Name: Bugge Wesseltoft
Occupation: Pianist, composer, improviser, producer
Current release: Bugge Wesseltoft's Be Am is out via Jazzlandrec.Norway on February 25th 2022.
If these thoughts by Bugge Wesseltoft piqued your interest, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, twitter, and Soundcloud. Also, check out our previous 15 Questions Bugge Wesseltoft interview.
Over the course of his career, Bugge has worked with a wide range of artists including Eivind Aarset, Nils Petter Molvaer, Erik Truffaz, Joe Claussell, and Ingebrigt Håker Flaten. Read some of our interviews with them here:
[Read our Eivind Aarset interview]
[Read our Nils Petter Molvaer interview]
[Read our Joe Claussell interview]
[Read our Ingebrigt Håker Flaten interview]
When did you first start getting interested in musical improvisation?
I grew up with my father being a jazz guitarist. So for as long as I can remember, I have been listening to music and trying to play it back on the piano.
Which artists, approaches, albums or performances involving prominent use of improvisation captured your imagination in the beginning?
Again, growing up with my father's music collection it started out with Stevie Wonder, Roberta Flack, Jimmy Smith and Ray Charles. I particularly tried to understand and play what Jimmy Smith was doing as a kid.
Later on, I discovered Miles Davis, Weather Report, Jan Garbarek. Those all had a huge impact on me.
Focusing on improvisation can be an incisive transition. Aside from musical considerations, there can also be personal motivations for looking for alternatives. Was this the case for you, and if so, in which way?
I believe it's important to start with trying to understand what your idols are playing, harmonics, phrases, dynamics. Getting the basics and learning your instrument to the full. It's equally important to develop your own musical language and sound.
Just like your biggest heroes did. That's why they themselves became unique musical artists.
How would you describe the shift of moving towards an improvisation based practise, both as a listener and a creator?
For me, this was my default setting! I do not come from any classical training or learning, so I had to learn by listening, playing and trying.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to improvisation? Do you see yourself as part of a tradition or historic lineage?
My approach to improvising is working hard to find my own identity, and to understand the secret of dynamics and communication with both fellow musicians and listeners.
All this has been established since Johann Sebastian Bach was improvising over contrapunctual concepts. My playing is 100% a result of traditions and historic lineage.
What was your own learning curve / creative development like when it comes to improvisation - what were challenges and breakthroughs?
Meeting and playing concerts with musicians better than myself was crucial! Trying to understand all their improvisational choices, why and when.
Tell me about your instrument and/or tools, please. How would you describe the relationship with it? What are it's most important qualities and how do they influence the musical results and your own performance?
I see my instruments, tools and sound as a very important part of my playing and identity as a musician. I'm always trying to create all my sounds from scratch to make it as personal as possible.
Can you talk about a work, event or performance in your career that's particularly dear to you? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
There are so many!
From a learning curve aspect, playing live with Jan Garbarek or Arild Andersen or Jon Christen were extremely important moments in my earlier years. Then, starting to develop my New Conception Of Jazz, first in the studio, then live was extremely important in order to understand the role of music and how to play it live.
Also developing music over many years with Sidsel Endresen was a breaktrough for me in terms of understanding the concept of playing music and improvising.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your collaborations? Do you feel as though you are able to express yourself more fully in solo mode or, conversely, through the interaction with other musicians? Are you “gaining” or “sacrificing” something in a collaboration?
Collaborations are always positive and learnful. Even if they're not that successful musically! Trying to understand and fuse your ideas with the music and perspectives of other artists is very educational. I have had some fantastic collaborations im very proud and happy with!
Sidsel Endresen. Henrik Schwarz, Rymden and many others.
For you personally, how would you describe the relationship between a clear individual vision and cooperative results?
Nothing comes totally out your own mind. Everything you do is a result of inspirations, meetings, clashes. So I believe everything is a result of cooperation to some extent.
However, having a chance to contemplate and develop your own ideas based on those inspirations is frutiful. It can lead directly to the development of art and culture.
Derek Bailey defined improvising as the search for material which is endlessly transformable. Regardless of whether or not you agree with his perspective, what kind of materials have turned to be particularly transformable and stimulating for you?
For me I believe trying to fuse and improvise with a mix of acoustic and electronic sounds, music and tools was important when it comes to my own way in improvising.
Understanding and being aware of the importance of transcendence in every musical moment is equally important.
Nik Bärtsch reduced the art of musicianship to three principles: 1) Listen! 2) Only play the essentials 3) Make the others sound good. What's your take on this and how do these principles pan out in practise?
I toally agree. Every great musician has said the same. Chick Corea, Ron Carter, Miles Davis. You are always a part of something bigger when you play music. Never forget that!
Your role is to keep the music at its highest possible level in every moment.
In a live situation, decisions between creatives often work without words. How does this process work – and how does it change your performance compared to a solo performance?
The point of improvising is to not have agreed on much, as opposed to reading a book or playing a classical piece. Listening to your fellow musicians and feeling the energy, defining what is needed from you is the key.
It's possible to talk about that. But not much more before you go on stage. Playing solo is somehow about the same, but now it's the dialog between you and the listeners.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? In which way is it different between your solo work and collaborations?
My state of mind is trying to eliminate myself and any expectations before I go on stage. Just trying to be aware of the energy in the room an trying to build music from there.
In a way, improvisations remind us of the transitory nature of life. What, do you feel, can music and improvisation express and reveal about life and death?
I believe playing music is not more or less important than other work. But art might have a chance to give the receiver s glimpse of love, positivity and other related possibilities.
For example, my visit to the John Cage Organ Project in Halberstadt. This was our last show in 2020 on the day Europe shut down everything due to Covid. I was slightly depressed and concerned about the future. Arriving at this church, were Cage's music was written and will last for more than 800 years gave me so much hope. Suddenly, seeing Covid as just a microframe of a millisecond in the history of life and music.
My family bought us year 2440 to support the project. It actually still feels so good!