New release: Die Komplette Enttäuschung
All covers by Katja Mahall and extras as catalog plus CD
Available only on concerts
Art: Katja Mahall, Design: Karl Mahall
Rudi Mahall: bcl, cl bars
Axel Dörner: tp
Jan Roder: b, e-b
Michael Griener: dr
recorded May 1st and 4th at alte Kita, Berlin, by Michael Griener
mixed and mastered by Axel Dörner
produced by Robert Hoedicke and die Enttäuschung
Two Nineteen Records 2-19-011
Interview with Rudi Mahall from Jazzpodium 8/9 2023
S W I N G
A band from Berlin that is currently more active than ever, casually intertwining today and yesterday to form sweeping, often monkish entities: DIE ENTTÄUSCHUNG. Clarinetist RUDI MAHALL talks in detail about them and their quintet MONK'S CASINO and his view of things. And he doesn't hide a thing.
BY ADAM OLSCHEWSKI
The interview is scheduled for the night between two rehearsals or recordings, one with drummer Björn Lücker's quartet in a backyard workshop in Berlin's Wedding district, the other the next day in bassist Joel Grip's rehearsal room in the basement on Kurfürstenstraße; Grip will be there along with Marseille pianist Simon Sieger and drummer Michael Griener, and clarinetist Rudi Mahall's leg will be dancing on a stool both times. - Yes, the swing, it's in Mahall, whether you record "Hot House" or "Petit Fleur" as in Kurfürstenstraße, the working title of the album: "The Straight Horn of Rudi Mahall"; pretty much straight after Steve Lacy - Mahall is urged not to play the bass clarinet, but only the B-clarinet.
He is a guarantor for a good spirit. Mahall, born in 1966, delivers his jokes pointedly; you have something to laugh about without it becoming cheap. Not everyone has that. - From Wedding we sprint into the subway to the Zoo, from there into the S-Bahn to Charlottenburg, and from there into the regional train, which takes us in a good hour to northwest Brandenburg, where a Fiat Panda is waiting, which stops three kilometers later in front of a wall of lush greenery, and shortly after we enter a house that has grown into the greenery and Katja, Mahall's wife, greets us. They both moved here from Berlin fifteen years ago, still with their son, who is 25 and back in the big city. The house was affordable because it is on a former LPG site with wind turbines nearby. The garden yields potatoes, lettuce, broad beans, delicious strawberries, herbs and currants; tomato plants stretch out in the greenhouse, and on an outdoor table: pre-picked vegetables.
On the walls of the attic hang the originals of Katja's collages, which she mainly made for the band Die Enttäuschung - some of them three-dimensional works of art, made in detail with scissors and glue. They will all be included in a booklet to be released this summer, along with a Die Enttäuschung CD, a kind of best-of. But the quartet, consisting of Mahall on clarinet and bass clarinet, Axel Dörner on trumpet, Jan Roder on bass and Michael Griener on drums, has already released a CD this summer and a double LP with pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach under Monk's Casino. After almost thirty years, and with a little luck, 2023 could be the year of Die Enttäuschung. Or could it?
JazzPodium: Let's not waste any time, Rudi: You've been with Die Enttäuschung from the beginning, since 1994, how did the band come about?
Rudi Mahall: Axel and I were just in Berlin and played in this club called Akut. That was the meeting point for the hip guys. That's where everyone went who the world had always admired. [Laughs.] Uli Jenneßen played drums and [Bernd] Kuchenbecker played bass. Awesome. They really played swing, like dingdingding and bumbumbum. If you ask what jazz is, it's exactly that: that you take something and make something out of it that really swings. But you already have a kind of history of your own and you mix it in and it fits... most of the time. Of course, you play with people where it fits. And you don't think so much about should we do it this way or that way or how is it done nowadays. Anyway, back then it wasn't that interesting how you play "All the Things You Are" now. But you play it and you do something with it. And if you listen to the old recordings, I think it's the same. Benny Goodman with "I Got Rhythm" - that was accepted by all the musicians then and now, they wrote pieces about it and sold it as their own. If you listen to Gershwin's original version, it's really far from what they made of it. They kind of superimposed their essence on the music.
JP: Would that be your definition of jazz?
RM: And then it swings. That would be the definition. That's generally accepted. Nobody's going to complain about that.
JP: Swing is central.
RM: Yes, it has to swing. Otherwise you can do whatever you want. [Laughs.] And at that time we met at Akut. And then we all thought Monk was so great, and we started arranging the Monk pieces. DIE Enttäuschung came out of that. This was a Monk practice band.
