www.WartaJazz.com, Indonesia
April 2001

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
Double Citizenship: the Republic of Ireland and Switzerland (two passports)

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 the odd Irish folk song in the usually very sentimental arrangements of that time).
My father Hans Wolf was a very good amateur pianist. My uncle Karl-Ulrich Wolf was a composer, pianist and designated director of the Stockholm Conservatory, Sweden, but died prematurely at the age of 36 in 1957. My brother Peter Wolf was founding member of the famous art-rock group «Flame Dream» (from 1976 to 1986 they recorded 6 LPs on Vertigo/Polygram), and my wife Béatrice Wolf is a classical pianist (she studies with Werner Bärtschi, Zürich) and director of the music school of the lake district Weggis/Vitznau/Greppen.

WJ : How about your music background and music studied?

Musical education:
1954: born in Dundrum, Dublin, Ireland
1961: family moves permanently to Central Switzerland
1961-67: primary school in Weggis
1965: starts piano lessons with Heidy Harry in Lucerne
1967-74: high school in Lucerne
1971: continues piano lessons with Eva Serman, Lucerne
1974: “Maturity“ (leaving certificate) in socio-economics
1975-1979: University of Fribourg, Switzerland – Musicology (Prof. Luigi Fernando Tagliavini), German Literature and Linguistics (Prof. Peter-Horst Neumann)
and Film (Prof. Stephan Portmann)

1975-1979: Swiss Jazz School Berne (Axel Jungbluth, Piano and Theory)
1977-1980: Summer classes at the RIAM (Royal Irish Academy of Music) Dublin with James Wilson (composition) and choral conducting
1979: writes his first music for theatre (more than 40 will follow in the next 20 years)
for the «Théâtre au Stalden», Fribourg
1983: Creative Music Studio (CMS), Woodstock/New York, USA – jazz workshops & clinics with Karl Berger, Carla Bley, Paolo Moura, Nana Vasconcelos, Marilyn Crispell, Ola Tunji, Steve Gorn, David Cherry a. o.
1979 - 1984: Conservatory of Music, Lucerne – classical education with Hungarian professor Eva Serman (piano), Peter Benary (harmony & counterpoint) –
piano diploma in 1985
1979 - 1983: ZEBU, Lucerne: expression dance with Kurt Dreyer
1985-1987: Musikhochschule, Lucerne – belcanto singing (Walter Meier), rhythmic dance, conducting (Alois Koch, Hans Zihlmann), church organ (Monika Henking), choir singing. 1987: diploma in school music

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,
only 300 years ago invented by Italian Bartolomeo Cristobaldi around 1700, so
there is plenty to discover!!! But of course there‘s also a simple reason: there was
a piano in my home, because my mother was a singer, my father was a good amateur pianist and my uncle was a famous composer and pianist.
And let‘s not forget the pipe organ, a very ancient instruments already invented by the Greeks some 2000 years ago (the “Hydraulis“), as you can hear
in my recordings “pipelines“ (2000) and “OrganIC VoICes“ (1994).

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:
Bill Evans, John Taylor, Gordon Beck, (early) McCoy Tyner, Keith Tippett, Keith Jarrett, Carla Bley, Gil Evans (the latter two also as composer/arranger).

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.

Interviewer: Ajie Wartono, Indonesia

back to top of page



CH-6353 Weggis