Point [The Toetsenist 1/9]

December 19, 2022

Little Michiel got a 10-, on a scale of 1 to 10, for the math test that every Dutch 12-year-old takes before going to high school. I got the minus because, according to the teacher's notes, I had finished my 50 questions in 5 minutes and decided it was time to call it a day and had forgotten a point somewhere on page two in the rush.

I had learned something from the test, paraphrasing my uncle Jos' comment afterwards: just drive 95 km/h through a residential area where 9.5 km/h seems more appropriate.

Later, I was reminded of the math test, when a Mars lander crashed on Mars because some of the engineers had apparently calculated in miles and others in kilometers; chances are that these engineers had scored a 10 on their test and could therefore go to grandma and grandpa with their spotless test results, but had learned nothing from the test.

The test was, obviously, intended as an aid in choosing the most appropriate type of high school, anticipating a clustering based on competencies. In math, that's nice and easy; you can indicate very well and precisely "where someone stands."

As soon as you move away from math, it becomes progressively more difficult. In art education, in a way completely at the other end of the spectrum, it is even quite difficult to indicate how many of the applicable competencies should be defined and how norms can be set.

That aside, there is also the question of the extent to which it is desirable in our education to sort students out to like-minded people; not being confronted exclusively with like-minded and "level" peers makes our students stronger in the search for their own value system. The uncomfortability of doubt and confusion that encountering differently minded people can bring is a powerful trigger for discovery. One of my mottos is that one's shortcomings and deficiencies are much more important to one's personality than one's skills. And that it is therefore helpful to create as many barriers, problems and issues as possible.

Experimentation, even with the position of a comma, is allowed in any form of art.

5:678910 [The Toetsenist 2/9]

December 18, 2022

I was in the first batch of Jazz & Pop at ArtEZ Arnhem and June 2, 1987 we had the very first finals. Nowadays meticulous reports of the committee discussion and conclusions are carefully stored and we work according to strict protocols. However, my file reveals that back then, assessing auditions was still being invented bit by bit. Not everyone had yet fully mastered it. Hardly anything was recorded in writing. What was noted was the vote, where the five committee members gave a 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 respectively, on a scale of one (terrible) to ten (“Jesus”). Since there was averaging (and a re-vote changed nothing fundamental) I passed with a resounding 8.

In the aftermath of my final, the very same evening, it was widely reported in the adjacent café of the Nijmegen venue O’42 where those individual grades came from. I got it this way: the examiner who gave a 6 thought the rest would give a 10 (there was a blind vote) and was eager to push the grade down a bit "because only Jesus can get a 10." The 7 teacher was disappointed that I had not played one “common" jazz piece (worth noting that I included Tristrano’s Wow, Dizzy’s Salt Peanuts, Gershwin’s The Man I Love and Ellington’s The Mooche). The 8 teacher, just liked what I did and, by the way, always gave an 8. The 9 was glad that there were also students who didn't just play standard jazz and the 10 didn't like jazz at all and only judged my ideas and "natural disposition for the piano." Anyway, an 8. Hooray, I passed!

I often have to think back to that evening in times when intersubjective judging is involved. However clumsy the department's first finals were judged, it pithily reflects what you can expect when discussants give their opinions unrehearsed: everyone thinks - just like at an after-party of any concert - something, and those "somethings" can be far apart and contradict each other very easily. Discussion is relatively pointless in such a situation. Should the committee be so composed as to be a more or less true reflection of society or your audience (which is never the case), you as a victim know approximately "what you are worth." Incidentally, in the long run (in my case evidently starting as early as the re-vote), the thoughts shared during such a committee discussion do have some merit; many of those conversations together have shaped the DNA of ArtEZ Jazz & Pop, a shared set of values has been defined over the years, transcending personal opinion and stylistic preference, which plays a prominent role in any decision about educational development.

CRP [The Toetsenist 3/9]

December 17, 2022

In 2018 and 2019, our team was introduced to Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process, a way of giving and soliciting feedback, during a teachers' day and then three two-day training sessions. CRP is embedded in our curriculum as of 2019 within the mandatory modules First Year Band and at the end of the second year, where it has replaced the annual audition. It also plays a role in many other classes in many ways, both in its strictest form and more loosely applied. CRP has nothing to do with controlling testing (does someone meet certain criteria) and everything to do with (I searched a while for an appropriate adjective, but will just leave it at:) reviewing. A person reviews a piece of work based on the meaningful reactions, questions and opinions of audience and can ask them questions about it, which makes it urgent to continue working on it. 


As a jazz pianist, I went with great skepticism to a week-long training in Finland given by Liz Lerman (see my blog of April 4, 2016). The reluctance came mainly from the fact that as an improvising musician I was not at all concerned about the opinions of others, to the extreme I was only my own judge and there was no point in discussing this with your audience or even with fellow band members: everything that needed to be said found its place in the music itself, on stage. A "brainstorming dinner" I once had with my orchestra Bik Bent Braam, on tour in Canada, all but ended in a scuffle. Anyway: giving each other verbal feedback and asking for it was just not done.


CRP has changed that whole picture. Maybe because Liz herself guided me in the first steps, but also because the group of attendees, an international group of conservatory staff, I came out of Finland completely different from how I came in. Deepening at an ICON seminar in England and with the Jazz & Pop team for six days, again with Liz, made me increasingly enthusiastic about CRP. It proved possible to give and ask for feedback in a way that actually landed, respects one's core values and did not immediately result in a meaningless defense, but fundamentally helped the artist to eagerly move forward with their current and future work.


Frankly, through this experience myself, having seen how powerful this form of response and dialogue could be helpful, I was completely done with any form of controlling, summative testing and even more so when there is a scale attached. So, unstructured, I polled what team members and students would think about doing away with the grade to begin with. Many of the initial responses, especially from students, were not very positive. For example, there was one drums student who, after seeing that the second-year audition had been replaced by a CRP session, complained to me and asked if he couldn't just do a audition and get a grade instead, "at least then I'll know what I'm worth."


In response to such comments, I wonder what our program (or, more broadly, society) instills in young people about core values, that they develop a desire to know what they are worth in relation to others. And how we can transform that desire and get back to the more fundamental urge to develop yourself, respecting and accepting your identity. That you curiously continue to dig deeper into your nature and make yourself less dependent on what others, reasoning from their own identity, "think of it." 


The above mentioned drums student asked me for an individual lesson a little later. I do not give weekly lessons and see many students once or a few times during the four years of their studies in such a setting. I always begin such a lesson by asking what they would like to do. Sometimes there are technical questions about, for example, fingerings, chords, grooves and so on. This drummer had often heard me in all kinds of bands and wanted to improvise together for 45 minutes. He didn't have any questions before or after, but did indicate that he had found it nice and instructive. I didn't have to tell him anything about how much he was worth. He recorded everything and, upon re-listening, will surely have checked the duet against what he thinks is important. And probably added to his backpack what matters to him.

In B Flat [The Toetsenist 4/9]

December 16, 2022

Jazz pianist Thelonious Monk is among bebop's most creative minds and is undoubtedly one of the most important jazz musicians who ever lived. He constructed unusual songs on mostly common song forms. He was completely useless in almost any situation; his language was too idiosyncratic to fit easily into many others' work. In my student days, I was absolutely convinced that ear training was a stupid subject, so I asked at the time if I could instead transcribe all of Monk's compositions from the record, and the request was granted. 72 pieces, 12 of which were based on a blues form.

It turned out that on all of his albums (and probably beyond) Monk never played a blues in any key other than b-flat, thus illustrating the aforementioned uselessness in almost any setting; Monk apparently did not feel the need to master certain competencies so that he would be able to fit into situations not initiated from within himself. Not that he played exclusively in b-flat - his other compositions pass through numerous keys - but in the blues he simply ignored all other keys.

This was an intriguing discovery, with which I could go on for years. It set, and still sets, me thinking about competencies, requirements that you set for students as an art educational program in that area. What criteria do you use as a program and how can they be tested coherently?


Making intriguing discoveries also played a determining role in the development of my vision for the education- and assessment plan (a document that underlies our curriculum). I am a strong advocate of not breaking down the curriculum into too small chunks and consequently not presenting summative tests for every subject every semester, because it can reduce much-needed curiosity and the accompanying often essential obsessive time-wasting motivation of students. After all, if you have to do and pass tests all the time, the drive with which you commit yourself to discovery can throw a spanner in the works. In short, there must be room for obsession, and you must accept that if there is a period of very high development in one area, another area may suffer for a while. That neglected part will later, also precisely by having had room for being obsessive about this or that, still turn out well, probably even better (and sometimes that means scaled down, more focused, more to-the-point). And it also allows you to become one of the leading jazz musicians with an entirely unique conception of music.

Juice WRLD [The Toetsenist 5/9]

December 15, 2022

The ArtEZ Conservatory Arnhem is characterized by the great importance that all three programs (along with Jazz & Pop also Muziektheater and Composition for Film and Theatre) place on originality. Making your own productions, initiating projects, improvising, composing. We have no artistic or stylistic dogmas and one goal is to stimulate originality where students make bold choices of their own. Our students naturally possess that, and faculty constantly remind each other and me that this is the essence of our program.


In 2019, rapper (this paragraph holds an avalanche of educational links!) Juice WRLD passed away. His biggest hit was Lucid Dreams, in which he used Sting's Shape of My Heart.

Shape of My Heart was written by Sting, along with guitarist Dominic MillerToots Thielemans plays the chromatic harmonica in Sting's original. Notably, these musicians co-shaped this song, released 25 years later remixed by Juice WRLD. The only element from the original that Juice WRLD used was the chord progression, played by guitar. He did so openly, no mistaking that the Sting sample was the main ingredient for Lucid Dreams. In addition, the band Yellowcard claims that Juicy WRLD used its song Holly Wood Died in Lucid Dreams.

A rapper, strolling through popular music history, taking something here and there, including something quite literally, putting a beat under it and rapping his own lyrics: is that plagiarism? Is that different from Junkie XL's cover of Elvis' original A Little Less Conversation? In which, in addition to the music, the clip paraphrases - and probably in homage to - Elvis' clip from Jailhouse Rock? Different from Thelonious Monk's Rhythms-a-ning, which at its core is George Gershwin's I Got Rhythm? Different even from the improvisation Gerhswin himself plays in that clip to his own song?


How do you measure originality? In students' music, what do you accept about using other people's pieces? Only chord progressions? Or more strongly: those progressions played by the same instrument? And even stronger: that same thing in the same rhythm as the original? Or even more crazy: use of a sample?


When is a product not plagiarism? It's a question we will constantly struggle with; we simply don't know what will be considered relevant professional practice in music five years from now, and our students teach us about it, much more than the other way around. They show us how the yogurt continues to develop, the culture ferments. We can see that from a retrospective point of view but will do it differently than the next generation. That makes demands on also our resilience to any kind of scrutiny we unleash on student development. Plagiarism has a different connotation than it did 20 years ago, even in an environment where originality is highly valued, like our conservatory education.