JP: Was there a model for this instrumental arrangement?
RM: It came about because these people happened to play these instruments. But of course, music like that, Monk for example, or jazz [Mahall always says: Jatz; Alexander von Schlippenbach also says that], works very well when you have a bass and drums and a couple of people doing something over it.
JP: But there is no harmony instrument with you...
RM: There are certainly historical models and we have all heard the music, the said bands without piano. And Axel can play the piano, he even studied it. But he preferred the trumpet.
JP: You must have been very similar, right?
RM: Music connects. It's a different form of communication, completely different than when you talk. It has a lot to do with speaking, because music is constructed like a sentence: If you're a horn player, you have to take a breath and say a sentence, which you eventually finish because you have to take a breath again - that's what the comma is for. Improvisation works like that: You say something, I say something about it, and then I think about it; when you say something again, I come up with completely new ideas - but I use the same sentence structure.
As always, no new words, but I put the words together differently. The sentences are made up of sounds and noises.
JP: You've released nine records, which is decent, but not too decent, because you've been around for three decades. How has the band developed over the years? - Has the band evolved?
RM: It certainly has evolved, because everybody evolves somehow, whether they want to or not. Music is first of all a craft. The more you practice, the better you get. That's the difference between music and art, for example. With art, you don't have to practice for hours every day. There are musicians who wouldn't call themselves artists. For example, orchestral musicians. They play things and they don't have the urge. We lost the bass player [Joachim Dette], who went to America on a scholarship, after the double LP [pure Monk material; from 1996]. We played as a three-piece, but we found that with the bass it swung more. That's when we started playing our own stuff. The good thing about playing your own tunes is that nobody can come along and say: Ö, but you do it differently; you do it this way and that way. Then you say: This is my piece, and I know how to play my piece. Then Jan Roder came to town, still fresh from his [bass] studies with Detlev Beier. And he played our pieces with us a couple of times, and it was great. And it just so happened that Joachim came back. And we rehearsed with him one more time out of friendship - and then we fired him [laughs out loud.] Bad. Very bad. Downright inhuman. He had his scholarship in New York for that. He didn't really complain. Then Die Enttäuschung was in its final state [Mahall, Dörner, Roder, Jenneßen]. We were playing our pieces and sometimes a Monk.
JP: Alexander von Schlippenbach joined Die Enttäuschung, it became Monk's Casino - in other words, a band based purely on the music of Thelonious Monk. It has already happened that you played Monk's complete works over several days. You just said it: Before Casino started, you recorded an LP with only Monk, Die Enttäuschung. And Alex always played Monk anyway, because it is probably his favorite. Can you look back and tell us how Monk's Casino came about?
RM: We were at the A-Trane and we heard Alex playing Monk with a really bad rhythm section. And we were so sorry about that. And I thought, just out of pity, we should play with him; we'll show him how it's done. So we rehearsed with him and he was very willing to learn. Then he got all the arrangements that we had developed on it and added some arrangements to it; and you're all set. And then we played at Assi's [Glöde; board member of Jazzkeller 69 e.V.] in the Parkhaus Treptow - that was such a hip East German club; for a whole week.
JP: That was the first Monk's Casino gig?
RM: That was actually the first gig where Alex put the name Monk's Casino over it, which nobody really liked, but well... not so bad. The development was parallel. The Monk we played with Alex, except when we had a concert and we ran out of tunes and needed an encore and wanted a tune that would go over a little better, so we played a Monk tune.
JP: On both Monk's Casino and The Disappointment, there is little difference between the live and album versions, which is rare. Both seem equally spontaneous and quite loose, jam-session-like, but also determined, and ultimately always find a free-swinging form that you can follow. How do you achieve this high degree of relaxation?
