JAN GARBAREK

Jan Garbarek was born on 4th March 1947 in Mysen, Norway; his parents had moved there from Poland. In an interview, Garbarek said, "My father couldn't teach me Polish. It's true that after a classical college education (where I learned Greek, Latin and other languages) I entered Oslo University to study the Polish language, but after only 3 weeks there I began a short tour with my musicians (I was already a jazzman) and never went back. Now here I am sitting with you."
Garbarek was the first Norwegian jazzman to achieve fame not only in Europe, but also in the USA. His name is now heard more often than some well-known American musicians. In Europe his name immediately evokes the instantly recognisable Garbarek style. He was one of the leading musicians in European jazz, but in the 70s and 80s he became undisputed leader. The pure, independent and serious tones of his saxophone are easily distinguished. Although he is closely associated with Norwegian folk music, he is open to new experience and he is well-known for his excursions into African and Asian music cultures.
The sources of my music? - The North and nature, song and mystery
He wasn't interested in music as a child, like the other small boys he played football with his friends and went skiing.

Jan Garbarek

But it is often said that one day can change one's whole life. It was one of those special days when he heard jazz on the radio on arriving home from school. Garbarek remembers that day this way: "I didn't know what it was, but the music I heard inspired me; there was a weekly programme on Norwegian radio called, 'Jazz Hour' and I caught the last track. I went straight out and bought some jazz records, but they disappointed me because they didn't sound the same as that track and I began a search to try to find it. When I found it I discovered that the musician was John Coltrane and I bought the album; the record was called 'Giant Steps' and the track that had shocked me into action was 'Countdown'." Garbarek was then 14 years old. He still recognises that moment as a sudden awakening, "Coltrane's tenor saxophone was the first sound to seriously draw me to the world of music. Now my main instrument is the very same tenor saxophone, although I play a small soprano in some concerts. Generally, a musician's relationship with his instrument is a very intimate one; do you know? these feelings can be at the level of love and hate. If everything is going well musically and the playing comes easily, life is like a blossoming garden; otherwise, everything is very difficult and hard." He took up the tenor saxophone immediately; before buying an instrument he learned finger placement and the principles of playing by heart. As soon as he laid hands on the instrument he was ready to play. "When I finally got that instrument, I was absolutely ready to play it - I was a very diligent boy!"
I have been waiting for this moment for a long time
Coltrane had made a decisive impression. The young saxophonist realised that Coltrane was interested in the work of Ravi Shankar so, by 1963 Garbarek had also broadened his scope of interest to include Indian music; listening to it opened doors to a world which he couldn't have imagined. He was learning from his master's example, exchange of impressions and harmonic progressions.
In 1965 the 18 year old took part in a jam session organised by American pianist and composer George Russell who then suggested they continue to work together. Among other things, Garbarek studied and learned Indian chromatic conceptions as suggested by Russell.

Jan Garbarek

He taught me a lot. I didn't know anything about music, but he trusted me…
Already by 1969, Garbarek had his own group which included the famous 'Big Norway' quartet - Garbarek himself, Terje Rypdal, Jon Christensen and Arild Andersen. A year later, Manfred Eicher invited the group to record on the ECM record label. ECMs second release was the "Afric Pepperbird" album. The album gave impetus to both Garbarek and his group. Aged 23, he had established his own style and was unafraid of moving a little further away from Coltrane's legacy. His group made unusual use for that time of electronic processing to affect its sound.
That was very natural music. And, this was simply the wishes of the time.

Jan Garbarek

In 1972 Garbarek released a solo album, called "Tryptikon" - he was seen then as a musical revolutionary. His trio differed a little from the group which had played with Albert Ayler in the mid 60s. As well as improvising around the themes, Garbarek was adding Norwegian folk music t his repertoire. Over time he worked with a number of famous musicians; he began to work with Keith Jarrett and their album 'My Song' achieved some fame. After its release a recording was made of the live premiere of the programme, 'Arbor Zena' at New York's Carnegie Hall, featuring Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Charlie Hayden and a symphonic orchestra. In a short while, rather than being invited, Garbarek was himself inviting famous musicians to play with him: Bill Frizzell, David Thorn, Manu Katche and Rainer Bruninghaus all played in his group.
I like having strong musicians with different temperaments but similar directions around me. When I form a group I don't try to find three people to fit in with me, we are always very different.
Garbarek was already famous but he was continually looking for his own place in music.
Jan Garbarek