We have had voice students on the course who specialize in, say, a kind of hip-hop-reggae rap. Where "before" it was clear in which areas students could (should...) develop is more ambivalent with them, at least, for my generation. In an exaggerated way, it used to be a matter of ticking off which craft competencies had been acquired and that was combined with artistic development. If you look at it this way, you can claim with these students that "nothing has been improved in four years," that they "can still do the same as when they started their studies." But more relevant is actively looking for completely different lines of development along which there has indeed been growth, but which you did not see before; you put the value system of the student central and see if they grow in it; you put the individual urgency of the student central and not the typologies traditionally used by our programs (pop singers, jazz singers, Latin singers, each with their bundle of skills).


A program can only truly educate when it recognizes that what it trains for always remains fluid. While there is an evolving sourdough and relationship between periods, the ingredients that different generations add or omit is something that our program must always be attentive to and presents us with issues regarding the design of our curriculum and consequently assessment. Jazz and pop music in particular have an overwhelming tradition of renewal and you better see that reflected in any relevant curriculum.

Improviser, Exproviser [The Toetsenist 6/9]

December 14, 2022

In 1991, commissioned by and for fourteen-piece Orkest De Ereprijs, singer Jannie Pranger and trio BraamDeJoodeVatcher, I wrote the piece "Mozart or Something Like That for 14 ex- and 4 improvisers." In the title immediately the focus of the two main parts of this collaboration. Jannie, Wilbert, Michael and I improvised exclusively in this piece and Orkest De Ereprijs played solely composed notes. That one did this and the other did that surprised no one; Orkest De Ereprijs had by then been a leading ensemble for 12 years, capable of performing the most complex contemporary compositions meticulously and energetically. Our trio improvised, preferably with as little basic material as possible. Jannie engaged in both worlds.

It is mainly the curiosity about each other and the desire to explore together that make such collaborations worthwhile. I remember that the research question was how to get one part of the musicians to improvise as much as possible in the moment, while another part unstoppably and unrelentingly performs a score written out from A to Z. It caused us to test ourselves with the help of the other against the premise that music is reciprocal communication.


There are many other "types" of musicians besides ex- and improvisers, musicians, tone poets, artists, composers, DJs, dance bands, theater combos, symphony orchestras, musical stars, tearjerking accordionists, well, too many to mention. There is no hierarchy in this. Music is not an extra but an essential necessity of life for people, it enables us to cope with life situations. Dancing, comforting, working, laughing, mourning, frightening, engaging, loving, hating, socializing, all of this becomes easier or more intense when supported by music.


That automatically leads to the fact that in our ArtEZ Jazz & Pop program there is room, fundamentally, for the most diverse characters, music genres and focuses. And in our formative and summative assessment we, as a team, are constantly attentive to the choices of students who do not automatically fit into our own baggage.


It goes without saying that this does not happen automatically. Teaching and testing can only be done well if it is carried by a team whose members respect each other as much as they respect themselves. If teachers do not like each other's idiosyncrasies and those of the students, and there is no respect for the other, you quickly arrive at a situation where the student is only concerned with meeting the teacher's demands and can develop themselves into victims. With all the inertia or even standstill that comes with that.

Orkest De Ereprijs liked the improvisers enough and vice versa. There was interest in each other. Everyone's attitude was curious. Only in this way could the project succeed.


By the way, a few years after that I did a live broadcast ISDN experiment for Radio 4. ISDN was hot at the time and I played in a Hilversum studio with Han Bennink, Ernst Glerum and Frans Vermeerssen along with a saxophonist in a studio in Nagasaki. Because of a latency of a few seconds, we could respond to him, but he could not respond to us. I found it an intriguing thought, also because also in that experiment there was one-way communication, or at least an imbalance in the degree of, or form of, contribution which we encountered with “Mozart or Something…”. Fascinating as a test and a worthwhile undertaking to carry out with musical friends.

Auditions [The Toetsenist 7/9]

December 13, 2022

In the song "Just Hold Me," Maria Mena sings the following line, "If I liked rejection I'd audition." Maria is not the only soul on earth who is at odds with the phenomenon of auditioning, and sadly, auditions have made many people decide to just not do anything more with music or any other form of art that involves auditions. Fortunately, we meanwhile can certainly do better.


Together, the modules in our curriculum cover a set of relevant aspects that are important in a musical professional practice. The competencies to be developed are translated into teaching and assessment. Some of the modules involve ongoing assessment and dialogue between student and teacher; others work more toward a final test.

The most obvious example is the audition before a committee of five assessors. A summative test, and the student is expected to prepare it entirely independently. Purpose, form, content, level, criteria, caesura, procedure of the auditions has been described in detail as in the other subjects.


Over the years, the criteria against which auditions are conducted have become increasingly clear. Assessors were quite often inclined to place their personal artistic vision prominently in the focus of the assessment. My own final was one example of this that was as clumsy as it was witty (see the earlier blog 5:678910 in this The Toetsenist series). Reason enough not only to describe the criteria, but also to translate these descriptions into assessment forms for the auditions. As a checklist, to keep the evaluator from failing to consider important parts.


Good assessors understand that each musician has (needs) a unique set of competencies. They assess the personal mix of skills and choices made by the student along the way to a piece of work to be assessed. One garam masala is not the other, and judging is not so much about whether or not you like it, but rather what route was taken to put it together. Whether a student dares to translate one's own value system into a product, accepting that with some listeners the result in terms of taste does not lead to enthusiasm.


The checklist used in auditions facilitates the process of distancing oneself from the product and better enables the evaluator to test broad development. For example, "the candidate did miss some spots in the written sections, but the improvisations and ability to communicate with fellow musicians was of high quality."

We do not work with an assessment per criterion and then an average rolls out. To do so would be nonsensical, because each assessor may assign their own value to each of the criteria; there is no general standardization. Auditions are thus still judged intersubjectively. But in that mix, the same criteria are considered by each evaluator.


Feedback to the student is essential. Not only does the student have a right to know what the committee was enthusiastic about and critical of, but the student themselves can ask questions, clarify where necessary and keep the committee focused. It is a reflective moment for all present, so we take all the time we can for that and are careful and respectful in that regard. For several years, we have offered the popular elective "Giving Feedback," in which students observe committee discussions of entrance auditions, among other things, and give their opinions in writing and orally after the blind vote, but prior to the committee discussion. Afterwards, we also ask them to feed back how they experienced the committee. Critical observations are turned into mostly behavioral changes of committee members. In summary, this means that candidates are treated with even more respect than before, we are more alert to talking (and laughing! That unfortunately sometimes happened in the past...) during the audition, and we do not only mention points of criticism, but also positive elements.


In addition to using the checklist, I think the blind voting process, committee size and the number of main subject teachers are very important at auditions.


The blind voting process, leading to a committee discussion, has often led to deep disagreements that have been very valuable to the development of the program. It is precisely through those discussions that you get clearer as a team where you want to go with your program. We see each other in meetings and on study days, of course, and many adjustments to our curriculum are perpetuated there. But the seeds for those changes are mainly laid during committee meetings. Information is exchanged there based on actual situations, which sometimes flows in all directions. And because there is blind voting, as an evaluator you are also forced to honestly and truly give and justify your own opinion.

If there were no blind vote, you could easily end up in a situation where a dominant assessor after an audition, for example, enters the consultation room with an angry aura and immediately starts orating about what wasn't right about the audition just heard, thus making it very difficult for the other assessors to say it was a pretty good audition.


Smaller commissions are cheaper. So, I have occasionally been asked to look into that. I always thought that was a bad plan. Because of the above discussions; more involved teachers and situations strengthen the development of your faculty DNA. But also because of the intersubjective nature of assessment. The larger the committee, the less vulnerable to excessive subjectivity.


Finally, the number of main subject teachers of the candidate's main subject on the committee. In our case, that is a maximum of two out of five. So, as a violin student, there are a maximum of two violinists on the committee. The other three are of another main subject. This is to avoid focusing too much on general craft and disregarding many other criteria.


As a matter of principle, if a retake of an audition is required, the student ideally has roughly a month or more to prepare it. In all other modules, a student has already traveled a road with the instructor - often week-by-week - in which many issues have been processed. In those cases, it is legitimate to see the retake primarily as an opportunity to make up for a test wasted by illness or a bad day, and that can take place shortly after the first test. The audition is exceptional, because of its nature; there has been no guidance and the student receives instant feedback. Processing time, as with the other courses, is required, and it does not begin until the feedback from the reviewing committee.

Craft vs Art? [The Toetsenist 8/9]

December 12, 2022

You can worry about your students' craft skills if you give a lot of room in your program for artistic development.

Wait, let me start over.

You can worry about your students' artistic development if you give a lot of room in your program for craft skills.


Or you don't worry and in education take full account of the double-sided nature of music; musicians are both creative and artistic producers and must train for years to express themselves and play together. Where a visual artist may choose to create something that requires no craft at all (e.g., making 95 hamsters run around in balls, it happens…), a musician with only a strong idea will not get anywhere in most cases. At least, the musician will have to consider what kind and how much craft is needed to make one's ideas a reality, and the lower limit is already quite high in most cases. At age 17, my then classmate and saxophonist Fokas Holthuis wrote a piece for saxophone and piano, which consisted of him pounding on a piano with a saxophone. Nice statement allright, but he discovered that in order to progress as a saxophonist, he definitely needed to practice a lot. He quit sax and now runs a successful antiquarian bookstore.


By employing only teachers in the teaching team who are greatly appreciative of both craftsmanship and artistry, who understand that, for example, a bassist can only be very expressive if the "one" is in exactly the right place and a personal story is told, you prevent students from becoming confused about the wrong things. In itself, confusion is good, but not about the fundamental principle that craft, and art are completely interconnected. Personally, I love good chops and very much enjoy listening to virtuoso musicians. But I also find it necessary to frequently unsettle something that is running smoothly in order to come back to new insights. For example, for the program "Exit" of my 13-piece orchestra Bik Bent Braam, I had written 453 pages, 26 compositions, without using the c, e and g entirely. If you leave out a quarter of the note material, you benefit little from your superficial habits, but a lot from your deeper baggage, and development takes off.


In the teaching I do, I cite examples like this frequently. In feedback to students at classes and auditions, it is no different. Moreover, in such situations, I try to be sensitive to the fact that team members pay attention to both craft and art in their feedback, preferably in each other's contexts.

Tennis Balls [The Toetsenist 9/9]

December 11, 2022

In 2013, when I attended a math lecture around a master class I was teaching at the Saint Paul Conservatory of Music, the students were asked the question of how many tennis balls could fit in the lecture hall. After gathering only shrugs of the shoulders from the students, the instructor looked at me expectantly. I said, "2 million." Apparently, I was not far off and the lecturer asked me how I had done that. Well, I estimated a room about 10 meters wide, 15 meters long and 4 meters high, so 600 m3, so 600,000 dm3, I had taken an imaginary tennis ball in my hand and estimated that it had not 10 cm, but about 2/3 of that as its diameter, (3/2) to the third power = somewhere between 3 and 3½, that times 600,000 makes about 2,000,000. 

The funny thing was that the teacher pointed out that an American could never give an answer that quickly because the American education system does not value estimation. He thought that was unfortunate. Not just because being able to estimate is useful in many situations, but mainly because as your estimating ability grows, you also develop your ability to put things into perspective. Europeans, he continued, do pay attention to estimation in math education, and it was his firm belief that the lack of it in the U.S. contributed to the fact that Americans can only think in true/false, pro/con, black/white.

