Joëlle Léandre Interview
During our Skype interview, master Joëlle talked eloquently just like her music. Her answers went far beyond my questions. In this short interview, she focuses on the entity of improvised music and shares her values of the life.
How do you define improvisation music?
Improvisation is totally an ‘instrumental gesture’ andpart of your body. All music goes inside to your body when you play. I don’t want to trigger a war between composers and improvisers. In my personal opinion, I am composing while I am improvising. I compose commissioned pieces too. It is composed music but for improvising musician because I deeply, honestly believe that there should not be only one person with a pen and paper to be on the top of the hierarchy. And the musicians ask “what do you mean?” I hate this.
Is music improvisation a contemporary concept or you think it has a long history in the Western music?
The concept of ‘improvisation’ has come all the time in any climate, culture and people. Derek Bailey, an important British guitarist, says ‘improvisation is totally natural music.’ In improvisation music, all musicians become ‘instruments’, or we could call it instrumental music rather than composed music.
And what’s the difference between improvised music and composed music?
Composed music is only one person who assigns everything, knows everything, composes everything…etc. Hence, musicians are equipment, and I am tired of it. I was trained as a classical bassist. I played wonderful music by Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart…etc. under great conductors like Bernstein, Dorati and the others.The experience is good but like ‘necropsy’ to me because all the composers have passed away even I play Bartok or Stravinsky. And it was enough for me, and I left symphony orchestra. Comparing to the classical repertoire, I tend to focus more on the concept of ‘contemporaneity’. In the past century, instrumentalists began to improvise. Music improvisation became prominent not only because jazz music arrives. If we look back to the music history, musicians like Bach, Chopin, Liszt were also improvising with their instruments. It was not an accident. I have met so many wonderful and creative musicians in the past 40 years in Canada, US, Norway, Asia…. So why only ONE PERSON is allowed to be creative because everything is composed by him/her? It is an old-fashioned idea to me. We are now in the 21st century, why do we still matter whether the music is composed or improvised? To me, good music exists if musicians can know their instruments well. The more you understand your instrument, the more you can express. It just like culture, imagine that, can you talk about literature, poetry, politics without knowing anything? This is how we improvise. It is a conversation but an instrumental one. It is interesting and very risky! My partner and I are just like on a rope between two mountains and we have to find a balance with and for each other. We are between life and death. It is very easy for us to fall down, hence we must be concentrate on being a performer, an improviser, and a composer. This tripartite role is very fantastic and risky while playing. Some people need to classify music as jazz, rock, classical and so on. But we don’t care! We just make music together. Others need a position to know whether it is jazz or something else. We don’t need it. What we care is ‘expression’ to our partner and our audiences. They need to be touched, provoked or disturbed. Our music goes up and down just like our life. It is complicated. We talk about our inside.
Will you be surprised by yourself when you just played something fantastic without any idea in advance?
It happened every now and then because emptiness is very important. When you play with a partner or in a trio, we don’t know where do our fingers go. Having too many thoughts is not good for improvising. Just focusing on the sound played by you and your partner. That’s all.
You have released a significant number of recordings. What is your opinion on your CDs?
Since my first CD published 40 years ago, I have done more than 180 CDs. I think if the music is good, then it should be released. If you go into my discography, you will find most of my recordings are in dual, trio or quartet arrangement. Improvisation is intimate like chamber music. We have to listen to our partner, otherwise, we will make cacophony because human beings are too eager to express their egos. Everyone wants to be the best. But at least for me, music is more important than musicians. I have played so many concerts, and we can’t go back when improvising. You can revise again and again during composing. But improvisation exists in time, here and now. That’s why I talked about ‘emptiness.’ We just like babies talking about love, humanity, and anything else in this world. We don’t care who plays what instrument well. We care how can we touch our audience, how can we change someone’s life through music. It is our responsibility on the stage. The world is so complicated. It is impossible for us to be blind to these and just present a concert, release CDs, do interviews and pretend life is beautiful. Life is tough and terrible like a war but fantastic to live!
You have played with musicians from various backgrounds in different regionsof the world. Do you find any difference?
I think it is basically the same. In November 2017, I played in Taiwan with very good and young Taiwanese musicians. We experimented together, listened to each other’s sound. It is quite the same for me to play with Taiwanese musicians and Norwegian musicians. I will just focus on the ‘conversation’ process. For example, is it possible for three people drinking coffee at the same table but totally talking about different themes? When we improvise, we listen quickly and respond immediately. We can do the same thing anywhere. The important thing is musicrather than something else.
You also perform solo improvisation. What’s the difference between playing with someone else and playing along?
I will do some memos or signs beforehand and organize a frame. I like to play solo improvisation, but I prefer to play with some other musicians and make a dialogue between us.
What’s your general comment, impression or anything else to Taiwan and Taiwan International Improvised Music Festival?
It was a very good festival. I know how difficult to run a music festival like this, but the team did a great job. It is also important to audiences in Taiwan to listen to something new. When I played in Taipei, I noticed that there were so many young people in the auditorium. It is good because music should be not for wealthy people only. This is very important. And I would like to play with some Taiwanese traditional instruments in my next concert in Taiwan. It will definitely be fantastic. And I am surprised by Taiwanese audience in comparison to my experience from Japan. In Taiwan, audiences laugh all the time, yet Japanese audiences tend to be serious. The atmosphere in Taiwan was so enjoyable.