This article is copyright 2010 by Antonio J. García and originally was published in the International Trombone Association Journal, Vol. 39, No. 2, April 2011. It is used by permission of the author and, as needed, the publication. Some text variations may occur between the print version and that below. All international rights remain reserved; it is not for further reproduction without written consent.
Ilja Reijngoud: Playing Poetry
by Antonio J. García
Associate Jazz Editor, ITA Journal
He is the jazz trombonist/composer whose name you’ve most likely never pronounced correctly. Ilja Reijngoud “Eel-ya Rine-g-out” was born in 1972 in The Netherlands and first came to international attention as winner of the Thelonious Monk Award 2003, Deloitte Stimulus Award 2003, and Singer Laren Jazz Award 2004.
He’d graduated cum laude at the Hilversum Conservatory in 1996 and later taught the trombone there. In 1997 he became the second Dutch student to receive an American “Master of Music” degree. In 1998 he united with his former teacher, Bart van Lier, to found the trombone department at the Rotterdam Conservatory. He is also the main teacher at the Utrecht Conservatory. He has taught workshops around the world; and Warwick Music (England) publishes most of his compositions and arrangements.
Besides leading his own groups Ilja is a member of many ensembles including Nueva Manteca, The Dutch Jazz Orchestra, The Houdini’s, and The Cubop City Big Band. He has worked with such artists as Pat Metheny, Maria Schneider, Bob Brookmeyer, Bill Holman, Toots Thielemans, Philip Catherine, Clark Terry, George Coleman, Kenny Werner, Monty Alexander, Dori Caymmi, Michael Davis, Vince Mendoza, Jim Beard, Bill Reichenbach, Ed Neumeister, Lester Bowie, Tom Harrell, David Liebman, and John Scofield. When jazz legend Wayne Shorter first heard Ijla in 2003 at the Monk Competition, he said: “We need more people like you in modern jazz.”
I interviewed Ilja in October 2010. I learned thereafter that his name will appear on the 2011 ballot for the ITA Board of Advisors.
García: You have phenomenal technique and are marvellously expressive in your improvisations. Though any summary of a lifetime of study and effort is inadequate, please share with us a thumbnail as to how you developed your trombone style, both technically and expressively.
Reijngoud: First, I tried to forget the idea that trombone-playing is difficult.
You know, when I started playing the trombone as a ten-year-old kid, I already
played a bit of piano and treble flute. Both instruments are easy to start with
in your “musical career”: they sound actually rather good when you are young
and you’ve just started. But starting up playing the trombone can be tough. It
just doesn’t sound nice to begin with. And handling the slide can be a problem
for young kids. But I just wanted to play on trombone the music that I used to
play on the piano and flute. Obviously it was harder on the trombone, but I
tried to play Vivaldi and Telemann on my trombone the way I used to play it on
the other instruments.
Later on, during my study at the conservatory, I somehow did the same. I transcribed solos of jazz guitar and saxophone players, and I tried to copy and imitate those fast solos with bigger intervals and arpeggios than we are used to playing on the trombone. Technical books and the warm-up exercises of Remington and Slokar helped me with this, and of course the coaching of my former teacher, Bart van Lier. As for the expression: I think it’s the same procedure. Copying Charlie Parker and Freddie Hubbard helped me develop a certain energy in my playing.
AG: Your 2002 CD, NEW ARRIVAL, successfully blends a variety of styles: swing, bop, ballad, blues, and funk. Though you groove terrifically in all, I’d say your funk style in particular (if you term it that) separates you from many in the trombone pack. What concepts do you keep in mind when soloing or composing in this idiom?
Across the Pond
AG: You’re only the second Dutch student to receive a Master of Music degree from an American school. Do you feel the American and European approaches to jazz education are now more similar, or are there significant differences even today?
IR: Actually, I didn’t study in the States, although
I visited America a couple of times to play and teach there. I got a Masters
degree in Holland, after I graduated Cum Laude. I then received the degree from
an American committee one year after my Dutch graduation.
For over fourteen years I’ve been teaching at Rotterdam Conservatory: jazz trombone, arranging, coaching bands, and leading the big band. As a matter of fact, several times I attended the International Association for Jazz Education conference. And a few American trombone players had been clinicians in Rotterdam, such as Conrad Herwig, Michael Davis, Bill Reichenbach, and Steve Turre. So I had experienced a bit of the American approach to teaching.