I thought - even knowing that a racist could apparently be elected president in the U.S. and many Americans still find him delightful - his assumption went a bit far, but do believe in the fact that a healthy ability to put things into perspective ensures, that people can better relate to each other as well.

This is something that, since we at ArtEZ Jazz & Pop offer an English-language program with mostly foreign students from all over the world, is strongly reflected in our student population; all those nationalities and natures are very inviting (and challenging!) in terms of relations.


On designing our program, I often think of the math class in Minnesota. Where the design of tests is concerned, I try to be alert to all kinds of relationships. Between the student on the one hand and the music field, styles, fellow musicians, context, and so on. Truth does not exist in music (and only to a very limited extent outside of it) and absolutism has no place there. As an assessor I will never tell a student that "you should never play a MAJ7 chord again" (even though it is an unfortunate mistake and the single stupidest and utterly superfluous chord there is human beings normally can do without - unfortunately, I might be about the only one in the world who has come to this conclusion) but rather ask about the considerations that played a role in their harmonic choices. Usually a discussion then develops in which the student starts asking me about my choice. In other words, the student is testing me just as much. A situation that I find very appropriate in art education and is also made tangible in my frequent playing together with students in teaching situations or public sessions (as long as there is no summative testing involved) and in my professional practice with young alumni such as with Annelie Koning and in Son Bent Braam. This is instructive and challenging for all involved.


I have been profiling myself as a performing musician within ArtEZ for only a few years. Actually as a result of a mediocre score we received five years ago on the "communication" part of the National Student Survey. I didn't understand the unsatisfactory score and in the oral follow-up interview it turned out that some students were disappointed that we communicated so little where, when and with whom and in which projects our teachers played. If we did that better, they could more easily experience teachers in the wild to learn from them, as well as take more pride in their department. It was a valuable observation from the students.


I also found it reassuring, by the way, that it wasn't about the fact that we weren't adequately communicating the curriculum or how we were otherwise communicating about teaching and assessment. Because I already paid a lot of attention to that; a student has the right to know beforehand and afterwards how the whole and parts of our program are structured in terms of form, content and assessment. So I created an information kit for the program that provides the student with the info with as few clicks as possible. Furthermore, I make a lot of effort to communicate as clearly as possible about educational matters, projects, deadlines, to surveys and so on, and I am careful to ensure that all team members do the same, for example, by insisting that written assessments of the main subject are added to a student's file only after they have been discussed with the student. When decisions have been made that affect the program of study and implementation, I also always ask students for feedback and they can only give it if you have provided them with complete and clearly structured information.

Peak'nDale 1: Lady's Blues

December 11, 2021

There are words. And there's music.

For a pianist, keeping a log in music probably makes more sense than one with words. That's why, with a certain amount of regularity, I also bring into my blog a piece that I recorded at home, on my aluminum Rippen grand piano, and posted on Youtube. Unprocessed. Recorded with one or two iPhones. From which you can see what I'm working on. I do this under the title Peak 'n Dale, because we live near Nijmegen in Berg en Dal, which is Dutch for Berg en Dal. See? Simple. Understandable.And in between I might also do a blog with words. But essentially the music says it all.

Today: Lady's Blues, a composition by Roland Kirk.

Gloomy Sunday

May 9, 2016

This month my twenty-sixth album will come out. It will comprise the recordings of a solo concert I did in Budapest last December. The album is named after the Hungarian song Szomorú Vasárnap which was made famous around the world by several American artists like Artie Shaw and, most notably Billie Holiday. Younger versions have been recorded by Björk, Sinead O'Connor and Heather Nova. The list is quite extensive; my friend Dirk-Peter Kölsch is holding a vast collection, which is still growing. I wonder if he has already seen Angelina Jordan's version. Well, anyway, now it's my time to add one to the list. The cover of the new album is the picture in this blog. Tamás Bognár, of the renowned Hungarian label BMC, sent it to me last Friday to confirm. I think it's a great cover, precisely imaging the title of the album.


There were two reasons to play this song during that specific concert.


Obviously, it was included because the song is Hungarian originally. It is one of many Hungarian songs that made it to the jazz charts worldwide. Autumn Leaves by Miles Davis or Edith Piaf? Sorry guys, it's simply Hulló Levelek. Don't underestimate Hungarian composers!


There was another, more personal, reason to play this particular song on that evening. The very night of the concert, students of the ArtEZ Conservatory organized a concert in remembrance of their friend and our student Robin Cornelissen who had died exactly two years earlier. Because of my solo concert in Budapest it was not possible for me to attend and in a way I could still be connected to the evening in Arnhem by playing the song I played also two years earlier with trumpet player Pieter van Engelen, at Robin's funeral.


I think I'm basically a pretty phlegmatic person, not easily disturbed by emotional matters and able to keep my distance when I feel it's necessary, preserving emotional outbursts for moments that really count. It is one of the many reasons Pieter Douma and I are collaborating so fruitfully. He is just the opposite, which is trying at times for both of us, but at the end of the day everything balances out. Normally Pieter compensates for my nature and I do the same for his. In itself this is how, at least according to me, good bands are made up of musicians who have not too similar temperaments. It prevents all too polite confirmation and makes the members look at themselves anew time and again.


Over the years, however, emotion has become more and more present in my life in and outside music. I have witnessed music to be a very powerful tool in handling emotions, be they sad or happy or everything in between. People have shared their feelings while listening to my music with me and I have, on many occasions, been moved to tears while listening to music. It is one of the differences between young and older musicians. At twenty the personal collection of experiences is still quite empty. All episodes that will follow are enriching, both for the person and the musician. The backpack is growing and growing. Being drastically into this or that and not giving a shit about everything else –I love that about younger musicians, and even think that's essential for becoming a good story teller– will make room for a more balanced look at life and music. Best case scenario is that you meet as many others as possible that are or have been radically different from what you are or have been. The worst that can happen is that you meet nicely balanced colleagues only or peers who will never question your decisions or affirm what you already know.


I try to look beyond what I know to be one hundred percent true. It is not. And then I can decide to adjust my truth or not. Both are lovely challenges.


I will keep you posted on the release date of the solo album. You can have a sneak preview here.

Simply Superfunkycalifragisexy

April 24, 2016

In the mid noughties we did a special project at ArtEZ Jazz & Pop around the 1974 Pointer Sisters milestone album “Live at the Opera House”. This double elpee, which I heard for the first time four years after its release, consists of soul, rock, blues, country, funk and jazz songs and a dazzling demonstration of what the (at that time still: four) sisters were capable of. Okay, it was, to say it like Prince could have phrased it, simply superfunkycalifragisexy.


Looking for possible workshops and master classes around the project we stumbled upon the ebullient conductor, arranger and keyboardist of the 1974 show, Tom Salisbury. He happened to live no more than 50 kilometers from Arnhem. We formed an orchestra (basically a rhythm section, horns and strings) and asked Tom to write new arrangements and lead the whole project.


During the preliminary talks I had with Tom I said to him that I had full confidence in his artistic choices but to have one very specific request. He would make me very happy to leave both the chord and orchestration –wait half a minute for the horns to come in, that occurs at 6'22"– between “Yes, We Can Can” and “Love In Them Their Hills” unchanged. To many of you this might be quite insignificant, but to me this one instant was extremely influential from the first moment I heard it. It taught me about form, placement, joy of using chord extensions, sound, detail, well, it was all very thrilling for a fourteen-year-old and the chord keeps on giving me goose bumps ever since.


I remember that during the Arnhem premiere of the project I was waiting for the chord to enter during the section where Anita, Ruth, Bonnie and June Pointer had done their percussive interlude and our own four singers (including, meanwhile alumna, Simin) were building up the tension. At one point, Tom –while conducting the orchestra– turned around to give me a big smile (all, except for the head-swaying, done in an Errollesque manner, precisely predicting what would happen: me enjoying getting what I was yearning for) the moment The Chord was about to happen. And yes, he had left it unchanged. If he had changed it I probably would have been very disappointed or my evening would even have been completely destroyed, but leaving it in just like I expected it filled me with love and warmth.


Is this one of the strugglettes I simply have to live with? Being an improviser I am always trying to find new ways to play music and and I am also expecting my audience to not settle for the beaten paths but to have an urge to be surprised.

On the other hand, it is still comforting to use elements note-for-note the same over and over again. Last week we played our 17th Lucebert concert with Flex Bent Braam and I think I played the opening (a piano intro on Charles Mingus’s “Better Git It In Your Soul”) exactly the same every time. Quite predictable.


A question that arises is if I am in fact a spitting image of the average Hotel California Guitar Solo aficionado who would be extremely disappointed if Don Felder and Joe Walsh (or any other guitarist, for that matter) dared to play a completely different solo on stage than on record. And what about Illinois Jacquet, famous for improvising but playing his well-known and ground breaking solo on “Flying Home” unchanged from 1942 till his death in 2004. People were simply expecting it to be the same and would probably get grumpy if he (or Arnett Cobb, or Dexter Gorden, who also were famous for playing pretty much the same solo) had played anything else.


Yes, I’m sure I follow the same pattern, enjoying the many scrumptious musical discoveries I did that were still delicious after the surprise itself was gone. Ingredients that have proven to be meaningful for whatever reason. Over and over again. Those ingredients have stood at the basis of an evening I was deejaying last Fall.


So once there was a first time I heard Tom’s Chord, when I was fourteen. Before and after that moment many, many other experiences have crossed my path. You could call those experiences bricks. Searching for the yet unknown provides me with details that are brand new. Some of those I want to familiarize and experience time and again. I am building my own house of details and, as a bonus, put my taste to the test. The house gets bigger and bigger.

Liz Lerman's Critical Response Process

April 4, 2016

Last month, I attended a five day ICON-seminar in Finland on Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process (CRP). Liz, who is a choreographer, performer, writer and educator, was there teaching around 35 participators first-hand how CRP works and how it can be useful in all kinds of situations in which people give each other feedback.


Back in the seventies, Liz acknowledged how uncomfortable she was about most aspects of criticism; normally a lot of the potentially useful feedback didn’t reach the artists because of the way it was addressed, opinions and defensiveness being the main problems.


Before the seminar, I was intrigued by the fact alone that giving feedback in an artistic situation could be useful or even possible, as I grew up with a strong belief in the rule that art does not really leave room for other people’s opinions about the work presented. I was convinced that as an artist you simply produce something and that’s, well, about it. What others think of your art could have an enormous effect on ticket sales and other unimportant side effects, but could never have any impact on the work itself. In fact, giving room for feedback would be a submission and by definition lower the quality of the work. In situations where musicians play in an ensemble, this would consequently mean the line-up would be doomed to come to an end the moment one or more members loses faith in the way someone else in the band plays. After all, we’re searching for authenticity, not for musicians who could be influenced by something as trivial as someone else’s view.


Let me explain CRP in a nutshell. Three parties are participating: an “artist” who has presented something (doesn’t have to be something artistic, can be anything), one or more responders who have witnessed the presentation, and a facilitator who is leading the process. These parties complete four steps. In the first step the responders can share with the artist, framed in a positive light, what they found meaningful (stimulating, surprising, touching, evocative, memorable, compelling, unique, and so on) about the work. In step two the artist can ask questions to the responders about (parts of) the presentation. In step three the responders ask neutral questions. It is essential the questions are neutral, to prevent defensiveness and allowing the artist to think about their work in a fresh way. In step four the responders can state their opinion, if the artist gives permission; “I have an opinion about xxx, do you want to hear it?”. The artist can say no, because of the topic raised by the responder, the moment in the process or whatever other reason. In most cases, however, the artist does want to hear it.