RM: When I compose, I have a sheet of paper in front of me. Then I think of something and write it down. And when one page is full, I take another one. Then I have two pages, which is usually enough. I present it and they play it back and I think to myself: It doesn't sound bad. But if they play it differently, it's just as good for me. If we wanted to play all the notes, that would be impossible, then we would be hired by the Berlin Philharmonic or the Ensemble Modern, but then they have problems with improvising a bit. The great thing about your own music is that you can write it down and mess it up and nobody notices. We played once in Dresden with Monk's Casino, I have to tell you, Michael Griener wasn't with us yet, but he was teaching in Dresden and took his drum students with him. And Uli Jenneßen, that was his specialty, said at the beginning of the concert: It's not going to work today. It's going to be a bad concert today. [Laughs.] He decided that - and then we said: Oh dear. And then he went on stage and it actually sounded like shit. So he kind of fulfilled his own prophecy. Jan and Uli had a special relationship. If something went wrong, they always passed the buck to each other. For example, when I had to play four-four time, which is usually the case with Monk, which isn't that difficult, sometimes they got so far apart that Uli played something and Jan saw beat one somewhere where there wasn't one. The joke is that they sounded so good together that people thought it was on purpose. And Michael's students told him: Man, that was totally awesome. At that point they were playing five over four, how are they doing that? And of course Michael knew it was just an accident. That's the funny thing about improvisation, or music in general, is that you can make a mistake. But out of that mistake come crazy things that no human being could ever think of.
JP: Do you incorporate those mistakes into your repertoire?
RM: No, it's different every night. You make mistakes in different places. And if you write down the mistake and play it on purpose, it's no longer a mistake! It's the same with improvisation: If you notice that the note that doesn't really belong there still sounds good, then you play it the next time.
JP: How did the change from Uli Jenneßen to Michael Griener come about?
RM: It was very unfortunate. Uli was a bit at odds with our manager. So I said: Please, Uli, be a little nicer to her. Then he started arguing and at some point there was a fight backstage after a concert in Konstanz. Jan Roder tried to explain something to Uli Jenneßen and Uli didn't see that he should be nicer. Then Jan, who had already had one or two beers, took a lighter and threw it at Uli; but he missed him by miles, the lighter smashed against the wall. It was a green lighter, one of those disposable ones ... And then I said to Jan Roder: Are you crazy, this beautiful lighter. Uli Jenneßen didn't find it funny at all: "You could have hit me, I could have been blinded! And then it was over, then he got out, imagine that. I was so sorry, because I thought Uli Jennessen was great, great, great. Die Enttäuschung, you can write that in, would have been unthinkable without Uli; because he also established this thing that you do something wrong and it becomes right.
JP: And Michael Griener...
RM: Then we were looking for a new drummer who could do it like Uli. But of course it's not possible to do it the way Uli does it. That was in 2011, early 2012. Now we're not the kind of band that has the big gigs where it's worth trying to find ten drummers. Then we took Michael Griener because: He can do everything. He understands everything. He can also do Uli for you - if he has to. [Laughter]
JP: You've known him for a long time. You met each other...
RM: ...when Michael was fourteen and I was fifteen. My sister was sitting in his seat with Peter Herbolzheimer. And then we were backstage getting autographs, and he said to Etta and Debbie Cameron, Peter Herbolzheimer's singers, mother and daughter, great singers, "You sing very well, but Billie Holiday sings better." [Laughter.] And I thought, what an idiot. - Because nobody in my class listened to jazz and I was so alone, we became friends. And he had a drum set and I had a clarinet and we played together - and squeak squeak, honk honk.
JP: That was in Nuremberg...
RM: In Nuremberg. Michael lived with his father and he was a pub owner and under the pub was the basement and that's where we had our rehearsal room. And upstairs there were prostitutes and they had customers and when we were playing the lights would go out - that meant we had to stop playing because they were working. And then the lights would come back on and we would be allowed to continue.
JP: How does a recording session for Die Enttäuschung usually go?
RM: We decide to do a record because, for example, Michael Griener got money from the Senate. Or because we have a lot of new songs. Or for mixed reasons. And then you have tunes and you rehearse and play them a lot; then Christian Betz sets up his microphones and we record. And after two and a half hours we go home and the CD is done.
JP: No difference between studio and live?
RM: Not really. Michael Griener now has his own microphones and mixing desk, Axel Dörner also has his expensive microphone with him. We record ourselves or Michael Griener records everything and takes care of the recording.
JP: In any case, the music always sounds relaxed.
RM: Well, because we are relaxed and easy-going. Besides, nobody knows what we do. No one can check.
JP: No pressure?
RM: We can put pressure on ourselves. I played classical music when I was a kid. If you don't get a note right, you're an idiot, you might as well put yourself in a bag. That's why I only played jazz, because it doesn't matter. If the craftsmanship is bad, you can say it's art. You can't check it - is it art or is it incompetence. Nobody can find out. [Laughter]
JP: But you have to be able to play and have some ideas, preferably good ones.