What I saw was that everybody was talking about the same principles of trombone playing: air and sound. Sure, everybody has their own way of looking at it; but in general the basic approach is the same. The clinicians from the States used more jazz-related scale-exercises, sometimes more what we call “licks.” And, for instance, Steve Turre showed us how to play in different styles: from New Orleans to hard bop and Latin jazz. In Europe the jazz trombone teachers have their roots still a bit in classical music; so their approach of exercises are related to the classical technique books. But in the end, there is no big difference between the American and European approach today.
I’ve played with various trombonists from the States, such as Ed Neumeister, Bill Reichenbach, and David Taylor; and according to my experience there is no difference in the level of playing across countries, either.
The Early Years
AG: Who were your primary influences in your youth on your trombone-playing, jazz and otherwise?
IR: Before I started studying the trombone I heard
an old record of my parents: 21 TROMBONES, featuring Urbie Green. The sound of
this big ensemble was overwhelming, in combination with Urbie’s beautiful tone.
So from the moment I took up the instrument, I had this warm, rich sound in my
head. I still don’t sound like Urbie, but it’s good to have this blueprint in
the back of your head.
And as a coincidence my parents had a recording with Jimmy Cleveland on it. I think this guy is underestimated. His solos are so full of energy: smart, controlled, pure jazz. You can hear the past, the roots of rhythm. Later on I was blown away by Frank Rosolino and Conrad Herwig.
I guess the combination of those four trombonists somehow formed my idea of how the instrument could sound in jazz. As for classical players, I always loved the sound of Michel Becquet: this light, French style suits the jazz player very well.
AG: Your 2007 CD, UNTAMED WORLD, captures your writing for jazz trombone ensembles, a wonderful idiom that more trombonists should explore and enjoy. And I see that Warwick Music publishes those charts. I’m sure it was a joy writing for and performing with your friends for the recording, but did you find any particular challenges or delights associated with composing for a jazz trombone ensemble?
IR: Writing for larger trombone ensemble is maybe
the easiest of my composing and arranging assignments because I know the
instrument and its limitations so well. And trombones sound great together,
unlike most other wind instruments. I already mentioned this fantastic group of
twenty-one trombones with Urbie Green. As far as I know they made two records;
and the sound of that group varies from a warm, symphonic sound to groovy,
bright sounds with a bite.
For my CD UNTAMED WORLD I somehow tried to avoid writing music for only trombone fans. So the tutti parts are as important as the various improvisations, including piano and guitar solos. In fact, this CD is a recording of my quartet plus seven trombones. The only big challenge is maybe to cope with the limitations of the trombone: it’s mainly a slower instrument than the saxophone; and it doesn’t have an exciting high register, like trumpet or alto saxophone.
Composing for classical trombone ensemble, though, is more challenging in my perspective. I wrote a few pieces for The New Trombone Collective and for similar groups in Germany, but the absence of a rhythm section is a big struggle for me. And in general the classical musicians are not used to improvising. So you have to compose every single note from the beginning until the very end. Still, I like writing for trombones the most.
Text & Context
AG: Your 2008 CD, THE SHAKESPEARE ALBUM, features vocalist Fay Claassen performing with you and your quartet in a live performance of your settings of Shakespeare sonnets—and two Oscar Wilde poems. To my ear, it’s a very striking sound at the opening of the set, when the listener first hears the very bluesy shaping of Sonnet 32. It immediately lets me know that I’m in for a fresh experience blending older text with modern musical flavors. What inspired you to do this project?
IR: I always wanted to put nice poems to music. In
many jazz songs the lyrics are sweet, light; and I was looking for strong text
with important meaning. I was inspired by poems of Stephen Spender, W. H.
Auden, Oscar Wilde, Baudelaire, a French poet, and more. But in the end it
turned out to be that the sonnets by Shakespeare were so full of power, interesting
rhyme, beautiful language; and somehow it was easy to put it to music.
My mother was English teacher all her life, and she always encouraged me to do “something” with the text of Shakespeare. I knew Fay; and I hoped she would dare to perform those old, almost sacred, lyrics. It had to be a jazzy approach of the poems, with enough space to improvise: that was clear from the start.
AG: Did you stick with your initial concept for each of the texts you chose, or did you revamp some wholly along the way?
