Interview with the … trombone player Nils Wogram

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I met Nils Wogram for the interview before his CD release concert at the cuba Black Box (Münster). Nils Wogram appeared with his trio Nostalgia to present his latest recordings in front of a thrilled crowd including some local jazz musicians like Christian Kappe (trumpet).

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I would like to start with your biography. You started playing trombone at the age of 15. Quite young I assume. Why didn't you pick up the rhythm guitar or drums to start a career as 'bedroom rock star'?

N. W.: Starting to study an instrument at that age of 15 is actually not that early. Usually if you study to play the piano or the violin you start with 3 or at least 6. With the trombone it is a little bit different because of your teeth you can not really start at that age. Some people have proven that it is possible to start at the age of 7 or something but I didn't. I always wanted to play the trombone. I started to play a brass instrument I think at the age of 11 or 12 because my arms weren't long enough. Back then there weren't any children's trombones. To reach out for the 7th position was impossible for me. Somebody told me you are to young for playing trombone but you can try the euphonium instead which has the same mouth piece, same techniques to play and a similar sound. I did that and at the age of 14 I faced an accident and felt on my teeth. I had to stop playing for a year and at the age of almost 15 I picked up the trombone. Why the trombone? The exposure you get to music like jazz is linked to the family you've been brought up but an instrument like trombone is not so common. My father is a hobby trombone player and he has a large record collection. When I was a child I got interested in that. I liked the sound and listened to the records with Jazz mainly from the 40s. Yeah, as a kid I felt in love with that instrument. When I started I had a really good teacher. That gave me a lot of power to work on the instrument.

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At the age of 16 you took part in the Bundesjugend-Jazzorchester. Was there never a temptation to play with a rock band and to establish a Chicago or Blood, Sweat and Tears tribute band?

N.W.: Well, not really. I liked Jazz from the beginning when I was a child. I remember a situation in my class at the age of 8 or 9 everybody could bring his favourite music with. We set up a sort of chart list and we could vote for our favourites. I brought some Jazz records with. Only my best friends voted for my music. The most popular music genre was the so called Neue Deutsche Welle represented by Nena as the most known pop musician from that era. My friends listened to AC/DC and the Beatles. The Beatles I liked too but not AC/DC. I could not relate myself either to the Neue Deutsche Welle either. Actually the connection between Pop and Jazz came for me much later thanks to Steve Wonder and the Blues Brothers. When I was child there was no temptation to become a rock star. Mom used to listen to really cheesy music. My father used to listen to Jazz and to operas by Wagner and symphonies by Sibelius. My sister was fond of pop music and my brother preferred punk rock.

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Do you remember the favourite jazz tunes your father listened to? Kid Ory, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and so on?

N. W.: His favourite stuff was British Old Time Jazz. He liked Jack Teagarden a lot. He didn't have much of the old stuff but he kept trombone music like the music by J. J. Johnson, Jimmy Knepper and Curtis Fuller. He is a big fan of the trombone duo J & K, J. J. Johnson and Kai Winding and of Paul Desmond too, swing orientated Bebop, not the pure Bebop linked to Charlie Parker. It is funny I started from there, getting to know that kind of style and then I got interested in more modern stuff. I remember once talking with him about Charlie Parker. He would say: 'Yeah, I don't really get it. I don't like his sound. I know he is great but …'. For me that was the starting point to get into modern stuff like Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane. My affinity to swinging rhythm sections and paying close attention to it relates to the music my father listened to.

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Considering the tradition of classical music in Europe the trombone is found in sacred and religious music, churches keep a trombone ensemble quite often by purpose. How important is this aspect of music history for your career?

N.W.: If you want to play Jazz you have to play your instrument quite well. The first band I played with was a catholic brass orchestra. I played euphonium then. Yes, we did play in churches but we played as well polkas and such stuff. At the age of 16 I played Old Time Jazz in a band lead by an amateur musician. I was lucky to play in the band and got to know jazz standards by Kid Ory, King Oliver and Louis Armstrong.