RM: They can all play. A lot of money has been spent on the system to artificially breed people to get them into universities; some poor students who have finished school and happen to have a saxophone. They start studying jazz so that those who have permanent jobs there, who are actually jazz musicians, can get a fixed salary. And then you lure the students to the college and train them to be jazz musicians or whatever, where there is no market at all. It's like if I had a bookbinding apprenticeship in every town. Or a tinker apprenticeship
JP: But maybe one or the other feels called ….
RM: No. They play an instrument. Then maybe they're in a band at some music school and they think it's great. And after school you have to do something as an adult; and then you think: Should I study something? Oh, I've got a saxophone or a bass, then I'll try it at school, then I'm a university student. And then they're usually taken because of all the teachers there are and all the colleges there are ... There aren't that many people who are interested in jazz. [Laughs.] It's actually the case that students aren't interested in this music at all - that's what I hear from the teachers I play with. They all say that most of the students are not that interested in jazz.
JP: If that's true, that's not a good outlook for jazz...
RM: It's a very bad outlook. Especially for the people, it's a fraud, because the poor parents think: Oh, my child, he's doing something right, he's getting a professional education. It's a fraud. Being a jazz musician is not a profession.
JP: But you are quite critical of the academic jazz education...
RM: I would fire all the professors. I would turn the universities into rehearsal rooms and open jazz clubs everywhere, where the so-called students would have to perform. Then they would know what it's like to have to play every night. Then they'd all know exactly that only five people at the most would be listening to them; and then most of them would be so put off anyway that they might learn something decent. And the ones that don't get put off are the hard core; they really want to know. And they develop their own music in no time at all, without any help from others, because it's so unschooled.
JP: So the way to music is just through practice?
RM: By doing. I learned it that way. What I learned from the classical teacher was only useful to me because then I knew where the notes were and how to blow to make the note come out. And that dexterity. That the fingers move. That's all I learned, nothing more. The rest you have to find out for yourself. The best system is still: you put on a record, the music you want to listen to, and you play along. - I get 10,000 euros now for that tip. [Laughs]
JP: How different is it when Alex joins you in Die Enttäuschung? He comes from a different era than you, almost thirty years separate you and him...
RM: I'll take the example of the Globe Unity Orchestra. I joined in 2003 or so; Gerd Dudek was also there and much older than me, like Alex. I didn't think about age at all, not at all. When a musician like that plays, his age is gone; it's completely erased. You asked earlier how Die Enttäuschung developed; do people in their mid-twenties play differently than people in their mid-fifties? I have to say that they don't play differently at all. So there is no development in the music. At least no aging. Unless you can't blow properly or you can't get up the stairs anymore. Alex hasn't gotten that far yet. He's 85, but his fingers still work - and they work beautifully.
JP: But Alex may have a slightly different approach to music than you, he probably has a different relationship to it; he still heard Monk live...
RM: I can't say that. But I learned the music the way he learned it, I think. Of course there are differences. What I've noticed is that the old free-jazzers, for example, and I'm excluding Alex and Manfred Schoof, put a lot of extra-musical stuff into the music. When I played in Moers recently, there was a panel interview with Brötzmann and Philipp Gropper. Gropper was talking about neo-liberalism, and Brötzmann was also talking in that direction, also politically, on the left. That was the thing in the sixties: you mix something with politics and you get gigs. At some point it got boring, also for the listeners, and all that was left was good music. I couldn't care less whether Brötzmann was left-wing or right-wing. Just like I don't care what the person I'm playing with thinks politically. It's all about the music, and music is its own language. And you can't express anything musically: I am against economic growth. Unless I have lyrics, but then it gets embarrassing.
JP: At the moment, politics is mixed into jazz or even overlaps with music; you shouldn't be comfortable with that...
RM: Whether someone is politically irreproachable or not is being used as a criterion for whether he can play or not. This is a bad development. It's because people who want to decide and program music, some functionaries, impose non-musical criteria on music. They don't listen to demo tapes of people who apply for the Berlin Jazz Festival; they say: OK, I'm just going to choose the bands according to certain criteria that are current. These are the so-called identitarian criteria. They don't want to deal with the music. The functionaries often studied something else, like gender studies or musicology or political science, but they decide about music.
JP: They just want to make minorities that have been ignored or neglected more visible, but they go a little overboard here and there.