IR: Every sonnet has the same rhythm and number of sentences; so the difficulty was to write eight unique songs. Therefore I focused on the meaning of several sonnets and repeated the text over and over again until I found a specific way to put the sonnet to music. Some sonnets are dark, bitter, or romantic. I tried to capture that mood and find a melody line that matched with the meaning of the specific poem.
AG: This seems to be your first major project linking text and music. Did you find particular ease or challenges in the coupling?
IR: In fact it was easy to do it because I love the poems that much—and because I knew Fay and my group pretty well. I had a very strong idea about how I would perform the sonnets in the first place. My quartet usually plays festivals; we spread a lot of energy; we share the same humor and taste (both musical and gastronomic). In other words, we have a lot of fun on stage. Performing the sonnets shouldn’t change that energy. So the music is still happening: nice grooves, nice solos, and enough room for the vocalist to produce all those “Thou arts” and “Thou didst forsake mes.”
AG: How important has your writing been to your playing—and vice-versa?
IR: Writing music is something else than
improvising on stage. I really like the combination of the two. When writing
music you can take your time producing lines, think about the effect of your
choice of notes, decide where to go and what to do. Improvising is right there,
on the spot, creating new music. Sure, improvisations are most of the time
based on harmonies that you already know, but it’s another way of creating
music. It’s Zen, here and now, playing together, creating music with the help
of other musicians, or with the acoustics of a certain hall.
The fact that I am used to writing music helps me a lot in those situations on stage. It’s easier now for me to make decisions to benefit the group sound and the whole composition, rather than focusing too much on an individual solo: to prevent being carried away by the moment, instead of paying attention to the whole composition.
AG: I see that you’ve kept a core of rhythm-section musicians that you enjoy working with. Have you found it challenging to keep a band together in today’s world and economy?
IR: I have to say that the effects of the economic crisis have influenced the cultural situation in The Netherlands. It’s harder to keep bands playing than it used to be. But at the same time, people need music and fun in times of misfortune; so I think there will be work for us, anyhow. To make a living as a performing artist is maybe a bigger challenge nowadays. Luckily I am playing in over ten bands, subbing in the Metropole Orchestra, and writing music. And the good thing about my own quartet is that I can call them as soon as I have a concert to do, and we can perform the music of any project without rehearsing. We have had enough experience as group by now that we can survive the hard times without losing contact. It’s like family: we always stick together somehow.
Mutes & Rigs
AG: When you perform in general, mutes seem to be an important part of your voice. That’s not as true for all players. Is there anything you can share about the choices you make?
IR: The choice for mutes is made by the fact that I
actually want to imitate guitar players. And working with vocalists implies
that I have to change or sometimes soften my tone. I often use this Humes and
Berg Mic-a-Mute. It’s a cup mute with felt inside. It gives a warm but smaller
sound. A funny one is the Mel-O-Wah (Ray Robinson). It’s like you play through
an old radio. I also play the old plunger.
I love to play funk and jazz-rock-related music with my group. And somehow in my view the natural sound of the trombone is too much related to the jazz music of the fifties. So I sometimes need to change that straight-ahead sound. Besides mutes I’m using now the original Jimi Hendrix Cry Baby, a nice Wah-Wah pedal. I combine that with my Line6 MM4 Modeler, with various phasers and choruses, and with a thing called Whammy: the effect is amazing. The trombone really sounds like a guitar, with all the bends and glissandi. At least I like it!
AG: What equipment are you playing on these days?
IR: I play Kühnl & Hoyer trombones exclusively:
model Bart van Lier 480/88. I’ve played this instrument for the last sixteen
years, and I really love the clear sound and the clean flexibilities. The
instrument fits in all kinds of styles, including classical music. It’s a
small-bore instrument; but it has a rich and full sound, with lots of
overtones. It sounds mature, but at the same time it’s easy to play.
I don’t change mouthpieces often. Some players can switch easily from one mouthpiece to another. I find it hard to do that. So I stick with a Vincent Bach 7C mouthpiece, sometimes the Kühnl & Hoyer/Bart van Lier mouthpiece. Other mouthpieces with similar rim and cup didn’t appeal to me.
The Scene and The Future
AG: We’re an international association and journal, and our non-European members could benefit from your assessment of the jazz scene beyond North America. Would you like to share with us the names of some jazz musicians—trombone and otherwise—that we should be checking out? Perhaps some that are well established and some that are perhaps newer to the scene or up-and-coming?
