were moments when the Bennink onslaught eased to allow Veltheim some space. It’s all good, as they say in the classics.

Finally, Fuhler and Tinkler returned to the fray, so that four musicians were going at it hammer and tongs. Amazing, spectacular, yes, but not greatly moving. So I decided to seek respite in the smaller room next door, where patrons were being turned away at the door.


Nock, Anning and Browne
Nock, Anning and Browne

So the local (ie non-international) musicians had a full house. Greaaaaaaatt! But Allan Browne was wondering where these people go to every Monday night when he has his ensemble’s resident gig.

Anning and Browne

Perhaps the crowd was out for a festival gig, or because of the presence of Mike Nock, with whom Allan had not played (he recalled at the end of the night) since 2006 when his close friend and fellow musician, bassist Gary Costello, died. Recalling that is obviously still painful to Allan. At the time he wrote these moving words:

“I still can’t get used to the past tense, a future without Gaz is unthinkable yet. We both loved e.e.cummings …

‘and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)’.”

Nock and Anning
Nock and Anning

I hope it is all right to quote that, Allan. I’m not suggesting there is a connection, but on Monday night in that small room, Mike Nock, Sam Anning and Allan Browne played wearing their hearts on their sleeves — or so it seemed to me. They joked about, as usual, and they had fun playing. But in the third from last piece, I think, there was a Mike Nock solo that had me almost weeping. That’s a personal thing and no doubt others were having different experiences. But this was, for me, one of those nights when the music is so beautifully played — not only in quiet ballads, but in vigorous pieces and lively takes on standards — that it is impossible to avoid it penetrating to the core. This is what music is about at its most profound — feeling. In my humble opinion.

Nock, Anning, Browne
Nock, Anning, Browne

It’s late at night and I’ve waxed lyrical. But I’m convinced others packed into that small space felt the vibe. Nock, Browne and Anning were in empathetic, mutual understanding mode, and loving it. What a great gig. And I caught only part of it. Thanks Mike, Al and Sam.


  1. Pingback: Mike Nock’s Top 5 | Jazz Planet

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