Now what about my rule? Does CRP apply to every situation and is it usable in every setting? Could you say, in terms of applicability, there is a difference between a band that plays purely improvised music and an ensemble playing written music? Is it relevant that these two examples have completely different characteristics and therefore ask for different approaches while trying to improve? For instance, in purely improvised music, giving “feedback” is already going on and part of the fun while playing, not in words, but in music. On the other hand, does the need for a shared opinion within an ensemble while playing a written composition leave more room for evaluating afterwards? And is CRP dangerous for extreme art? Will art be grayer if CRP comes in?


In an earlier blog (Look Who’s Not Talking!) I mentioned a brainstorm dinner Bik Bent Braam once had in Ottawa and that it didn’t work. Having attended this seminar makes me wonder whether or not Bik Bent Braam could have made progress in Ottawa if only we had had a better way of addressing the issues that were bothering us. It can be the high quality of the seminar −also due to the fact that Liz Lerman herself introduced CRP in-depth during five days of exercise and training− that made me think that perhaps oral evaluation of improvised music is possible without flattening the urgency of the music.


So here I am.


The next months I will definitely try to find out if CRP is not only useful in all kinds of situations in which I’m already convinced it works (1-2-1 and class education, not too extreme ensembles and bands, meetings and more) but can also be an asset in artistic processes with, for instance, die-hard improvisers.


Any thoughts? You’re welcome. I will get back to this in a future blog.

My First Publicity Photo

January 1, 2015

These last 3 months my life as performing pianist was kind of sabbaticesque. There were no gigs scheduled between September 12 and December 14, and, apart from three tiny moments of cheating, concerning last-minute performances, I chose not to play in public.


I used the time to think about what to do afterwards. And to prepare, as far as possible, the fruits of all that thinking. And, since we’re not able anymore to have an external office, let alone management, I had to figure out how to do most of the business myself, with help from my family (Marjan is supporting in many ways, amongst that doing the photography, such as Nos Otrobanda's first, classical portrait and Sjors the technical website matters), the board of Bik Bent Braam and Patrice, who is fortunately still booking our gigs.


I don’t recall a period in my life being more busy than during this sabbaticette. Before it started I divided the approximately 60 hours of work roughly fifty-fifty between ArtEZ and life as a pianist, composer, band leader. These last months it was very helpful there were only those three cheat-gigs. I mean, doing all the business on top of thinking about and preparing artistic matters has nice elements (no, I don’t mean sending and paying invoices and doing the taxes…) for sure, but is also rather time-consuming. I’m anxious to see what happens now my sabbaticette has come to an end. I’m almost sure a day will still have 24 hours, but, well, who knows.


Something I haven’t done for a long time but was undoubtedly necessary leading up to the upcoming premiere of my new band Nos Otrobanda on February 5, was a daily routine of studying charts. For this new band we have selected 24 compositions which I definitely want to play by heart in February. This means I am playing the tunes for a few hours per day now, always in a different, random order. Meantime I have almost nailed all written parts.


Also I have been writing music for a project which will take place in New York next season, after the children’s book that Ana Isabel Ordonez has published: The Extraordinary Love Story of Aye Aye and Fedor. During the sabbaticette eBraam rehearsed the material and made rough recordings of the pieces to be evaluated by the choreographer Virginie Mécène. The music will, so to say, bounce back and forth between New York and Nijmegen to make the choreography and music connect optimally.


Anyway, there will be a lot of work to do now. I’m, on top of being head of ArtEZ Jazz & Pop, not only the pianist, composer and band leader, but also the human resources manager, errand boy, accountant, public relations manager and so on of our musical enterprise. Which will make me stumble on a few “first-timeses” and some “oh-boy-that-was-long-ago-I-did-thats”.


I like being busy and am even enjoying things like making my newsletter myself and addressing the reader more personal, so this is no problem, although there are moments I am longing for something I remember from the past: doing nothing. But overall, the act of inventing, or even re-inventing gives a lot of satisfaction; it is good to start something completely new or for the somanyest time but in another way, it enables you to take another turn and is keeping the energy flow. And I mean in whatever field: artistically as well as concerning the business.


Looking for a nice picture for this blog I took a descent into a few boxes with photos, publicity flyers and posters with me on it as a musician. One of the photo’s I remembered as probably the first publicity activity a band I played in ever did was one with Fortunato’s. There was a series of pictures taken (yes, a real photo shoot!) and I am in the possession of two; the one on top of this blog with me playing "on" the piano and one a bit more serious with Ton van Erp’s bass upside down.


Conquering the world. That was the plan from the beginning.

No Warming Up? Count!

June 1, 2014

I never figured turning 50 would be so, well, eh, present. On beforehand I had planned to have a lovely raclette with my family, you know, with swiss cheese under a grill, gherkins, pickled onions, unpeeled boiled potatoes, a few vegetables, little salad, not much more, you get the picture. A swiss pinot noir with the main dish and a malvoisie flétrie (for instance from the Cave de Madeleine) accompanying a chocolate desert.


It went differently.


My management organized a lovely surprise, a party concert on May 17, my birthday. In Amsterdam I will play 3 days in a row this week, playing 50 solo pieces and duets. June 20 we will do Jazz In De Goffert, a festival presenting several groups. In between this all I was interviewed by several television programs, radio shows, newspapers, magazines. Today I find the Jazz Bulletin, the Dutch Jazz Archive’s magazine, on my doorstep containing an “I Did It My Way”-kind of article on my first 5 decades.


Anyway this all went so different from what I expected before, and apart from the epitaphesque flavor that comes with all the reminiscing I am enjoying every moment of it. When I say “moment” that’s precisely what I try to enjoy. Not before, not after, but celebrating life as a pointillistic painting, being present, dot after dot. Not thinking about how the dots connect or even if they do at all, but making a party of everything that is coming along. In everyday life we seem to be asked to look ahead or back on many occasions and although I think that ruling out too much connection (past, future, things, thoughts) in every situation is a freeing thing to do I am sure that in art, when telling stories, it is utterly essential. So I don’t try to hesitate.


For my three birthday gigs at the Roode Bioscoop on June 5, 6 and 7 I invited everyone to contribute titles for 50 improvisations of 50 seconds. Many suggestions did come my way and so far I have selected these: Aphorism, Arrrggghhh, Assembly Hall, Bandicoot, Beeflabelingsupervisiontasktransferlaw, Blowing Bubbles, Busybody, Cannon, Compassion, Drivel, Epitaph, Ex, Fado, Flap-turd, Flibbertigibbet, Glee, Grace, Gypsum Flight, Hongeo, Ice Saints, Immersion, Lightly Slim, Linkages, Loquacity, Loser, Love, Manufacturability Coefficient, Mendacity, More Disastrous, Nope, Opacity, Parallel Sales, Penalty Stroke, Psychedelic Slide, Purgatory, Quadrille Tea, Racy, Railway Junction Back-And-Forth Slider, Restriction, Rötzentötz, Sander, Surprise Orgasm, Sweetie, Syzygy, Umbrella, Us, Vivacity, Washcloth, Wondrous, Zanzibar.

50-seconds improvisations do not leave a lot of room for warming up. Normally having some time to get used to the room, the moods of your fellow players, the audience can contribute to a nice concert. I remember an exhausting set Wilbert de Joode, Michael Vatcher and I played at the Velvet Lounge, Chicago, with the fantastic saxophonist Fred Anderson in 2009; he was 80 and extremely energetic! No warming up whatsoever, as if there was no time to lose. Talking about influential experiences: this was one. Not that I hadn’t heard musicians taking no time to feel the circumstances before really taking of – I have visited several Cecil Taylor concerts, to name another vulcanesque player extraordinaire – but being part of that as an interlocutor was something else. From that moment on I realized that whatever happens I have to grab it to make the moment pleasurable. Not worrying about the fact that perhaps later on I would not characterize it as having been satisfying after all. Expectations or fears for later can ruin the moment and unfortunately now is all there is to grab for the players as well as the audience. Not grabbed in the moment is not grabbed at all. This is how music, whit frequencies floating around as only medium (when Elvis left the building he really left the building) differs from an art form like painting.


While making music I try to stay away from too much warming up, if any.


I run for about an hour three times a week and since I do that I think about focusing on “now” (or: nothing) differently. Normally there is a lot on my mind when I am running; things I have to do, situations I have to digest, decisions I have to make, well, I guess it’s clear: People Choose A Lot To Think About. Most of the times, however, I don’t feel like thinking at all and want to just run and clear my mind of all those thoughts.

This is the pattern:

The first quarter I am busy finding myself a fool for running. Asking myself why, for Dude’s sake, I am running. Although this feeling stays until halfway it fades somewhat after this first bit.

Then some 15 minutes seem to be booked for worrying. Things from within and outside my life as a musician, ArtEZ, etc.

Halfway Euphoria is joining the run, I merely have to return home! Music is coming in my head. And I don’t mean stuff like Mongolian overtone singing or mysterious Indian flute music with no meter, but rhythmical music. Two. Four. Eight. Melodies inclusive (ones that I like and, miserably enough, tunes I really hate).

The final quarter all melodies have gone and there is only rhythm. An interesting point here is that I (and I guess everyone) intuitively count binary; 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, etc. That gives me the freedom to not really count, but simply feel when a cycle is done, I don’t have to keep track of it consciously – this is comparable to clocks chiming: even when I do not count from the first stroke I know the time, because my mind is compartmentalizing the sounds in packages of four strokes. So, by he time I am getting home it is only about counting, I am running in a flow, it’s just about running and my mind is liberated from many thoughts and there is room for a fresh start.


While improvising I try to apply what I experience during my last 15 minutes of running. Simply making music in an ever changing situation with no distraction by whatever peripheral is going on in my head. Counting only. Preferably on a subconscious level, but if necessary consciously. As far as the 50-seconds-impro’s this week are concerned I will do a count down in my head (I will do a 10 to 20 second break between the parts) and count (meter, or moves) during my playing. By doing so I don’t need a warming up but get to the point straight away and the chances of being distracted by too irrelevant matters are slim.


We had the raclette May 18.

Basic ~ Waves

May 1, 2014

This week project Waves is taking place at the Radboud University. Master classes and lectures around the theme and I selected two to visit.


On Monday a lecture by music therapist and ArtEZ colleague Annemiek Vink on musical brainwaves, where she explained, a.o., how we adjust to the music played for us in supermarkets. Did you ever notice that it always seems to be slow music? This helps us to walk in slower pace between all the products the supermarket wants us to buy.


Today, on our International Workers’ Day, I am looking forward to the lecture “Creativity, Science and Graphene” by Mikhail Katsnelson. Anxious to hear how Katsnelson, a leading scientist in the field of graphene, will connect the three words in the title.


And on Friday 1.30PM I will be visiting the exhibition and performance, to see what the group of students with various backgrounds (architects, engineers, artists, musicians, computer scientists and more) has created during the master classes by Elly Jessop and Peter Torpey.


