Alex Jønsson on his Jazz India Circuit gig, 2016's 'Heart of Gold' album, and touring the world
Danish guitarist, composer and improviser Alex Jønsson chats with Firstpost about his maiden India tour, the crowds at the Jazz India Circuit, his tryst with Indian music and more
Over 17 and 18 February 2018, music aficionados in the capital had a chance to witness some truly great music, live. The Delhi edition of Teamwork Arts' Jazz India Circuit came to town, and brought with it artists like Mohini Dey, Sandeep Mohan, Joe Johnson, Rhythm Shaw, John Law's Congregation, Karan Khosla Trio, with the legendary Dave Weckl headlining the evening.
Also part of the line-up was Danish guitarist, composer and improviser Alex Jønsson. Introducing the audience to Nordic jazz, it is safe to say Jønsson's maiden India tour left him and audiophiles — more than satisfied.
Jønsson released his last album, Heart of Gold, in 2016. It featured a trio comprising himself, Jens Mikkel Madsen and Andreas Skamby. Having been honoured with the prestigious Nordic Master of Jazz (NOMAZZ) from the Royal Academy of Music, Aarhus in 2013, Jønsson has extensively toured Germany and the Czech Republic as well as the Nordic and Baltic countries.
On his maiden visit to India, Firstpost caught up with the musician and asked him about his experience at the Jazz India Circuit, his thoughts on the state of jazz around the world, his favourite touring experiences and his tryst with Indian music.
How was your experience playing at the Jazz India Circuit, Delhi?
My experience playing at the Jazz India Circuit was very positive. The audience was supportive and very encouraging with their applause. We had some interesting conversations with some of them about music after the concert.
What was the experience of coming to India like?
Everything was great! I had never been to India before, and I'd been looking forward to experience it all with my senses. The food, the people, the temples, the crazy traffic — everything was a huge experience for me. It’s so different from Denmark. It was fantastic for me to get the chance to spend some days here and get a feel of how everything is.
Until now, what has been your favourite touring experience and why?
I have had several really good touring experiences. One that comes to mind is my solo tour in Balkan last fall. It was a really interesting journey around Montenegro, Serbia, Hungary and Macedonia — nice people, surrounded by the beautiful nature and a lot of cultural experiences. Another tour that comes to my mind is one that I went on a couple of years ago when I did a few shows in Czech Republic with a Norwegian singer. We shared the stage with John Scofield’s Überjam band two nights in a row. I mean, we didn’t play together, just after each other. I’ve listened to that band a lot, and to get the chance to sit at the edge of the stage and look at the band perform from a just a few meters away was quite fantastic.
Your album 'Heart of Gold' is in the form of a living room concert. What gave you the idea to explore such a format?
I’ve played a few living room concerts before and it’s always been a special experience. As an artist you get very close to the audience and everyone seems to feel this ‘home atmosphere’ and organically starts talking to each other, which rarely happens when you’re at a club. My music is relatively softer and works very well in this kind of a setting. I felt that recording a live album would be a very nice way to document the trio (with Madsen and Skamby), because you get all the energy and response from the audience itself. Also, you can’t really record several takes of each tune, so you have to stay focused and make everything count.
What is your take on Indian music?
It’s something that we don’t get exposed to in Denmark, unfortunately. India obviously has a very rich musical legacy that you should be really proud of. I’ve listened to some different music and I also got a quick introduction to Konnakol, but I’m still very green when it comes to Indian music. We went to a temple in Old Delhi during my visit and heard some really nice music there. It was very inspiring, with the advanced rhythms, the singing style which doesn't only use the tempered scale, etc. I’m definitely going to explore it further.
What do you think is the state of jazz music in today's times? With the millennial generation and its varied musical tastes, do you think jazz is slowly dying out?
I’m sure jazz isn’t dying. It’s just changing and it might become something else in the future than what it is right now. Jazz has always been evolving and it will continue to do so in order to stay alive. It’s developing, transforming into something new, just like the rest of the society. In my opinion, music — and art in general — should reflect it’s surroundings and not turn into a museum-like display.
How nuanced and comprehensive do you think the Indian audience's understanding is, of jazz?
It feels a bit unfair for me to judge that, based on the very limited experience I have on this matter. I guess jazz doesn’t have the biggest audience in India — but this is mostly just what I’ve been told.
As an artist, which experience is more fulfilling for you — performing as a soloist or as part of a band/accompanying another artist?
Both have their pluses and minuses, I think. I like to do both, but no matter which combination, I like the music itself to be the ‘soloist’, so to speak. I don’t especially like music wherein it’s just a bunch of great individual players if they don’t manage to vibe with each other and make great music together. You know, it’s like watching a soccer team of great individual players who don’t know how to play together and don't pass the ball to each other. They are never gonna win — it’s the same in music.
Between composing and performing, which gives you the most joy and why? Do they go hand in hand for you or are they two completely different processes?
I see a similarity in composing and improvising, be it making up a melody, delivering a statement or communicating a mood. But in most ways, I see them as two different processes where composing is the foundation of being able to perform. For me personally, composing is often a time consuming process riddled with struggles and doubts, whereas the performance is the ‘reward’ after the whole process of composing and rehearsing is complete.
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