RM: We are very careful with our choice of words... and right away at a panel discussion in Assi Glöde at the Kaisersteg. Shannon Barnett, the trombonist, sat there in 2019, then Wolfram Knauer from the Jazz Institute, the trumpeter Nikolaus Neuser and someone who said she was a philosophy professor and later found out that she might get the professorship. For 45 minutes, and it was really hot, they talked at great length about the absolute necessity of having more women on stage and how to achieve that. This philosophy professor, who we knew didn't know what jazz was, read some statistics from some classical orchestras and argued that the quota had to be introduced. The others were a little more critical, but they all agreed that it's absolutely necessary to force women to go on stage and play jazz. When there were questions from the audience, I asked right away, but I didn't get a chance because there was a woman who complained that her husband was mean and that she couldn't get a job. And then another guy came in with a bicycle helmet, and then it was over. I was really pissed off because I was the first one to report it. Then I went up to them [the panelists] and said: I just want to ask a question: Why should there be more women on stage? Why?
JP: Did anybody answer your question?
RM: You cannot answer that question. You can't. If a girl today, in this society, and I'm not talking about Afghanistan, buys a saxophone and starts practicing really well, then I guarantee that girl that she can become a jazz musician later on, if she wants to. Just like I can guarantee any guy that he can become a jazz musician if he really wants to, if he puts his mind to the music and if he plays well. And that has nothing to do with gender or identity or black or white. This whole discussion is just about power; and it is a purely academic discussion that is carried down from the academies into real society, because some people would like to get jobs that are better than the jobs they have now; they argue: Ah, I am disadvantaged. This disadvantage is justified in many different ways. Religious. Skin color. Gender, whatever. Those who don't feel disadvantaged have the worst arguments at the moment.
JP: Jutta Hipp broke down because of this whole male society. But that was a different time, of course.
RM: That was seventy years ago. A lot has changed since then. I am very interested in this topic. I really ask each and every one of them if they feel discriminated against or if they know of examples where they are discriminated against - and the unanimous pattern of answers is that no one can remember anyone ever being discriminated against in our field. - Because: We are the good guys. We are all leftist and green. Should we be an example to society? An example of how great people can live together? But we are also normal people who play out our power games, where discrimination takes place - but in a different way, not so simple, instead there is always pulling and tugging. That's what we call a human relationship.
JP: Tugging and pulling in music?
RM: In music and outside of it. For example, there is a movement that comes from the universities - they want to play together in harmony. They don't want people playing against each other. They want to abolish the solo as such. You should make music together, like in a circle of chairs, without being put down by the other person because he plays better, for example. That is definitely not in this music. On all the records I have, people are beating themselves up all the time. That's what's interesting about it - that blood spurts.
JP: You said that Monk's Casino was recently booked for a concert, and when Alex couldn't make it, the club canceled the gig. But you also say that you can easily play the program without Alex. But Alex is a figurehead because of his past. How frustrating is it for you that the public associates Monk's Casino so strongly with Alex?
RM: That's our own fault. In the beginning we played the Monk and did the arrangements, and then we added Alex - that was out of pity, that was fun, but because he's so famous: if we play as Die Enttäuschung with four people, then maybe three people come; but if Alex plays, then thirty - and we get rich and famous. We did it, it worked. With the [triple] record of Monk's Casino that came out on Intakt [in 2005], Alex called me beforehand and asked me if it bothered me that he was so much in the foreground, because he made the record deal and also because it sounds like he is the first person in the liner notes. I remember standing there on the phone feeling all great, generous: Ah what, go for it. - But after that we got annoyed a couple of times. Alex didn't mean anything by it. He just meant it had to be done quickly, the record had to come out. The liner notes are written in a misleading way.
But the people who book concerts read the liner notes, of course, and it says that the band comes from Alexander von Schlippenbach, and they believe that. But it was more or less an accident. But it was useful for us. Gigs!
JP: Alex's piano is important because?
RM: Everyone is replaceable. If no one is playing, it's noticeable. [And Axel Dörner solo, I'd say he wouldn't want to fight his way through the whole [Monk] repertoire - and neither would I, by the way. If everyone dies now and it's just Axel and me, then Monk's Casino probably won't exist anymore. But if Jan and I survive, we'll run it with an iron fist. [Laughs]
JP: You started making music because you were bored. So it was an escape, which was what exactly?