The theme of the event is making me think about the fact that so many things in life come and go in waves. We are part of something for a specific time and then we aren’t anymore. People and other things are passing by and have some kind of influence on our future. We are inspired or annoyed by this or that and, based on those experiences, triggered continuously to decide what to do next. We can schedule as much as we like, but the unexpected guests and events that come about have something else in store. We adapt, and many of the developments are put in motion through the temporal presence of triggers.


Wonder is a powerful thing.


I have led my 13-piece orchestra Bik Bent Braam over a long time. As a big ensemble like that one, risky musically as well as in terms of business, could not survive without funding, we had to plan ahead for around 5 years. I always tried to leave as much as possible freedom within that period because it was always a surprise what wave would come along and how we would incorporate that in our music. So I basically decided to write a new program and tour every two years and tried to write down that the development of our music was important and contradicting too outlined plans for the future. The program “Exit” was triggered by a political wave that caused drastic cuts in art fundings, which made it impossible to run an ongoing experimental 13-piece band. A more optimistic example was a dear friend who introduced the term “Serendipity” to me, which was fascinating enough to inspire me over a long period.


It feels as a responsibility to our students at ArtEZ to as little as possible stand in the way of whatever inspiring wave is entering a student’s world. This is the main reason I have, to say the least, mixed feelings about a program split in too many short periods, with meticulously described final criteria per period. The shorter the periods are, the less room is left for personal development, madness and choice. I strongly believe that we, perhaps even more students, who are in a crucial phase of exploration, development and creating, need room for the so important impulses, inspiration at the highest level. Me, as a student in 1984: “Yes! I discovered Herbie Nichols today and want to know all about his music! I’m out of here, see you later!”. Being mad about something drives you further, makes you hungry to find out more, activates, makes you ambitious. Naturally this also means that some other areas are developed less profoundly during this wave of motivation. That is of less importance; developing activating skills is crucial and will help you later on. It gets you in shape even when you are trying to tackle problems that don’t appeal to you at first sight; because you know original and personal motivation exists you can be optimistic about the chances to find intriguing elements in the unknown and approach even matters that don’t connect to you automatically (which we will all sufficiently encounter too) with an optimistic and curious attitude.


In a way it has always felt kinda gappy to neglect Antillean music as a player for so long. I am hearing the music for more than 25 years now, since the love of my life Marjan (who also took the photo on top of this column) gave me a compact cassette with this music. I always wanted to play it myself too, never found (created!) the time to do so. So you could say this wave of inspiration and how it is adapted into my playing has no typical form, stretched over several decades. This is also interesting, well, at least for me; after hearing the tunes so much I know them all by heart but have to study them at the same time. The music is in my heart and head, but not yet in my fingers. Generally spoken these processes take place simultaneously.


After graduating from the conservatory it took me 20 years to play something beside an acoustic piano. It was mostly hearing Pieter Douma play that inspired me to take up non-acoustic keys and explore rock-oriented music as a pianist. Another bass player, the unambiguously improvising Wilbert de Joode has motivated me more than half my life to make music here and now. Now I come to think of it all bass players I played with have been influential to me. Ton van Erp showed me to look beyond the obvious and explore and explore even more. Ernst Glerum introduced me to fascinating music and musicians at an early stage. As students we briefly had a band “Schweine Im Weltall” (me on CP80!) with Bart Tarenskeen, who always combined tradition and playful ideas as a composer and the recent collaboration with Tony Overwater learns me about ease within depth. Since a month Aty de Windt is guiding me through the key values of Antillean Music.


This little article has turned into not only an ode to waves of inspiration that are so crucial in learning but also an expression of my gratitude to bass players I performed with.


Deep waves carry far.


April 1, 2014

I always say to my friends that if I ever, during one of my countless weak moments, may decide to enter politics, appropriate violence is allowed to stop me. It is only exactly what it seems: a weak moment. If I, for instance, were asked to say something on a political situation, it would not go any further than an occasional swap of characters and apostrophe replacement.


By the way, about that and the way our PM answered the journalist who asked him about Geert Widler’s views on Moroccans in relation to the Black Pete discussion during a press conference at the Nuclear Summit last week I really don’t know why the PM was having so much trouble answering the nice man. He could simply have referred to the Dutch labor act we have about a year now. One paragraph is about the fact that 90% of the managers in (semi-)government institutions has to be Moroccan. A footnote to the law explains that it is also possible for white managers to fall within the boundaries of the law if they work on their tan, for instance by visiting beauty salons. Since those visits don’t come cheap, provision 5.7 enables institutions to give top-managers bonuses as an “extra pay due to good tanning”.


Well, anyway, looking back on these last few years of fresh views by politicians on the role of governmental funding of the Arts I really have to admit initiating change was visionary. Far beyond the point of what we, average people, are capable of.


For starters, how visionary must you be to see that the crisis could be defeated by a change of the percentage of the state budget set apart for the arts from four thousandths to three thousandths. For a mere 25% cut the crisis is as good as over! And, as an extra, we, the artists, have finally been activated. At last, after muddling through a few centuries of state-funded arts, we are innovating. And I mean innovation in the real sense. Up to a few years ago I wrongly assumed innovation in music meant coming up with new scales, chords, re-evaluating the roles and structures in music and so forth, but now politicians and funds have taught me real innovation is about finding new ways to sell your product. In short: society is starting to benefit from the new élan in selling our products and relieved of the burden of art itself.


The last year I have been working hard on my business plan. I performed a SWOT analysis on myself and my product-line. I am afraid some (sorry for getting really technical here) “♭5♯11” and other chords will have to go, but overall I think there are a lot of strengths and opportunities to help me through my process of innovation. I tan easily, so, given the bonus situation, it took hardly any effort to persuade possible investment corporations. Alongside talks with those we did some crowd funding and found a sponsor (beer unfortunately, I hate beer).


The results of all this reevaluating will be Bik You!ropean Eksperimentel Bent [BYEB™], aiming at 500 shows a year. BYEB™ will present 50 of the best possible improvisers in Europe. We are having tough negotiations and are bargaining hard with musicians like Mats Gutsaffson, Han Bennik, Peter Brätzmann and Joëlle Laundre. We are in the midst of the process to naturalize several highly acclaimed American jazz musicians like Gregory House and we are about to wrap up the hostile take-over of the Instant Composing Pool, despite the well-meant resistance of the management of the targeted company.


Most shows of BYEB™ will be prerecorded 3D-projections and take place in theaters which can host at least 500 visitors. Once a year we will have a special show at the Amsterdam ArenA, presenting special guests with commercial value.  Since BYEB™ is still talking fees with some of those I can’t give you names right here, but, if they were still alive, imagine jazz-icons like John Lennon, Klaus Wunderlich, Astor Piazzolla and André Hazes. This BYEB™ concert in Amsterdam will provide all the footage needed for the other 499 shows, so no additional payments to musicians will be needed.


I guess you can imagine the amount of work here. Evaluating and selecting the online ticket-sale system, food and drinks, infrastructural matters, incorporating facebookstreaming before and during the big live-show, light show, transmitting tweets, housing the special guests in Luxury hotels, limousines, scenery, organizing a youth hostel for the improvisers, press meetings, filming, costumes, editing. Need I go on?


You see I am entering a brand new area of presenting worthwhile European improvisers and myself. I am grateful Dutch politics opened my eyes. Success is a state of mind. We are finally getting somewhere!


PS: Next month I will give you some proof of my renewed intentions. As part of a little festival evening on my 50th birthday we will play some safe music too, I am considering doing Ravel’s Bolero or Mozart’s KV488 and Summer Samba.

Look Who’s Not Talking!

March 1, 2014

Over the years I’ve worked with many bands, each having its own way of communication, musically as well as verbally.


It strikes me that the level of verbal communication seems to be inversely proportional to the depth reached in music.An example of this is our trio BraamDeJoodeVatcher. Don’t misunderstand me here, there is no personal problem between us and apart from the regular tour irritations (I could fill you in, but it’s really not worth mentioning) we get along absolutely fine, I would say above average. But we don’t visit each other birthdays, don’t do dinner appointments nor stay very long after gigs and do very little together in between concerts while on tour. Hanging out is simply not our thing. It has been like that since we started, half-a-life ago. This band is about playing, not talking. Most of what we want to share with each other we share musically. This makes Wilbert and Michael very dear friends I wouldn’t like to miss for the world; whatever we play to each other is pure and fair. Love it.


In bands which have more going on while not playing, with a lot of laughing around, stories, family business, gossip, drama, well you get the picture, there is simply less need for communication while performing music together. That is why many of those bands (not all, over the years I have been a member of bands that would prove me totally wrong if I would generalize this!) have less of the indispensable urge to communicate musically. Even if all members of such a band would be really skilled musicians, which so many musicians are nowadays, there could simply be nothing else to communicate about while playing when everything is said in words already.


It also gets interesting when trying to connect the two ways of interaction.

On tour in Canada with my orchestra Bik Bent Braam we decided to have a brainstorm-dinner in a Chinese restaurant in Ottawa, and, if that wasn’t enough, a few years later we did some brainstorm-lunches in Amsterdam. At the time we felt the meetings could help us interpreting written parts and improvising together and I even think for a few gigs it did. It is rather complicated to improvise with 13 musicians, to cook a delicious meal with all those chefs in the kitchen. All those tastes, opinions, all those really lovely people connecting 13 dots in their own way (see the short film by Jellie Dekker on how Bik Bent Braam worked). Well, it arose many questions in the band and the brainstorm seemed a logical recipe for change. But in the end it didn’t. It could very well be possible that, for instance, a management team of 13 members would try to improve as a group through talks, agreements and arrangements. But it’s simply not possible to make improvised music against your nature (pure, fair) and if you set goals together, with 13, a lot of what is discussed will be asking you to do things that you would not do if you could choose freely. And our music is, like all art, almost exclusively about freedom and telling what you want to tell undiluted. There is no other way; leave freedom out and you could as well leave. The best that could happen after a brainstorm is that you are even more aware of that and have an even more may-I-please-decide-that-myself-?-attitude. Thát helps!


So, let’s stop using precious time talking about our musical adventures, about what happened and what we think should happen in the future. Let’s use that precious time playing together, filling our knapsack with personal and collective material we can use telling our musical stories, training ourselves in listening to what others have to play and how to come up with fresh ways to react to that on-the-spot, working on our collective sense of rhythm.


I have been thinking this all might only be relevant for groups that exist for a long time (both mentioned bands for about 25 years) and that after a long time you reach your personal core concerning music and interaction in which process you have bid farewell to a talking overload in order to give intuition more room, or there is simply not very much to talk about in words after a long time. But that is not the case. In those bands it has been like that from the start and also in our relatively new band eBraam we grow by playing, not discussing; our grooves do not gain from chats but from hours and hours of musical interplay.


Currently I am transcribing and learning Antillean music and shortly we will be starting a new band to play the music with. I am convinced that we will get sort of a grip on the distinct and simultaneous use of binary and ternary rhythm in this delicious music not by talking, but by doing it over and over again.


Let’s not be distracted by talking and use the precious time to play, play and play!

Who’s The Boss?

February 1, 2014

To reveal it right away: you are. In case you will, surrendering to your infobesity, use this bossy power within seconds and click on to the next web page, at least you did read this column’s conclusion.


You Are.


