Interviewer: Ajie Wartono
Warta Jazz (WJ) : How did you get interested in music at the beginning?
• Full name: John Wolf Brennan
• Date of birth: February 13th, 1954
• Place of birth & nationality: Dublin, Ireland
• Instruments played: Piano, Prepared Piano, Pipe Organ, Melodica, Conductor
• Family background: My mother Una Brennan was a
famous classical singer in Ireland (repertoire from Schubert, Schumann,
Brahms to Hugo Wolf and Richard Strauss, including
odd Irish folk song in the usually very sentimental arrangements of that
WJ : How about your music background and music studied?
• Musical education:
1975-1979: Swiss Jazz School Berne (Axel Jungbluth, Piano and Theory)
Masterclasses in composition with Ennio Morricone (1992), Edison Denisov (1993/94), Klaus Huber (1995) and Heinz Holliger (1998).
Workshops in jazz & improvisation with Tim Berne, Joey Baron, Hank Roberts, Don Friedman, Ray Anderson, Joëlle Léandre, Chris Burns, Pauline Oliveros, the ROVA saxophone quartet, Pierre Favre
WJ : Why did you choose the piano as your major instrument?
Because it‘s like a microcosmos of an orchestra. It‘s a
fairly modern instrument,
What are your favourite musicians or composers, who are you influenced by?
Generally, my phrasing, timing, melody-building and intonation was probably more influenced by non-piano players – guitarists such as John McLaughlin, Jimi Hendrix, Fred Frith, Robert Fripp, Eric Clapton or Allan Holdsworth (great for his voicings!); saxophonist like Evan Parker, John Coltrane, John Zorn, John Surman; singers like Annette Peacock, Julie Tippetts, Norma Winstone, Lauren Newton; drummers like Paul Motian, Bill Bruford, Peter Erskine; bassists like Dave Holland, Mark Dresser, Charlie Haden, Gary Peacock; and trumpeters like Miles Davis, Dave Douglas or Kenny Wheeler.
Sharing my musical work between (classical) composition and (jazz) improvisation, and getting more and more involved in an area b e t w e e n the two realms (we might call it“comprovisation”), my sense of form, timbre, rhythm and harmony comes from the classical fields, especially from studying the music of composers likeBéla Bartók, John Cage, Györgi Kurtag, Henry Cowell, Erik Satie, Harry Partch, Benjamin Britten, Alban Berg, Charles Ives, Györgi Ligeti, Alfred Schnittke, Edison Denisov, Harrison Birtwistle, Heinz Holliger, Luciano Berio, Helmut Lachenmann, Wolfgang Rihm, Klaus Huber
But of course, I also have my favourite jazz pianists:
I also very much believe in the art of good song writing. I know that in some “hard-core” free improvising circles or at some festivals of new classical music, you‘d be stoned for saying this, but I freely admit that I enjoy very much listening to songs by the Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Cassandra Wilson, (early) Al Jarreau, Sting, The Police, Frank Zappa, Robert Wyatt, Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Susanne Vega, Pat Metheny, Steve Winwood, John Martyn, Paul Brady, Marie Brennan, Christy Moore, Bonzo Dog Band, Prefab Sprout, Bob Dylan, The Nits, Crowded House, Fay Lovsky, Zap Mama, Tom Waits, Steely Dan.
WJ : I think you are interested in a lot of music styles, you play new music, classical music, jazz music, ethnic music, improvised music in a true avantgarde way, also sometimes blending some music styles. How did you to do this ?
With all the different styles, what it boils down to is often just two kinds of music: interesting and boring. And of course there is always soooooo much to learn. For example, I don‘t know your Indonesian music traditions very well, and of course I would be very interested to learn about them. The only way to do this really is to travel, and I do hope to be able to come to Indonesia one day, present my music and in return learn about your various traditional and contemporary music styles, including jazz of course!
WJ : What concept or vision do you see in your music ?
This is a question difficult to answer for an aquarius swimming i n s i d e the aquarium, as it were... An outsider‘s view is probably more objective and accurate, less biassed. In other words: in my work as composer and pianist I am often not aware of how exactly this or that source of inspiration happens to float by, or if my vision follows some hidden agenda, some undiscovered paths. If it comes in the form of a poem by Seamus Heaney, or Paula Meehan, or Theo Dorgan (as in “Through the Ear of a Raindrop“/HeXtet with Julie Tippetts, Evan Parker, Chris Cutler, Paul Rutherford and Peter Whyman, Leo Records CD LR 254), then its Celtic roots seem pretty evident to my ears, and even more so, when I use ancient Celtic Country Dances from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the French Bretagne and the Spanish Galicia as a source of melodies for “Maulwürfe“ (lit. “Moles“), a set of educational piano pieces, not unlike the work Béla Bartók did for the Hungarian and Roumanian music. But I assume since my interest in contemporary archeology probes deep into the unconscious world, it probably manifests itself in more subtle forms, in ways I might not even be aware of myself.