RM: I grew up in a home with a mother who was an opera singer. She stopped singing when I was hatched. And my father always listened to jazz. He was a big West Coast fan - Shorty Rogers, Bud Shank. The [parents] said it would be great if my sister and I played an instrument. But I wasn't interested, I preferred to play soccer for 1. FC Nuremberg. But my sister had piano lessons. But then I got a guitar for my communion, because I am Catholic. And it was terrible, I stopped at the barre fingerings because it hurt so much. You can't satisfy your oral desires with the guitar either. I wasn't breast-fed. So I always have to put something in my mouth. I had two choices: start smoking or play a wind instrument. Out of boredom, I started listening to jazz, because my sister was already too big and too stupid and wouldn't play with me anymore at the age of eleven or twelve. I thought: music is important. My parents always said that. Education! If you're not good at school, then this education, which might even be fun, is great. Then I heard the jazz records and suddenly I realized.
JP: Did you immediately hear someone playing the clarinet who impressed you?
RM: No. The clarinet was the very last instrument I thought was great. I always liked the saxophone. I always wanted one, but my parents said no way, here's a guitar. [Laughs.] For two years I listened to jazz non-stop; at one point up to Coltrane. There's "Mr. P.C." by him, and I was playing it with a tin whistle. I also went with my sister to the music school and I saw a plastic clarinet in the window. And then I went to my parents and asked them: What do I have to do to get an instrument? And they said: Okay, the clarinet is cheap, and if he doesn't play it, it doesn't matter if you take it away. My sister's Romanian piano teacher gave me clarinet lessons. He immediately started playing Spohr on the piano. It took me a few months to learn the notes from a music book. It's not difficult to learn an instrument if you really want to.
JP: But isn't the clarinet considered particularly difficult?
RM: Not if you take it easy; spend hours on it; it's easy as pie, anyone can do it. Of course, you have to have some sense of rhythm, but there are very few people who don't. An instrument like that is something for people who can't do anything with themselves. It makes you feel so special. It's great for a kid like that. At that time I was really unpopular because I quit soccer and always went to the Jazz Studio Nürnberg [jazz club]. There was a training session for the D-youth on Friday evenings, but I preferred to listen to Elvin Jones. I was twelve and my soccer career was over.
JP: What do you find great and stupid about the clarinet?
RM: Basically there is no one instrument that is great or stupid. It's like a drill - it drills a hole in the wall. And an instrument makes sounds. Except for the synthesizer; it makes sounds. I think the clarinet is a beautiful instrument. It shines so beautifully. I just like looking at it.
JP: For many people, you are primarily a bass clarinetist, although you often play the Bb clarinet and occasionally the baritone saxophone. How did you come to play the bass clarinet?
RM: It was like this: When I was fifteen, I was improvising on the clarinet with Michael Griener and a few others. We made noises and composed our own pieces. But only Michael could really improvise, because he already lived with his mother in Hannover and played with the boys, with real jazz musicians. But we always got together anyway. And then I finished school and did my alternative civilian service. I always wanted to be an orchestra musician, I forgot to tell you, because my mother told me about her choir rehearsals, where they had to rehearse every day and where the orchestras were doubled - an opera orchestra has four clarinets and only two play and the others are allowed to stay at home. So I thought, great, that's exactly my thing. Stay at home, work now and then, and make a lot of money. So I wanted to be an orchestral musician, even though I didn't know much about music. But with modern classical music, which is unbelievably good, I could. After my alternative civilian service, I auditioned at the Nuremberg Conservatory to fulfill my dream and finally study clarinet. I auditioned with a Stravinsky piece and my teacher called me and said, "That was really good, you've been accepted. And then I had the theory exam and felt sorry for the others: God, they don't even know if they're going to get in, the poor bastards, and I know and can write down what I want. And then there was the question: What is BWV? Every little child knows that it's "Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis". But I wrote "Bayerische Motoren Verke" - and in parentheses: "Hahaha". And the director got hold of it and then vetoed it; and my teacher called and said: What have you done, you idiot? [That was the end of my classical career. The only reason I'm telling this story is because I said: Okay, they don't want me, so I don't want them. And now I'm going to buy a bass clarinet. At the end of my community service I got 3,000 marks for the twenty months, as compensation.
JP: Why did you buy a bass clarinet?
RM: Because I knew that everyone hates the clarinet. At that time it was, and still is, a rather neglected instrument in jazz music. You can't do anything with the clarinet. You can play Dixieland. But I play too many wrong notes for Dixieland, it doesn't work. But everybody likes bass clarinet. Everybody likes [Eric] Dolphy and all that. So I buy a bass clarinet and I can be a jazz musician. That worked out too. I didn't pick up the bass clarinet to outdo Dolphy. Because you can't outdo him. But I bought the bass clarinet for purely commercial reasons.
JP: You moved to Berlin in 1994. What do you like about the city?
