Name: Anders Koppel
Occupations: Composer, improviser, songwriter, organist
Current Release: Anders Koppel's Mulberry Street Symphony is out via Unit.
Recommendations: I have to recommend the new CD: Mulberry Street Symphony, music by myself, recorded by Benjamin Koppel (sax), Brian Blade (drums), Scott Colley (bass), Odense Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Martin Yates. Unit Records.
And the songs of John Jacob Niles, an artist I only recently discovered.
If you enjoyed this interview with Anders Koppel, visit his profile on Facebook.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
A classical music childhood – almost all of my family are musicians. Sang in Copenhagen Boys Choir (Bach). Piano from age 5, clarinet from age 11. My father’s collection of 78s, mainly Stravinsky, Bartok and Brahms, but also a lot of jazz records, that I loved - Ellington, Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Fletcher Henderson etc.
The explosion of rock-n-roll in the early 60s hit me with force, so I started writing songs with my brother, I got an organ and we formed a rock group, The Savage Rose in ‘67. I have played and written music ever since.
Some people experience intense emotion when listening to music, others see colours or shapes. What is your own listening experience like and how does it influence your approach to music?
Music is a language all by itself. But it’s a language that doesn’t translate well into another language.
Maybe music has more to do with dreams. Just like a dream, every piece of music has its own laws, its own logic, and when the music - and the dream - is over, nothing will remain except a feeling within.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
Every new piece has to be invented and has its own laws.
I think the challenges of writing and playing were the same when I started out as they are now.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
I think the music you make – whether you compose or play – is as personal as your fingerprint. The style in which you speak is a conglomerate of influences you have had, combined with your own temperament, intellect and possibilities.
I myself had strong influences from a lot of different music – Cuban, Turkish, classical, jazz, just to name a few. And it has all added to my vocabulary.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
Development and form.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
Regarding the question of originality, let me quote the poet Baudelaire: The only way to originality is being yourself completely. Tradition: We stand upon the shoulders of many generations of musicians, all has been said and done – it seems! – but we are obliged to sing the song endlessly in new ways.
Regarding music of the future: I am maybe more interested in music of the moment than in music of the future. Music is created in the moment and disappears in the next – so we have to keep playing and composing!
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
My Hammond Organ B3 has been my beloved companion for well over 50 years now. I played it in my rock group, The Savage Rose, in the early 70s, then in my world-music group Bazaar for 37 years and for many years I have played my Hammond in countless different settings, mostly with my son Benjamin on sax, and among others Kenny Werner, Miroslav Vitous, Brian Blade, Scott Colley, Johnathan Blake.
My strategies for working? – well, keep playing!
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
In the wee, wee hours of the morning, a quick cup of coffee – then immediately out in my study to continue the piece that I’m working on.
A couple of hours later: kiss my wife good morning. Coffee with my wife. Walk the dog. Develop the ideas from the morning. Practice for the next concert. Walk the dog. Pay bills. More composing. Family visits. Cook and clean.
Detailing the ideas from the morning and wrapping up todays work. Walk the dog.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
I saw an exhibition in Copenhagen about Jacob A. Riis, the famous photographer, who documented the social conditions that the immigrants lived under after arrival in New York in the 1880s - at the same time that I was thinking about a new large-scale piece that I was setting out to compose – for jazz trio (sax, drums, bass) and big symphony orchestra.
As the piece would be written for Benjamin Koppel (sax), my son, and two great American musicians and friends, Brian Blade (drums) and Scott Colley (bass), I thought a lot about how much I owe to them and all the other American musicians that we have played with, - and how much American music in general has meant to me artistically. So I thought: but what has Denmark given to America, apart from the great Victor Borge, of course – and Jacob Riis came to mind as someone who really changed American society with his iconic photos and books. So the idea was born.
There is so much understanding and genuine humanism in the photos, and I could hear a lot of music in all the hope and dreams in the eyes of those portrayed. I found it all endlessly inspiring: the 7 photos that I chose, the three wonderful soloists, Odense Symphony orchestra that I have worked with so many times during many years – and in 3 months I had finished the score of over 80 minutes of new music.
And now – 5 years after – it is finally available in a masterful recording with Benjamin, Brian, Scott and the Odense Symphony Orchestra. This project has been pure joy from beginning to end.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
For me, music has always been something to share. I played with my father and brother, I have played with my children ever since they were kids: with Marie, who is a singer and with Benjamin in all our different projects.
There is always an audience – if nobody else: yourself. What is sent out will be recieved somewhere. Composing is of course a solitary occupation, but when the ink is dry, the rest of the process is in collaboration with other musicians.
Also, I have worked in groups all of my life, so for me, music – except of course composing - is something you do together. I find the interaction of my double life as a musician and a composer very fruitful, one inspires the other.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
I believe that there are two scale pans in life, one good and one evil. We have to keep on putting things in the good one to keep the two bowls in balance, or the evil bowl will soon outweigh the good one. One way to do that is in art.
In being creative we show all our best sides, we sort of put on our Sunday clothes. Music’s in society now: same as always, we couldn’t live without it. It comes in countless flavours and forms, in new digital fashion – but it is always necessary.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
Great art will always confront us with the biggest questions, which we otherwise cannot find the answers for.
In music, for instance: time and timelessness, movement, space and closeness are always in play – and they are all concepts, that are otherwise hard to understand. Music can make us comprehend what we cannot understand. Music will transcend sorrow because it will transform it to beauty.
There seems to be increasing interest in a functional, “rational” and scientific approach to music. How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
Music may be inspired by science (and vice versa), as it can be inspired by nature or a machine. All starting points are valid. And there is a great deal of science in music and sound: mathematics, physics - so I understand the inclination to pair music and science.
I am not “scientific” at all myself, though.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Music requires presence. So does everything else. You can fill anything with sentiment and presence.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
Maybe because the senders have filled the music with all the best they know of.
Music is, of course, vibration, but then again - so much more: it is life.