In an earlier column I included a link to a hilarious video which shows a specific type of manager mimed by Jerry Lewis on music of Count Basie. In case you missed it I still highly recommend you to view that 2-minute clip. It is clear that the errand boy is considering the manager to be an intimidating person, but his personality is giving him the liberty to set aside that his role is what you normally consider subordinate to the role of the man usually sitting in the chair. Being able to put this difference aside is enough for coming to the conclusion that, in the end, errand boys can be as much bosses as people in management positions and everything “in between”. Being in power is, above all, a state of mind.


Another delicious example of that is this clip with Bob Newhart and Mo Collins. The victim in the clip is having her problem merely because she does not take control of the situation. She is feeling miserably due to something “out of her range”. She is holding that responsible for her distress, and she is right. The only problem is, however, that it is her own mind that has perhaps not created, but surely persevered the situation, and she has, consequently, the power to put it to an end, which is the only necessary next step for her.


Especially during these months of the year, I, in my role as head of ArtEZ Jazz & Pop, inform many young people who want to study jazz saxophone, heavy metal guitar, reggae bass, Latin vocals, fusion keys, free improv drums and what not. These youngsters visit us despite advice they are given by some well-meaning persons (WMP’s) around them. People who tell them to choose for the certainty they can find in a career in which more money is involved. The WMP’s know this from other WMP’s, who have told them this over and over again. In the Western world it is commonly considered smart to go for the money instead of for what your heart is telling you. That is extremely strange. I shared this Alan Watts clip on that theme via facebook a few weeks ago, and I think it’s spot on! Again, the only thing necessary is to take control yourself, to minimize the odds of becoming a victim, first of the WMP’s and later of yourself. Do not hesitate to do whatever you suppose to be good for you. Might your choice change later on: go another direction!


Abbey Lincoln composed the exquisite song Throw It Away, here recorded with Pat Metheny. The song is containing the line “you can never loose a thing if it belongs to you”. Everything that is important in life is your property, and nobody can take that from you, however the circumstances. Concentrate on your key values and not on everything else, such as earning loads of money. Several studies show that people who have enough money to pay for a roof above their head and enough food are the happiest of all. I doesn’t get better beyond that point, but worse. Apparently the surplus is costing joy, it is harder to appreciate the value of the defenseless essentials when you, materialistically spoken, have everything.


So why don’t we all simply take control over our own lives? I think misfortune can paralyze us, almost like being victimized and pretending to be dead to prevent the nasty wolf to finish the job. Something, or someone, keeps us from enjoying life as much as we would like to, and is making the set list for us. And since we are relating everything to each other, we tend to forget there is a lot of worthwhile in our nature to contribute to the world and ourselves in order to reverse things. So, keeping this in mind and practicing “I am in charge of my life and holding the key to remain an essentially happy person” can really make a difference.


In the clips Jerry Lewis, Bob Newhart, Mo Collins, Alan Watts and Abbey Lincoln all encourage us to be in charge of our own lives. I am sure that the more people are confident that they are holding the key and carry this out, the more complete the community, as a whole, is functioning.


Contribute! Inspire! Be The Boss!

My Friend The Deadline

January 1, 2014

Shortly after publishing my last entry on this page I intended to gradually write the next one, instead of working on it only the last days of the month. Something like starting with a framework, filling in details during December and finishing a spic-and-span article on New Year’s Day. The title as well as the first sentences were even ready:


[Title] Who’s The Boss?[First sentences] To reveal it right away: you are. In case you will, surrendering to your infobesity, use this bossy power within seconds and click on to the next web page, at least you did read this column’s conclusion. You Are.


Haven’t done a thing since I came up with that gorgeous intention to spread the work.


I could name several reasons why I haven’t, since December has been extremely stressful in many respects. There have been ups and downs throughout these last 30 days. The deepest down, the sudden death of our student Robin Cornelissen, that left his family, friends and our faculty paralyzed, was so shocking that it would simply be inappropriate to specify any of the other ones. Let me just say that sincere worries concerning my life as musician and ArtEZ are substantially growing and there has been heart-warming moments that leave much room for optimism towards the future.


Back to the deadline. Why does stretching out work not seem to work? It’s not the stress; during many periods in my life I have coped with work, like composing, that had to be finished at a specific moment, while there was a lot, or nothing else, going on. On every occasion it was completely clear I would start the job only when it was really necessary and couldn’t wait any longer. I have experienced no change whatsoever in this behavior over the years. Between the late eighties and now I have played around 1500 concerts, nothing extreme off course, but also have written most of the music played during those gigs, 60 sets of compositions (the majority being entire 90-minute-programs) for line-ups up to 50 musicians. And I have also been working for ArtEZ Jazz & Pop three days a week, on average.


Well, let’s say there was enough ground for tight planning rules.


I have tried working ahead. It did not work at all. It was taking out all the tension that is necessary for creating. Too much room for elaborating. For me it’s comparable to composing at the piano; it is so much fun that I get lost in variations and there is no necessity to choose, or at least I do not want to choose, many of the directions you’re going could work out fine. My conclusion is that composing with the piano simply takes too much time, and the fact that I decide faster with no piano nearby, with ink pen (No pencil! The possibility of erasing is a time-consuming invitation for abandoning the point you’re making!) and paper only, and the fact that the option you pursue might not be the ideal one (since there is no such thing as the perfect choice) is of no importance. I live in some kind of faith that later on in the process, while playing the material, everything can be made to measure. A composer is no dictator. Leastwise it’s not my intention.


The advantage of this faster way of working is that there is a better flow going on. By choosing via whatever option you move on to the next challenge, problem, puzzle, or however you want to call it, you will keep the process ongoing, and the focus where it is helpful, optimally supporting absorptive creating.


Still, there is this pile of work to be finished at specific moments, and what to do with that complication if you think spreading work over a long period is interrupting creative processes too much and consequently no solution. Let me give you an example and count back a year, starting six weeks ago.


Last November we had a tour by my septet Flex Bent Braam. For the first time in my life we had decided to issue an album with a band that had never played together in order to have the album available to sell during the tour. The album had to be back from the factory beginning of summer, for distribution and giving the press the opportunity to schedule reviews just before the tour. Between recording and issuing the album there is some time needed for editing, mixing and mastering, and for the design of the sleeve. Taken everyone’s agendas in consideration, the recordings had to take place end of March. The written music and sound files had to be ready end of February. 8 arrangements of jazz standards, 8 originals. I figured one day per standard and two per original plus four extra for lay-out and sound files could work out fine, so blocked all free days between 20 December and 27 February and created 28 days with specific deadlines (e.g. 7 Feb says: 9AM-17PM: writing “Better Git It In Your Soul“, for Flex Bent Braam). No escape, as simple as that. No waiting for inspiration, no procrastinating dates due to unanticipated circumstances, since I do not at all believe in unreliability concerning agreements I make with others.


This working mode allows me to finish the job in time (writing a complete program for a septet is simply taking up much time) and satisfies my need for a tight deadline to put me under pressure. Part after part.


Duke Ellington (I think in his recommendable book “Music Is My Mistress”) couldn’t be more right when mentioning “I don’t need time, I need a deadline”.

Free Yourself: Improvise!

December 1, 2013

From time to time I realize how fortunate I am as an improvising musician. For example, when talking with friends who are struggling with this or that there is a pattern in the way I reflect. I’ll have to confess that in many of those cases I translate the situation to music; how would I behave in a given situation in a musical setting? This translating is happening naturally; particularly when dealing with obstacles there is not a big gap, if any, between me as a musician and me as, well, eh, as the rest.


The key word is always “improvisation”, everything that comes with it inclusive. With an open eye for essential ingredients of improvisation (here, now, passion, courage, freedom, authenticity, creation, inspiration, connection, risk, tradition, images, well, you know) you are excluding a lot of well-meant nonsense you are taught over the years. You decide for yourself to which extent you are adapting to your social environment, and the trick is to be fair to your key values, confident that your choices are personally relevant, relate to other people and situations sufficiently but not suffocate you and let you act against what feels right and what your intuition would suggest. Or, measured in time, to not look ahead or back too much. To believe that whatever you have chosen to do, to try, is okay for that moment, and always open for readjustment when the situation is asking for it. This happens a lot in life, and in improvised music forms such as jazz; particularly when playing with others there is a fair chance your decisions are colliding with the ones your colleagues have made, the direction you went might be surprisingly crappier than you imagined before. Being honest to yourself also means that your own decisions are never fixed for a period in time, you continuously keep reflecting on them, when necessary leave them behind you.


Let’s say you are walking your dog in the woods. A fallen tree (called “Oak”) is blocking the pathway. How to cope with the situation?


  • Go around Oak
  • Jump over Oak
  • Go back home
  • Take another path
  • Take five and use Oak as a seat
  • Move to Iceland and forget about ever seeing a tree again
  • Subscribe yourself to a nearby gym, grow muscles and remove Oak
  • Buy a WoodMaxx Mark 8H wood chipper and shred Oak
  • Borrow a WoodMaxx Mark 8H wood chipper and shred Oak
  • Steal a WoodMaxx Mark 8H wood chipper and shred Oak
  • Stop having a dog
  • Etc, etc


You see there are numerous possibilities. There is not something like “the right” option here, it is depending on you, and on the moment. The only thing I can say is that staying in the role of the victim of a terrible situation (“Oak – or the storm that made Oak woefully fall down – is causing misery to my life”) does not help. For the rest: circumstances may rule out or welcome this or that choice; for instance, take five when feeling hungry and you brought a sandwich, or do not use the electric WoodMaxx Mark 8H during rain showers.


I love this process enough to deliberately get lost while playing music from time to time; hence creating a situation that is potentially desperate. This does not work without the faith that, at one time, things will come together. I will fix things eventually and I am responsible.


You might argue me by saying improvising in music is something else than daily life. You might label an improvisation band as some kind of lab situation. You might think it is not possible to let intuition being in charge too much outside an artistic setting. You might say the world, like it or not, does not facilitate a state of being “in the moment”.


You might, however, do yourself a favour and consider that many elements of improvisation are useful in, and adaptable to, daily life. Develop yourself as an improviser and you will develop as a person automatically. It will learn you better to see what is essential for you and what absolutely not.


It is a state of mind. Free yourself! Improvise!

Art: A Useful Drug.

November 1, 2013

The day before yesterday we did kick off the so-called ArtEZ Interdisciplinary Project. The evening comprised speed date sessions; 130 students from 5 departments talking for 15 to 25 sessions of 3 minutes trying to find students from other arts disciplines to work on a performance, installation, video, or whatever they will choose to create over the next few months. As an appetizer we invited Tom Kortbeek, Frank en Michiel and Peter Zegveld to share some of their thoughts with the students. The latter said that art can help you to think more freely. He, and the other speakers, made a lot more worthy, etc observations, but I would like to focus on this freedom thing, for I strongly feel it is touching the core of what art, all forms including, is about.


While driving my car this morning, listening randomly to my music collection, I heard a lovely string of tunes: Count Basie’s “Blues in Hoss’ Flat” (later more on this one), Stevie Wonder’s “Another Star”, Erik Satie’s “Gnossiennes” and Lamb’s “Sweetheart”. It made me whistle, sing, move, drum on the steering wheel, contemplate and much more, well, it set me free, helped me both emotionally and fysically. I felt better afterwards.