RM: The Berlin air. [Laughs.] It's still the case that there are so many musicians there... You play in a session: Oh, that's interesting, who are you? I am Heinz. Where are you from? I'm from Wedding. Oh, I've never heard of you. But I've been here for fifty years. - That probably won't happen to you in Nuremberg. I can still recommend Berlin. Now it's just terribly difficult to find an apartment. And, of course, the clubs are not as free as they used to be. The tenants above the clubs have become more aggressive. They call the police a lot more than they used to. That's my impression.
JP: Live you are a very amusing presenter. There is a lot of humor in your music. Why is humor so important in music?
RM: The explanation is the same as in the beginning: that you enjoy the mistakes. And that you build the music on the mistakes. A mistake is something surprising. And humor is no different than saying something surprising that surprises the person I'm talking to. He has to laugh. They could scream or cry, it's the same impulse. Music works the same way. There is music that prevents that a little bit - if you write it down very precisely and structure it very precisely and rehearse it very precisely and then determine the solo order and say how many choruses he or she will play. That kind of over-organization kills the humor. Nothing surprising happens, everyone can only do something in their individual contribution that might be funny - but that's only funny. But when people make a mistake together, that's humor, that's funny. When they get so annoyed, as Uli Jenneßen often did, then it becomes even funnier.
JP: We once asked you to list your most influential records in JazzPodium and, surprisingly for some and not for others, Benny Goodman was mentioned, along with the comment that he swung "like crazy". Stan Getz was also mentioned, and you cite his enormous swing as the reason. There is also a strong swing accent in your playing, even though you like to improvise freely. How do you create swing?
RM: The beauty is that you can't describe it - and therefore you can't teach it. That's what makes all the schools useless. Because of the schools, all the people are playing straight and not singing; it's more like bossa nova, what they play there; pop, stuff like that. Straight eighths, backbeat stories; you can teach them well, you can work them out on the computer - some rhythms, highly complicated eleven against ten, you can have the computer play them for you. There's nothing wrong with that, except that you can't teach a computer to swing. No, swing works like this: the bass plays in one place, and the saxophone improvises, slightly offset, usually behind the bass, sometimes in front of it, and the drums do the same - they push or pull. You are constantly irritating your fellow musicians. A constant stimulus that is too much for some people, who then feel uncomfortable. Sometimes it happens that I play mostly relaxed, that is, behind the beat, and then I notice that it gets slower and slower because the drummer keeps dragging, so that at the end the piece is half as fast as it was at the beginning. That's because some people aren't used to pulling and pulling anymore; that people on stage don't get angry anymore, they don't get irritated anymore, they don't want to fight anymore. There is no competition anymore. People no longer want to be the best, they want a community of like-minded people; to accept each other and not discriminate. This is what you want to model on the stage of society, to simulate the ideal community to fit the times.
JP: It's often said that music becomes good automatically when you get along in a band - isn't that true?
RM: It's really true: making music has nothing to do with friendship, nothing at all. You can compare it with competitive sports. You want to be better than the other person, and if you don't admit it, you're lying. That's why I always say at the concert, "Please clap after every clarinet solo; that's the way it should be - I don't care about the other instruments. Because: If I get more applause than the others, then I'm better than them. This brings us to the awards: Anyone who tells me that the scene is growing together because of the inflationary awards that exist today with our tax money is lying - and knowingly so. Because everyone knows that the people who don't get an award, including me, get angry every time and say to themselves, "Why didn't I get the award? What is better about the person who gets the award than me? That's the American principle: the winner takes it all, and that's what's driven more communities apart, not just them.
JP: But on stage, you like the competition...