IR: One of our leading trombone players is Bart van
Lier. No further introduction is needed. I owe him very much. He inspired me to
play the trombone, helped in any way he could. We formed a band together and teach
together at the same conservatory. He is a great friend and a true artist.
Another fine trombone player is my former student, Louk Boudesteijn. Check him out on YouTube: he is a nice soloist.
Trumpet player Rik Mol is maybe the most impressive young talent that is playing at this moment. We play together in Nueva Manteca, a famous Latin-jazz group. He is working on an impressive career right now in The Netherlands and Germany.
Trumpet players Martijn de Laat and Wim Both; saxophone players Tom Beek, Tineke Postma, and Joris Roelofs; guitar players Jesse van Ruller and Martijn van Iterson; and pianist Rob van Bavel are incredible musicians. They will determine the future of jazz in Europe for the coming years.
AG: What advice do you have for trombonists who seek a jazz-related career?
IR: Work hard; be inspired; go deep into the
material; imitate your heroes; transcribe solos; and go to sessions and to
concerts. And most of all, work hard on the instrument. Jazz musicians nowadays
have to play at the same technical level as classical players. Our music is
very demanding. Composers like Maria Schneider and Bob Brookmeyer write music
on a par with classical music’s performance techniques.
And besides the technical skills that you have to develop, you have to take improvisation really seriously. Improvisation is not a big secret—I think everybody can learn to improvise one way or the other—but it is not an easy thing to do. You have to know a lot about harmonies; interval-structures; rhythm; all styles in jazz, Latin-jazz, and jazz-rock; and more.
I have the feeling that jazz music and jazz musicians will be glue between all kinds of music, from classical to world music. It’s because we can handle the instrument in the right way—and that we both read and improvise. And most of the times we can write our own music or arrange the music of other people.
So despite the fact that it can be hard to make a living as a freelance jazz musician nowadays, it’s the most rewarding way to express yourself. It’s the best choice that I made when I was a kid, anyway.
AG: What’s next for you?
IR: I’m working on a very nice new project with a
young vocalist named Elizabeth Simonian. Born on the island of Cyprus to a
Swedish mother and Armenian father, Elizabeth found her way to Holland to study
music. The project is called Around the World.
It’s built around the sphere of Scandinavian and Mediterranean jazz and includes
traditionals, originals by some jazz musicians, and new compositions by
Elizabeth and me.
It’s great to work with this group; it takes me to another direction in music: more world music rather than jazz. I’m also doing a lot of writing for several groups, including The Metropole Orchestra and Ben van Dijk. And I’m playing with some bands as a sideman, such as Nueva Manteca, Cubop City Big Band, and The Houdini’s. In the next year I will play with a Italian quartet featuring Emanuele Cisi, traveling Italy.
AS A LEADER:
THE SHAKESPEARE ALBUM (Aliud Records), 2009
UNTAMED WORLD (Maxanter Music), 2008
LIVE IN AMSTERDAM, DVD, (Munich Records), 2005
NEW ARRIVAL (Munich Records), 2003
AS A CO-LEADER:
MEMORIES OF THE FUTURE, Bart van Lier/Ilja Reijngoud Quintet (Munich Records), 2003
NEMESIS, Nemesis Quartet (Challenge A-Records), 1996
CHASIN’ THE GENERAL, The Houdini’s, (Munich Records), 2003
PORTRAIT OF A SILK THREAD, Dutch Jazz Orchestra, (Challenge Records), 1995
ARSENIO, Cubop City Big Band, (Tam Tam Records), 2002
STRANGE FRUIT, Trijntje Oosterhuis and The Houdini’s, (Blue Note), 2004
REVOLUTIONS, Jim Beard, (Intuition Music), 2008
MUSIC FOR STRING QUARTET AND ORCHESTRA, Bob Brookmeyer (Challenge Records), 2008
A GOOD THING, Gino Vannelli (CMM), 2008
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Antonio J. García is a Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he directs the Jazz Orchestra I; instructs Applied Jazz Trombone, Small Jazz Ensemble, Music Industry, and various jazz courses; founded a B.A. Music Business Emphasis (for which he initially served as Coordinator); and directs the Greater Richmond High School Jazz Band. An alumnus of the Eastman School of Music and of Loyola University of the South, he has received commissions for jazz, symphonic, chamber, film, and solo works—instrumental and vocal—including grants from Meet The Composer, The Commission Project, The Thelonious Monk Institute, and regional arts councils. His music has aired internationally and has been performed by such artists as Sheila Jordan, Arturo Sandoval, Jim Pugh, Denis DiBlasio, James Moody, and Nick Brignola. Composition/arrangement honors include IAJE (jazz band), ASCAP (orchestral), and Billboard Magazine (pop songwriting). His works have been published by Kjos Music, Hal Leonard, Kendor Music, Doug Beach Music, ejazzlines, Walrus, UNC Jazz Press, Three-Two Music Publications, and his own garciamusic.com, with five recorded on CDs by Rob Parton’s JazzTech Big Band (Sea Breeze and ROPA JAZZ). His scores for independent films have screened across the U.S. and in Italy, Macedonia, Uganda, Australia, Colombia, India, Germany, Brazil, Hong Kong, Mexico, Israel, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.