This is what the arts can do, and will do if you open yourself to it. It mirrors your life, puts things – your personal ideas, daily news, whatever – in perspective. With or without words it directly goes where it helps you, you can powerfully choose to dance to it, to make you angry, happy or sad. You look a bit (sometimes: a lot) different at the world after experiencing arts. And this goes for every form of arts (music, theater, dance, literature, visual arts, well, every form) you prefer; again, it’s totally up to you! The arts are so helpful in our society; just like we need surgeons, dentists, schrinks, greengrocers and the milkman we need choreographers, composers, actors and heavy metal death grunters. The arts are not something extra, some bonus, but essential for us, it makes society function.


It is up to you to decide what you think, and what you choose to do or do not with an art experience, and whether or not you translate it to a situation you are in persoonally, or it gives you more insight in processes you see around. Take this Basie Tune I mentioned before. It was used in the Jerry Lewis comedy “The Errand Boy”. What to do with this two-minute scene is depending on your personal situation. Behind your doubtless smile you can, for instance, relate it to the nowadays ‘crises’ caused by greedy rich people and how these macho sort of beings acquire and maintain their power. This could lead to feelings of frustration, vigilance or rebellion, to name a few possible moods to get in. The art experience serves as a link between the feelings you had before it, and after it. It keeps you moving and alive. It tells you there is a choice in many, many circumstances, which can give you hope at moments you do not unchallengeably feel there is much reason for optimism.


That artist make their art to become more complete themselves and that being the main reason to use the arts as a vehicle for expression is clear, and I think most artist will simply say there is no other way for them. But that this communicates to other people, listeners, visitors of exibitions, literature readers, and so on, is, to me, proof that everyone is actually playing an equally essential role in this. We, the artists, use our skills to make something, and will have our own thoughts and ideas on our products, and our audiences, who have no skills in our fields, have as good thoughts and ideas about what they read, see and hear. These thoughts and ideas do not have to go further than the consumer, but it can also inspire people to collectively translate it to whatever action (I did visit Dachau last week and it, a.o., very luridly showed what effects regimes’ fears for arts can have, let me expand on that visit some other time).


That art translates to action is rather magical. You hear something (mere air moving around) or see something (mere light coming along) or read something (that leaves room for interpretation), and that alone can serve as a guideline of a sort.


Combining several arts opens up even more. Via one art form people who usually are not attracted this or that other form can expand their observing. And one art form can inspire artist from another one to superimpose his or her work. So I personally loved working with the poets Simon Vinkenoog, HH ter Balkt and digesting Ken Nordine’s poems, with many dancers and actors, with visual artist who were action painting while I played music or whose work was the basis for some of my compositions. This month my Flex Bent Braam is focussing on the COBRA poet and painter Lucebert, who once said “I am a flawed saxophonist”. Hidden in this “confession” is also the link between music and Lucebert’s vehicles of expression. Apart from skills it is basically one thing.

One’s Truth May Soothe.

October 1, 2013

Next week I will visit Korea with our trio eBraam. Play several concerts, at Jarasum International Jazz Festival and other places, as a trio, and also with musicians from the Samulnori team whom we’ve never met before and who play traditional Korean music. I am looking forward to those meetings immensely, and the outlook reminds me of a project I did back in 1999, entitled “The Globe Orchestra”.


The 11-piece Globe Orchestra was initiated by Joop Veuger, a so-called world-music enthusiast and organizer who had worked with musicians from several parts of the world and was anxious to see and hear what would happen when bringing together musicians from 4 regions, let them rehearse for a week followed by a tour. The musicians involved were the karate-like singing Bisserov Sisters from Bulgaria, the ecstatically swinging Ugandan musicians from Ndere Troupe, divine Tuvan throat singers, drummer Fred van Duijnhoven and me from Nijmegen.


The project was, for me at least, enlightening when it comes to seeing the benefits of bringing together elements that you normally would consider to be completely incompatible.


For starters, the instruments used didn’t match in so many ways; the Tuvan doshpuluur did not really compete, volume-wise, with the Ugandan drums that were used. There was simply no use in tuning of the Ugandan idingiti (one string, 4 usable fingers) to the equal temperament of my piano. Rhythm-wise we had the Bulgarian songs in what we would call “odd meters”, the rubato chants from Tuva, the “12/8”-feel in many of the Ugandan music and Fred and me somewhere in between that all.


During the course of the project we more and more stepped away from a lot of truths and, at the same time brought in everything that was in our system with less and less reserve. We all learned that what we had to say could only be worthwhile and convincing when said, sung and played from our hearts. Would we merely have adjusted ourselves to each other the outcome would have been too polite and lack both authenticity and friction. We, on the other hand, fell in love with the various corner stones of the four musical languages and accepted that every one of us carried tradition as well as several “foreign” elements, which connected with us personally and were not depending on our background. We learned that what we know is one thing, and what we do not know and consider being in conflict with the quintessence of our musical behavior is actually necessary to feed us.


Would I only meet musicians who speak my musical language, the music could very well, at one point, drop dead. I would not be challenged so much to doubt musical decisions I make when hearing “yes, you’re right Michiel” all the time and my vocabulary would expand less, my development as a musician stay one-dimensional. That’s why I consider working together with as many as possible musicians from different backgrounds, trying to solve their puzzles, figuring out where the beauty is in their language and relating my own music to that, is an absolute necessity for lasting joy in making music.


Working, well, BEING like that helps me to build my own conventions instead of living up to other people’s rules. That makes me less compatible with especially musicians who feel conventions in their playing and musical surroundings are essential for a solid communication. So I’ve had jazz pianists who find my touch no touch, horn players who don’t think I comp (in fact there once was a critic who referred to my accompanying as “laying a minefield”). I am obviously using the wrong scales, or, rather, not using the right ones, and doing what “anyone can do” (good thing for me they don’t, would ruin the market), and what about my upper structures? Funny thing is I bother about none of the mentioned. Not because I think all those opinions are wrong, but being formed by all the encounters I have (and haven’t) had over the years, mine are definitely the right ones for me.


So that’s why I am looking forward to the meetings in Korea. It will keep us all alert, searching for answers, digging up questions. And that is both satisfying on the spot and will have made us a little more flexible in the future. eBraam will sound different after Korea.

Celebrating Shortcomings!

September 1, 2013

When learning about music and improving your playing, it is helpful to frequently set yourself back a few steps. When explicitly doing so, you will come closer the moments of inventing you have already experienced in the process of becoming the skilled musician you are now and will be in the future.


At the brink of my maturity, I was having a nasty thumb tendonitis. The problem did not disappear by itself, so I was ordered to restrain the use of my right hand as much as possible. Of course, several concerts were coming up, what made me decide to play with my left hand only. I experienced that the handicap unfolded new possibilities and contributed several personal ways of using the piano. Having only a mere 10 inches of span at my disposal and playing the piano with my less developed hand, made me find other chords, activated me to think about the chord notes that were really important or could be left out. Driven by the shortcoming I became an inventor more than a piano player who was only using everything that was already in my system.


The experience taught me to be lovingly careful of my imperfections. It is not everything that I am easily able to play that defines me as a musician, but the broad area of my weaknesses that trigger me to come up with solutions, preferably new ones, to expand the number of resources I will have at my disposal while playing.


Not because I am having an insufficient amount of flaws by nature, but for the sake of actively avoiding to get stuck in the ones coming to the surface automatically I, since the tendonitis, provide myself with small restraining assignments. Examples have been:

  • The usage, while improvising, of no more then one octave;
  • The usage, during solos, of intervals larger than a major second only;
  • Writing a two hour program for my thirteen piece orchestra and leaving out the C, E and G entirely.

Most of the experiments were carried out dogmatically for a specific period of time; the above playing‐examples lasted around a month in which I forced myself to simply stick to it. In all cases this brought me much further, paradoxically making me a less and less dogmatic player. I feel strongly that the more room you give to your nature, in all facets, including especially your home‐made solutions, the more personal your style will be, the more you can rely on your playing and the less you need rules that seem applicable to a majority.


Is this relevant to musicians only? I would not think so. I am sure this counts for everyone. The process of creating can easily get stuck when not being aware of the possibilities, and impossibilities that are hidden inside you. You need the latter to unlock and develop the former, and it gives you the key to the distinctive ‐ and probably more interesting ‐ aspects of your personality.

Welcome to the website of Dutch pianist / composer / band leader Michiel Braam. You can find information about his groups and projects, listen to music and buy CDs in the shop.

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Double Bill

Wish You Were Here by Pink Too and ¡Oye Mambo! premiered September 7 this fall. We’re editing film material now and are to book both in a double program, to be performed in 2024. Keep an eye on the calendar!

Wish You Were Here

Along with mouthwatering vocalist Vera Westera, Penguins Too is currently working on their own version of the legendary Pink Floyd album "Wish You Were Here" for concerts to be performed 2023-2024. The three meet regularly in Beek to explore what could be a great rendition of this wonderful music. Rehearsals are in development, keep an eye on our calendar!

Noro Morales

We are exploring the music of the great Puerto Rican pianist Noro Morales with a new quintet. In this new group Michiel performs together with double bassist Gerard Schoren and no less than three wonderful percussion players: Martin Gort, Vera and André Groen. In the last century Noro was a great example for many Latin musicians and was called the Duke Ellington of Latin music, also because he had a large orchestra. Much of that wonderful repertoire is now being recreated by this quintet. Rehearsals started, stay tuned! To be booked for the 2023-2024 season.

Penguins Too Meet & Feed: “Dinner with the Greats"

Michiel Braam and Frank Nielander will not only perform at your favorite venue, they will also roll up their sleeves in the culinary field. On top of playing pieces by famous musicians, they take the favorite snacks of these greats with them! And, obviously, a matching glass of wine if desired. How about "Sonny Rollins' vegetable stew". Or Dave Brubeck's "low carb Barbecue Patties and Sauce"? Charlie Parker's "Kansas city chicken wings"? Get them juices work! Just sit back and relax.


How to do it? You ask us to run! From the list provided by us, choose the musicians you would like to be surprised with, played and served by Penguins Too in their famous inimitable way. Curious? Please contact us for more information.

El XYZ de Son Bent Braam Album Out Now!

In 1995 Braam wrote "The XYZ of Bik Bent Braam" for the large band he founded in 1986 and which was a working band until 2013. The program consisted of 26 pieces, one for each letter of the alphabet and was then considered Michiel's provisional masterpiece. The reviews spoke of "a perfect balance between the classic big band idiom and a more contemporary sound", "Braam's compositions are among the most fascinating that Dutch jazz has to offer", "Braam is entitled to a full-time jazz ensemble", "stunningly beautiful", "spectacular", "on top of all insubordination, all pieces contain a small melodic pearl", "particularly spiritual", "belongs to the best jazz recorded in 1996, wherever in the world", "not arrogant or sarcastic, but with infectious kindness", "Braam brings out the best in the musicians", "the most adventurous Dutch jazz around", "This is Jazz as dada, where the music’s hysterical edge conveys an air of unrelenting slapstick". Many reviewers referred to Duke Ellington as a main source of inspiration for orchestra and compositions. The program was presented in two tours and played 3 times over a few years in a sold out Bimhuis. One of those concerts was recorded and released in 1996 at Willem Breuker’s BVHaast label. Later that same year, Bik Bent Braam received a structural subsidy and Michiel was awarded the Boy Edgar Prize.