You started to perform with the Bundesjugendjazzorchester when you turned 16. How did that happen? By accident? Out of the blue?

N. W.: I was always interested in jazz but I did not have a teacher for jazz music. I had one for classical music and I played classical music. Everything referring to jazz was self-taught. Nobody told me how to play jazz when I joined the Old Time Jazz band. We were more or less left alone. That was for me quite frustrating in the beginning. I wanted to be able to improvise and I couldn't. I then attended a course and my teacher was Ed Kröger who was pretty well known maybe not as much as Albert Mangelsdorff. He showed me how to work and improvise. I joined the Youth Jazz Orchestra of Lower Saxony the same time. At that time first year university students were not allowed to join the orchestra but high school students. I was really young because I just turned 16. The guy who was the conductor and director, Bernhard Mergner, did a very good job. I learnt a lot e.g. how to play in a Big Band. After that period I joined the national Youth Jazz Big Band led by Peter Herbolzheimer. It was a tough time for me. I was quite good and I could improvise but I struggled with the reading of the charts. Günther Bollmann and I joined the band and all the other trombonists were much older than us. We got there and they didn't let us play. There was once a 10-days-workshop and all we did was a sort of section rehearsal and we could only play one afternoon for two hours. I left the band when I was due to study in New York. All my heroes in Jazz had their roots in New York and therefore I was so keen to study there instead in Europe.

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Are there any role models in relation to your career you would like to mention?

N. W.: My main heroes on the trombone did not live or teach in New York. The main influence back then was J. J. Johnson and he was living in Philadelphia and Curtis Fuller living in Indianapolis or Chicago I think. I didn't take lessons with them. The New School for Social Research with a small jazz section kept a list of celebrities you could call for lessons. One 'giant in jazz' is Jimmy Knepper and I managed to attend a class with him once. It was quite impressive. I spent as well an afternoon with Steve Turre. The most courses I attended were those organised by Conrad Herwig a great trombonist and much more modern. During my studies I met as well Richie Beirach, Kenny Werner, Maria Schneider and Reggie Workman (double bass) who recorded a lot on Blue Note and played with John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter. It was a very important time. I had the feeling learning from those you made history in music. They were around when the great art of jazz popped up.

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How important is the American Songbook and the tradition of Afro-American?

N. W.: From early age on I started to listen to American Jazz and I did not know anything about European Jazz. Through that I learnt to play that type of music. At the same time I used to play romantic classical music sometimes on the trombone but I played in a symphony orchestra as well, and avant-garde music e.g. a piece by Luciano Berio, hard core late 60s avant-garde. Back then this music genres didn't get connected in my head. You played that style and two hours later you played another style. Having played classical music I think my sense of the dramatic shape of a song was stronger than if I would have played Bebop all the time. Bebop is not really dynamic. You play the song then you improvise. Back to your question: My playing is mostly influenced by American Jazz. My composing is partly influenced by classical music in terms of forms, melodies and chords. The songbook is very important. The session culture in New York was and still is quite strong. It was expected that you know many songs. I know quite some songs and know how to play them. That is very different to some jazz musicians or students of today who do not pay any or better lesser attention to the Songbook. In the 90s it was very important to know the songs by your heart.

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Is your brass instrument perhaps linked to your specific personality and character?