RM: There, the competition is there to cheer people up and, in the best case, to produce music that is exciting. After all, we're all friends, we don't hate each other. With these awards, only those who see more zeros in their bank accounts are happy. And nobody else gets anything out of it, nobody. Only the person who gives the prize - he can go on stage as a functionary and play the great benefactor. The prizes drive the scene apart, they don't bring it together. I have another example: the Mannheim Jazz Days in the very early days, a fragrant festival organized by the musicians themselves in the Old Fire Station. Then at some point the sponsors said they didn't want to give any more money. And then the New German Jazz Prize came along - and the sponsors said we'd participate again. And I think that's because one of the sponsors can go on stage and present the prize. And also because it's attractive, because it means that THE BEST are playing there, it's not a petty jazz festival where everybody gets a turn, but THE BEST come after they've been selected by EXPERTS, by someone who curates and who knows who THE BEST are, so that people can say: Ah, so these are THE BEST... So much money that could have been put into the jazz clubs where it would have benefited the established and the beginners. If the clubs get the money that is spent on the crappy prices, then the whole scene will be better off, then everyone will be happy. Or an alternative suggestion: say you want to distribute the money that IG Jazz et cetera has been pushing for politically, then see how many practicing jazz musicians are registered with the tax office - and they get a monthly salary of a thousand euros, done. That's the so-called watering can, but the effect is that these people no longer feel discriminated against. Because if we're talking about discrimination, every jazz musician feels discriminated against, whether he's a man or a woman, black or white, old or young. Because jazz music doesn't count for anything. It was taken away by the pop industry in the sixties. It's discrimination against one professional group, while others, orchestra musicians, are favored because it's supposed to be high culture, even though they're not necessarily better musicians than jazz musicians - you can't compare that. - You would have to eliminate discrimination by paying jazz musicians more.
JP: How does discrimination manifest itself in everyday life?
RM: If you watch old programs on TV, there is often jazz music; music that was popular at the time. Where people didn't say: Turn off the music if you hear it in a café. And at some point there was a turning point where it suddenly stopped, where pop music was played in the movies, backbeat music. Where the drums don't swing beautifully anymore, but they play a stomping rhythm, the rock rhythm, which is quite primitive, but which has always been there; which they played in the dance bands since the 1920s; or when the drummer didn't get the swing right... They said: This is what the audience wants. So the industry takes the rock rhythm and says that's something people understand. And the people say: Yes, we understand that. But they used to understand swing, they understood the most complicated music. Pop music has one big disadvantage, which is that it is less artistic than jazz. By artistic, I mean ambiguous. So you hear something - and one person thinks this, and another person thinks that. They think completely different things about the same music. And pop music is: I love you, you love me, let's go get an ice cream. That is pop music. There is no room for interpretation. Everybody has two ears, one on the left and one on the right, and they can hear and understand Charlie Parker as well as The Doors.
JP: You could argue with that, because there is already multidimensional pop. But, well, pop is usually quicker to get into, quicker to get out of, and it has a strong and immediate effect on the hormonal balance, which is why young people prefer it.
RM: It's a kind of fast food, a kind of pornography. It is something explicit and it is supposed to trigger feelings. But that doesn't mean that people can't handle ambiguity. If you live in a society that claims to promote education, then I assume that artistic things are part of education. Then you can't go and say they don't understand it, you have to show it to people over and over again and eventually they will understand. With music, there's really nothing to explain; that's also a problem of music literature. There are very few people who can explain music-because there is nothing to explain. Music explains itself. One of the bad things is that by giving people fast food, by getting them used to it, when they don't get fast food, they say: What's this? It's the same as when you get used to ketchup on your roast pork - eventually the roast pork doesn't taste good without ketchup. The distinct appeal is gone. The appeal is there, but the meat tastes like meat, or the zucchini tastes like zucchini. This is an industry: they produce stimuli and claim that people need the stimuli.
JP: Where is the way out; is there one?
RM: My suggestion is complicated because it costs money: Reintroduce music lessons in schools, because they have been practically destroyed. The gym teacher, who happens to have a guitar at home, will give the music lessons. The general opinion is that no one needs to learn music anymore. If you apply that to math for an eighteen-year-old who is doing his high school diploma: He only needs to do arithmetic to ten. He has his cell phone, so he doesn't need to know how to do math. Or German lessons stop at "Mickey Mouse" because everything else is too difficult. If you're a consumer of mass media like me, it's terrible to see music being used to impose an opinion on people about a program. I know a guy who makes music for Deutschlandfunk. He told me that the editor comes and says he needs some sounds, something sad, something tragic, then something funny. He does it, gets paid for it, but also feels a little ashamed. You press the button when a lion eats a wildebeest, and sad music plays when the wildebeest dies. And the same music is used when, for example, a house is bombed in Ukraine and a woman reports about it. People are bombarded with it, they are not given time to develop their own feelings. Pop music forces feelings on you that you don't want to have. And it's getting more and more vulgar. That's the problem with fast food or pornography - you need stronger and stronger stimuli to make you respond to them. It's as if people are stupid and can't develop their own feelings. It destroys everything; tabula rasa over the whole emotional world. Even the health food types at their vegan barbecues, who otherwise pay attention to everything, listen to plastic music.
JP: Because music is completely separated from everyday life.
RM: That's the end of capitalism. It annoys me every day.
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