The jazz trio of Dieter Ilg, Rainer Boehm and Patrice Heral played Bach pieces as part of the Istanbul Music Festival on June 9, 2018. TRT World interviewed the bandleader, Ilg, before the concert.
B-A-C-H, a concert that took classical pieces and turned them into jazz, was one of the highlights of the 46th Istanbul Music Festival that ended last week on June 12.
On a balmy Istanbul evening at the Rahmi Koc Museum, a private museum showcasing the vintage car and boat collection of a Turkish industrialist, the B-A-C-H performance was led by a trio with Dieter Ilg playing the bass, Rainer Boehm on piano and Patrice Heral on drums.
They played the music of the ageless composer Johann Sebastian Bach, but with an improvisational jazz twist that replaced a straightforward classical version.
TRT World was able to talk to bandleader Dieter Ilg before the concert. The affable German musician provided insights on his methods and told us of his love affair with the acoustic bass.
How did you decide that you would become a jazz bassist?
I fell in love with that music [jazz], with improvising, when I was 14 or 15. I always had classical training, on acoustic bass, and before that, violin. I was not falling in love with that music [classical]. I liked it, but the moment of improvisation that I learned with jazz, and inside of jazz, was just capturing me heavily.
What other instruments can you play, and how did you end up playing them?
Well, I started with the recorder in kindergarten. Then I started the violin, because my parents played violin, too. I didn’t like that so much; I just did it because my parents did it. After the violin I played two years of viola.
Then I saw, in a classical orchestra piece I saw something in the background, in the dark, a big instrument. I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t know why, but there was an attraction. There was the moment where it felt so natural to say “That’s the instrument I want to play!” without even touching it before.
How did you form your trio with pianist Rainer Boehm and drummer Patrice Heral?
Rainer I met when he was the winner of a piano jazz competition about 10 years ago. When I heard him I thought “Well if I ever will have a next piano trio – I mean a piano trio of piano, bass and drums – I will call him.”
So I did and I thought about a drummer. Then I heard Patrice that I knew for a long time, too. [It was] at a concert with German saxophone player Christof Lauer and French tuba player Michel Godard, and I just liked his sound and his art of interplay and his individuality as much as I liked Rainer Boehm’s.
So I thought that’s three different types of persons but that could fit [together] perfectly. I’m still very very happy with that.
When you say three different types of persons…?
Patrice is more extroverted than I am. I’m very much introverted. Rainer is a mixture of both. He has a great touch on the piano, he has a very romantic approach. He’s a virtuoso; he knows about jazz history. Patrice is more the guy who’s not just accompanying he’s also taking ideas and throwing it out [there].
Yes, that’s actually what ends up with the music and our special way to combine classical themes with our experience of being a jazz musician, with a lot of improvisation. That’s always been a part of the classical music centuries ago and now it’s coming back again: The improvisation inside of classical music.
Can you explain what you mean by the “improvisation inside of classical music”?
I take two German composers: one is Ludwig van Beethoven, and the other one is Johann Sebastian Bach. They were well-known as improvisers. You gave them a melody, and they played the melody in one version, in eight versions, in 16 versions. They just were improvising and making variations at the moment – which is improvising, in a certain kind of way.
You have an unusual repertoire for a jazz musician, such as Bach and Beethoven. How did you decide to tackle Bach who is known as one of the ultimate classical composers?
In my heart I’m an acoustic bass player. I’m also a jazz musician who likes mostly everything that has to do with jazz. I also love the tradition inside jazz and of course I love the tradition of where I come from. My parents played classical music, so I was born in a classical music field. That’s still the music that I heard the most when I was young and it captured me and it comes from the area where I come from, Middle Europe. That’s more or less the area that I come from. For that specific kind of period of music.
I’m not hesitating if I sit between two chairs. I can stand that. I don’t have to sit on one chair or on the other one. I can sit in between. I feel comfortable with it. (laughs)
Where do you think jazz music is going as a genre? Has the era of jazz gone by or is it still strong?
It’s still strong but it’s developing because all the other music is developing. Thirty years ago there was no internet. There was no electronic music; there was the start of rap music or of techno and all that stuff and of course that has an influence on all musicians, especially young musicians who grew up now and have a very different background than musicians that grew up about 30, 20, 40 years ago.
Is this your first time in Istanbul? Have you been to any jazz clubs in Istanbul, or played with any Turkish musicians?
No [it’s not my first time].
I think I’ve never played with a Turkish musician, but the last time I was here in Istanbul I played with a Tunisian oud player his name is Dhafer Youssef. Kind of world music. At that time I went to a jazz club in Istanbul – I don’t remember the name – and heard a Turkish group. I think it was the group of a percussion player, probably very well-known, and I really liked it.
You leave and you think “I’ll come back soon and I will check it out.” Then it takes 10 years. [In fact] I think it has been 12 years! But the first time I’ve been here is 1988. That was as a member of an American jazz quartet. The trumpet player Randy Brecker was the bandleader.
What’s been that piece of music which you go back to again and again, because you feel you aren’t done with it or isn’t perfected?
I don't know. I really don’t know.
It might come up that I do a second Bach album maybe. We just did some Georg Friedrich Handel. The guy who came from the same area, and Johann Sebastian Bach who lived at the same time, but they never met. Because Georg Friedrich Handel, he went to London and made a big career as an English composer. Johann Sebastian Bach, he stayed in Germany. Two different worlds but at the same period – very interesting. They come from cities very close to each other [Halle, Germany for Handel and Eisenach, Germany for Bach, with a distance of about 127 kilometres].
How was it to be in New York in the 1980s? How do you think you might have been influenced by the music scene there?
The main thing was that you are in New York let’s say maybe at a university and then everybody’s rehearsing, everybody’s playing so you’re not thinking what you do with these afternoons; it’s clear what you do: you play also. You make exercises with your instrument; you wait till a phone call for a session or for rehearsal. Then you do it. It’s a lot of energy that comes in a town like New York.
I’m originally coming more or less from a small town in the countryside (it’s a small town called Offenburg, which is close to the French city Strasbourg. It’s about 100 kilometres north of the Swiss border. It’s southwest of Germany.) So the step from that place to New York was a big step for me.
New York especially of course has a lot of very very good jazz musicians. In the evening you can go wherever you want to some clubs and listen to excellent musicians. That was 30 years ago and it really gave me a lot of energy and I learned a lot and of course I met some musicians that were good to know and were good to learn a personal approach – that I would have never had confronted with by not going to New York, by just living in Germany, I would never have had that experience.
That’s the good thing if you go out and learn. You always have the possibility to stay or to come back home. But if you don’t go you can’t make the decision “I want to go back.” From my personal approach i can tell it’s so great just to come back home because everybody has a home somewhere and if he doesn’t he should have a home in his heart. You’re home wherever you feel home.
And it’s the same with music. I feel home in both worlds; in the classical world – but not as a player – as a blend that just came out of that field of classical music but found a field that I like more. What’s the best then is combining two fields. Many people don’t fit so much together but I see it’s just so stupid always to stay in one world and not seeing what’s going on in the field next to you. You can still always decide what you want to do. You don’t have to combine it, but I think it fits my personality to combine these two things.
If you could have any musician (alive or dead) to collaborate with, who would they be?
I’m happy with the musicians that I play [with] now. (laughs) In all different groups I’m happy with them.
Are there any other musical genres you want to still experiment with?
No (laughs). I don’t know, maybe somebody comes up tomorrow and says “I have an idea can we try that?” Then maybe we’ll try it – I fall in love with it. That could be; I should not say “no.” But on the other side I found what I like and I don’t see any reason why I should do something else.