N.W.: I picked the trombone by purpose but if you look around in music history a lot of trombone players had no other choice. It was like your brass band in school needed a trombone player and you had to try it. For me it was a choice. I wouldn't be able to say why. I always refer to the sound. I like the sound. Maybe subconsciously there was something like the trombone is not the first role solo instrument and you are not a bandstand personality. On the other hand there are trombone players like Nils Landgren who runs the show and is a great entertainer. I refer as well to Trombone Shorty. They are entertainers and great trombone players but that is totally different to what I am doing. My stuff is much more sophisticated and intellectual in a way. I always had the impression that Miles Davis, Jimmy Knepper, Charles Mingus and John Coltrane and other are a kind of elite. They have a kind of wisdom in music and life. They are so advanced. You have to work very hard to get to the point checking out what they are doing. I wanted to get to that point. There is an upside and a downside in it. There are not so many trombone players around like me leading bands and writing their own music. I can make my living and support my family by playing jazz music. The downside has to do with the instrument that is not well known and the tradition I relate to, Bebop, is not well known either. I once made a test with people who turned up before a concert wanting to know more about the musicians playing. I asked the guys in the room if they know Charlie Parker. Maybe 50 of the 150 raised their hands. I asked then who knows J.J. Johnson and only a couple raised their hands. That happened during a Jazz Festival when a crowd of 800 in total turned up and only 150 really wanted to know more about the music and musicians. I am playing music strongly influenced by such musicians I mentioned earlier. For European listeners it seems that this is all new.

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You formed various bands playing in a duo as well as in a septet. What suits you most or are all theses constellations on an equal base?

N. W.: I would say it is on an equal level. Each band and instrumentation has its strong points like the Hammond trio 'Nostalgia'. There is the chance of the very nice warm chords. It is a very powerful band with a large variety of dynamics and playing situation from mellow to aggressive. In comparison my band Root 70 is more transparent because we do not have a harmony instrument. I would not be able to say I much more prefer that band or another one. I have certain things in music I like and want to feature with my various bands. The septet e.g. is like a little Big Band. The trombone 4tet we formed because we were quite curious to see how far we can get outside the very nice sound of a brass 4tet. The reason why I formed those bands is deeply rooted in the idea that I wanted to feature various aspects in music. If a jazz band is quite successful you get 20 or 30 concerts a year and you can't make ends meet but if you form various bands the chance is there that you can make a living.

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Why did you name your trio 'Nostalgia'? It sounds very traditional. It sounds that you cry a bit because the good times of Bebop and Hard Bop and the hype of jazz are over.

N. W.: I even thought for a while to change the name of the band. I like the band name because I have a special affinity to the tradition in jazz. I have an affinity to the music of the past which is so nice you know. Sometimes I wanted to stop the time. I know that is not possible. For people reading Nostalgia or being nostalgic is negative. It means you are looking backwards and you do not move forwards. It's all focused on the great past. For me it is more looking back and being aware that jazz today would not exist without Teagarden, Kneeper and Mingus or Miles. I have a deep respect for their music. That is music I love. Nevertheless I know music does not stop. Jazz was always very much committed to find new ways. Referring to my music you find a lot reminders to the past. I hope that doesn't make people think that it is a repetition of old stuff. Taking influences from the past and giving the music a face lift that is the biggest challenge for me.

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Thanks for talking with me.

Interview and photographs © ferdinand dupuis-panther

Informations

Nils Wogram
http://nilswogram.com/media/bands/nostalgia-trio

Audios

https://soundcloud.com/nils-wogram
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ot6WacEWwE
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5N5KSHIL9Q
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wih1ktKh5H4
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0t5WxJe_wE

Nostalgia

Musicians
Dejan Terzic
http://dejanterzic.com/en/dejan-terzic.html

Arno Krijger
http://arnokrijger.nl/

 


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Special thanks to our photographers:

Henning Bolte
Cedric Craps
Christian Deblanc

Koen Deleu

Ferdinand Dupuis-Panther
Anne Fishburn

Stefe Jiroflée
Jos L. Knaepen
Jacky Lepage

Nina Contini Melis
Arnold Reyngoudt
Willy Schuyten
Frank Tafuri
Jean-Pierre Tillaert
Guy van de Poel
Cees van de Ven
Marie-Anne Ver Eecke

Jan Vernieuwe

and to our writers:

 

Henning Bolte
Ferdinand Dupuis-Panther
Paul Godderis
Jean-Pierre Goffin
Claude Loxhay
Herman te Loo
Iwein Van Malderen