The group he organised with Bobo Stenson soon became popular in Europe and played many concerts, but they were playing a more classical jazz than Garbarek wanted. He left the group and concentrated more on the musical heritage of his native land. He found a way to successfully combine the different musical cultures of Norway and India. He was one of the originators of the move to interpret his homeland's folk music in the language of jazz. When he began to research the roots of Norwegian folk he realised with some surprise that melodies developed thousands of years ago in regions far distant from Norway, such as Asia Minor and India, and their ancient song techniques which were still in use, had echoes in music which could be heard within a few kilometres of modern Oslo. Garbarek later began to work with Ralph Towner, in a period which may be summed up as minimalist co-operation. He was attracting admiration at this time for the thorough preparation that went into his solo playing; sometimes he would use only one note.
Greek composer, Eleni Karaindrou, heard "typical Balkan sounds" in Garbarek's music. Sitar player Shankar was surprised by the ease with which he, as a European musician, accommodated to the modality of Indian music. Czech Miroslav Vitous, remembering his distant Polish roots composed special Slavic melodies for their joint album.

Jan Garbarek

I can say that by chance I live in spiritual unity with people from all over the world.
Many people think that Garbarek's most successful folk album is the one with Agnes Buen Garnas, "Rosensfole". He says, "Folk music contains the common elements of all music because folk music is the root of all music cultures."
The thread of his music has mainly Turkish, Arabic and Eastern features. The relation established between Indian and Norwegian music via the cultures of Asia Minor and the Balkans really impresses me. I can hear the most exotic music in my own back yard.
Garbarek explains simply why his turn from jazz to his own style was so easy and natural. As he says, all music, from Louis Armstrong to Albert Ayler, comes from man's soul. "I have been working with representatives of North American folk culture (I mean the indigenous population of North America). I have co-operated with representatives of the folk music of South America, Africa, Australia and most of Europe."
He has played with the most individual musicians from the different continents of the world. As he is interested in ethnic cultures, he has included in his albums tracks played with Georgians, Estonians, Greeks, Indians and Pakistanis.
There is a lot of abstraction in modern jazz. The connection with musical roots has been lost. Listening to world folk is very important to me, but the folk music of Norway is especially important. Of course there are common threads in folk; I am not looking for its root in the Mississippi region but on the plains of Norway. The things I have found are examples of pure Norwegian folk music. I also want to stress that the root of this music and that established in Mississippi are the same.
Jan Garbarek was satisfied with discovering the roots of only his own music. Besides his work for ECM, he was involved in a number of different projects and gave free rein to his imagination. He composed music freely for many films, TV and radio programmes and theatre productions, making full use of electronics to aid his creativity. His work reveals his familiarity with classical composers of different styles: Beethoven, Chopin, Sibelius, Grieg, Lutoslawski and Takemitsu. Garbarek is pre-eminent in his acceptance and feeling for music of all kinds. In truth, jazz wasn't his sole preoccupation; simply, jazz taught him to improvise.

Jan Garbarek

I began from Coltrane's work on 'Countdown'; here there were so many notes. I could copy it but later I had to 'water' my own music - can you understand me? I followed this process in order to thoroughly understand the elements and construction of the music; the process was in some ways an empty one but it did, at least, leave me with something of my own to work on.
Garbarek could always put his own mark on his music and achieve success; the last of these projects was, 'Officium'. In this project, which focused on medieval, religious, ceremonial music with the Hilliard Ensemble vocal quartet, the saxophone was the fifth voice.
"Listeners who aren't blind adherents of either jazz or medieval religious music will recognise that the fusion of the two styles produces something quite new. Most of my work has been with musicians from different musical cultures and this was similar, it's just that the music came from different eras. This is one of the most successful recordings I have been involved with."
One of the best received of his ECM projects, it was included in album of the year lists in categories as diverse as: Jazz, Classical, Independent and even Pop music. Even the fact that the musicians have been invited to perform many times by the Catholic church speaks volumes. The album became one of those rare art works which defy classification.
Later, the 'Officium' project was continued, but Garbarek himself, not content to rest on his laurels, has continued his own creative direction.
When I am in a good mood I think we have done things that have never been done before - before us they simply didn't exist; we have brought them to life…