After 25 years, and many concerts with various bands and in various styles, Braam arranged a sort of Latin version under the title "El XYZ de Son Bent Braam". In the jubilee year 2020, the new arrangement will be performed in a line-up of top musicians from the Dutch jazz and Latin scenes. Around Braam's trio Nos Otrobanda (with Aty de Windt, baby bass and André Groen, percussion) that specializes in Antillean music, extra percussionists (Martin Gort and new talent Danny Rombout), brass players (Angelo Verploegen and the upcoming Joël Botma, trumpet, Ilja Reijngoud and the young phenomenon Efe Erdem, trombone) and saxophonists (Bart van der Putten, Efraim Trujillo, Frank Nielander and emerging star Jesse Schilderink) have gathered. The arrangement contains the styles mambo, bolero, cha-cha, montuno, merengue, calypso, son, rumba, bembé, boogaloo, mozambique, samba, afro, danzón and is suitable for listeners and dancers.


The program contains the parts Apagado, Bienestar, Chachachando, Duelo, Electricidad, Fugazmente, Guasón, Hipsifobia, Improvisación, Jazzz, Kuratela, Lentomaslentomáslento, Marcha, Noisettes, Obeso, Pico, Quickstep, Reposadamente, Solfear, Tristano, Ultra, Violeta, Wolfitas, X, Yate, Zafio and will be presented in 2 versions, with the parts following each other seamlessly. A 100-minutes version with a break between M and N, and in a special 75-minutes festival cut without a break.


The first two concerts, at Stranger than Paranoia festival, in December 2019, were recorded for an album issue. Son Bent Braam will do a release concert during this year's Music Meeting, June 1st. Go to our shop page to hear samples of all tunes and order your copy, or click here to go through the 26 parts in just over two minutes.

New Album Reeds & Deeds Out Now!

September 2019, a new album, "Live at JazzCase", by Reeds & Deeds was released. This sextet specializes in the music of Roland Kirk. Visit the Reeds & Deeds review page to see the first reviews. Visit our shop page to hear samples of the album.

New Album Penguins Too Out Now!

January 2018, a new album, "Crime", by Penguins Too was released. The duo formerly known as "Two Penguins In The Desert" was founded in 1987 to play at Frank's and Michiel's finals at the conservatory, more specifically to play the Lennie Tristano tune "Wow". The cooperation felt very comfortable and the duo continued to play for 16 years, specializing in cool jazz and the "hotter" bebop tunes, resulting in its first album "Jazzs". After a sabbatical between 2003 and 2017, the duo currently focusses on music written for or associated with crime films and television series, such as the twelve tone music from the 1974 movie "The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three", Ennio Morricone's music from the television series "La Piovra", the main title of "Narcos", Duke Ellington's "Anatomy of a Murder". All these pieces, plus a Chopin prelude, a Misha tune and several duo improvisations will be issued as a suite. Visit our shop page to hear samples of the mentioned tracks.

The Curaçao Experience Released!

October 13th Nos Otrobanda's first album, The Curaçao Experience, arrived. 18 tunes were recorded at ACEC Apeldoorn, where we could, thanks to the friendly cooperation of orkest de ereprijs, use a fine recording space for three days. The album is a typical DIY product; we recorded the music ourselves with some advice from Rein Sprong, we did the art work on our own, using a band photo and beautiful macro picture as front image by Marjan Smejsters and some final advice from Pascale Companjen and were along the process of learning the tunes helped in several ways by Joop Halman and the Palm Music Foundation. Joop has also written the liner notes, which you can find below.

We are yet to plan the release concerts, but one of them is already set: December 18 we will play the Uterelease Concert and present the album in a concert at the very same place where it was recorded. We would be glad to welcome you! Free entrance!


Check out the Nos Otrobanda pages for more info and samples of the music.


The Liner Notes


Otrobanda: the cradle of the Curaçaoan waltz, danza, mazurka and tumba.


It is in colorful Otrobanda where elements of European, African, Caribbean and Latin American cultures influenced each other and where Curaçao’s music culture emerged in the mid-19th century. Since then It manifested itself lively in the streets and squares and in the houses in Otrobanda. A home party in Otrobanda was unimaginable without the playing of music and dancing. 


Jan Gerard (Gerry) Palm (1831-1906) is generally considered the father of the Curaçaoan waltzes, mazurkas, danzas and tumbas. He is also the patriarch of the musical Palm dynasty which includes composers such as Rudolf Palm (1880-1950), Jacobo Palm (1887-1982), Toni Palm (1885-1962), Albert Palm (1903-1958) and Edgar Palm (1905-1998).  All the members of this musical family were born and lived in Otrobanda.


By his piano performances and the recording of numerous LPs and CDs, maestro Edgar Palm succeeded in keeping the rich musical heritage of his family alive. Two of Edgar Palm’s albums, ‘Otrobanda’ and ‘Music of the Netherlands Antilles’, have inspired jazz pianist Michiel Braam to start to work on a new musical journey. He transcribed all the tunes of both albums and  formed with Antillean bassist Aty de Windt and percussionist André Groen their trio ‘Nos Otrobanda’. On this journey, Michiel also discovered something special that he has in common with Edgar Palm: although with a time span difference of some decades, he and Edgar Palm had the same music teacher, Rudi Feenstra.


Nos Otrobanda succeeded in creating an authentic, vivid and catchy performance of Curaçao’s music. This CD may be considered as a most welcome and creative addition to the variety of interpretations of Antillean music.


Joop Halman

Chairman of the Palm Music Foundation

The Aye performed in South Africa

THE AYE, a stage show adapted from Ana Isabel Ordonez's internationally acclaimed book, THE EXTRAORDINARY LOVE STORY OF AYE AYE AND FEDOR, was performed to celebrate the 85th birthday of Nobel Peace Laureate Monseigneur Archbishop Desmond Tutu as a part of the Sixth Annual Desmond TutuInternational Peace Conference in Cape Town on 7 October.


THE AYE is a dance theatre extravaganza that depicts a beautiful love story between two endangered animals: Aye Aye, a lemur, Fedor, and a white lion. Each defines the term "opposites attract" in a fantastic universe called the Musical Forest. While Aye Aye was free to run wild and enjoy the forest, Fedor was stuck in a zoo. The two meet while he is in captivity. They strike up a friendship that helps them both make some important discoveries and launches them on a journey to places they never thought they would go. Inspired by her love for Fedor, Aye Aye helps the animals at the zoo, who have had a difficult time in captivity, to escape and reunite in the Magical Forest where they are finally free, allowed to celebrate who they are. A happy ending is in store for everyone, thanks to the courage and quick thinking of Aye Aye and Fedor. Aye Aye and Fedor's journey is a great example of friendship and cooperation between friends who on the surface seem to be very different from one another, but who have similar goals and a desire to share their lives together.


The world premiere of the dance theatre adaptation in South Africa will feature a fantastic set, a jazz-rock score by Michiel Braam, inspired choreography by Sifiso Kweyama and mischievous masks handmade in South Africa by La Carla Masks. The magical show will bring together a sparkling fusion of music (in a definitive recording by eBraam which includes drummer Dirk-Peter Kölsch, guitarists Pieter Douma and Jörg Lehnardt and harpist Ulrike von Meier), dance (by Jazzart Dance Theatre) and amusing narration (by New York based singer Dean Bowman). THE AYE was performed by Jazzart Dance Theater company dancers Adam Malebo and Tracey September, joined by Abdul-Aaghier Isaacs, Amber Jodie Andrews, Darion Adams, Gabriella Dirkse, Ilze Williams, Keenun Wales, Luyanda Mdingi, Lynette du Plessis, Mandisi Ngcwayi, Paxton-Alice Simons, Siphosethu Gojo, Tanzley Jooste, Thandiwe Mqokeli and Vuyolwethu Nompetsheni.


An album with both music and Dean Bowman's narration as well as an album with longer instrumental version of the composition only are available at Amazon.

Click here for The Music & Narration version or here for The Music only version.

New Solo Album Released!

Last December I played a solo set at Opus Jazz Club in Budapest, which was organized by Budapest Music Center. The set was recorded and now issued under the title "Gloomy Sunday" on the BMC label.


For me, doing a solo concert doesn’t involve any preparation in terms of a set-list or anything concrete about pieces I will be playing. I simply start and see where everything leads me to.

At this concert, I made an exception to this custom. Not only would it be nice to play one of the many famous Hungarian compositions in Budapest, but also the very night of the concert, students of the ArtEZ University of the Arts, where I am head of Jazz & Pop, organized a concert in remembrance of our student Robin Cornelissen who had died exactly two years earlier. I had played ”Gloomy Sunday” at his funeral and playing it in the Opus Jazz Club connected me to Robin, as well as to the great Hungarian music tradition.


Check out the webshop for details, samples of all 10 tunes inclusive.


Recordings Nos Otrobanda July 2016

Beginning July Nos Otrobanda will, one and a half year after its premiere concert and hopefully 20 degrees warmer, finally make real recordings of 21 songs the trio is playing at the moment. We'll make an album with those recordings. The album will be including (in alphabetical order) Ana Maria/Antillana, Azucena/Otrobanda, Canto De Los Angeles, Casino, Cocktail De Sjon Jan, Dandie, Eliza, Erani ta Malu, Ina, La India, La Inspiración, Lo Bello, Manina, Maria Cecilia, Mosaico de Tumbas 2, Ramillete Venezolano, Sabrosita, Sorpresa Inesperada, Teleraña, Tumba Cocktail y Salza 1 and Winy.

New album by Olanda In Due out now.

We issued the first album of our duo Olanda In Due, with Bo Van de Graaf on saxes. Including tunes by musicians such as Guiseppe Verdi, Nico Haak and Billie Holiday. Recorded live at the NovaraJazz Festival this summer.

Click here to find out how to order and hear samples of the tunes.

First performance Nos Otrobanda!

February 5, 2015, at BReBL, Nijmegen, this trio played its first concert. You can check out several tunes of that concert on SoundCloud.


In this brand-new band I play together with bass player Aty de Windt and latin percussionist André Groen. With Nos Otrobanda we concentrate on Antillean music, especially waltzes. I hear this music for like 26 years now and all of those years I wanted to do something with the music myself. It took me this long to grasp the nettle. I transcribed the music from 2 elpees of Curaçao pianist Edgar Palm and we are also very grateful to Joop Halman of the Palm Music Foundation for his contributions. I find especially the constant danceable friction between binary and ternary rhythm in this music very intriguing.This year (Bas Andriessen filmed our somewhat ill at ease first rehearsal) we worked on the material, in which process Aty not only provided a relaxed swing in his role as our bass player but also learned us about the essentials of Antillean music. It has been quite some time ago since I played Latin-American music. We must go way back to 1997, when I played, after being a member of that band for eight years, my last gig with the European Danzón Orchestra. It is truly delicious to play Latin music again, this time with Nos Otrobanda.

New Website Online

Welcome to our new website! About 10 times faster now, and working not only on competers but also on tablets, telephones and so forth. Info, reviews, concert dates, photos, videos, music samples, a shop, news items and how to contact us is all included. Thanks to Sjors of &Braam Super Sexy Web Development!

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