A Bach/Selmer trombone clinician, Mr. García serves as the jazz clinician for The Conn-Selmer Institute. He has freelanced as trombonist, bass trombonist, or pianist with over 70 nationally renowned artists, including Ella Fitzgerald, George Shearing, Mel Tormé, Doc Severinsen, Louie Bellson, Dave Brubeck, and Phil Collins—and has performed at the Montreux, Nice, North Sea, Pori (Finland), New Orleans, and Chicago Jazz Festivals. He has produced recordings or broadcasts of such artists as Wynton Marsalis, Jim Pugh, Dave Taylor, Susannah McCorkle, Sir Roland Hanna, and the JazzTech Big Band and is the bass trombonist on Phil Collins’ CD “A Hot Night in Paris” (Atlantic) and DVD “Phil Collins: Finally...The First Farewell Tour” (Warner Music). An avid scat-singer, he has performed vocally with jazz bands, jazz choirs, and computer-generated sounds. He is also a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS). A New Orleans native, he also performed there with such local artists as Pete Fountain, Ronnie Kole, Irma Thomas, and Al Hirt.
Mr. García is a Research Faculty member at The University of KwaZulu-Natal (Durban, South Africa) and the Associate Jazz Editor of the International Trombone Association Journal. He serves as a Network Expert (for Improvisation Materials) for the Jazz Education Network and has served as President’s Advisory Council member and Editorial Advisory Board member. His newest book, Jazz Improvisation: Practical Approaches to Grading (Meredith Music), explores avenues for creating structures that correspond to course objectives. His book Cutting the Changes: Jazz Improvisation via Key Centers (Kjos Music) offers musicians of all ages the opportunity to improvise over standard tunes using just their major scales. He is Co-Editor and Contributing Author of Teaching Jazz: A Course of Study (published by NAfME) and authored a chapter within The Jazzer’s Cookbook (published by Meredith Music). Within the International Association for Jazz Education he served as Editor of the Jazz Education Journal, President of IAJE-IL, International Co-Chair for Curriculum and for Vocal/Instrumental Integration, and Chicago Host Coordinator for the 1997 Conference. He served on the Illinois Coalition for Music Education coordinating committee, worked with the Illinois and Chicago Public Schools to develop standards for multi-cultural music education, and received a curricular grant from the Council for Basic Education. He has also served as Director of IMEA’s All-State Jazz Choir and Combo and of similar ensembles outside of Illinois. He is the recipient of the Illinois Music Educators Association’s 2001 Distinguished Service Award.
Regarding Jazz Improvisation: Practical Approaches to Grading, Darius Brubeck says, "How one grades turns out to be a contentious philosophical problem with a surprisingly wide spectrum of responses. García has produced a lucidly written, probing, analytical, and ultimately practical resource for professional jazz educators, replete with valuable ideas, advice, and copious references." Jamey Aebersold offers, "This book should be mandatory reading for all graduating music ed students." Janis Stockhouse states, "Groundbreaking. The comprehensive amount of material García has gathered from leaders in jazz education is impressive in itself. Plus, the veteran educator then presents his own synthesis of the material into a method of teaching and evaluating jazz improvisation that is fresh, practical, and inspiring!" And Dr. Ron McCurdy suggests, "This method will aid in the quality of teaching and learning of jazz improvisation worldwide."
About Cutting the Changes, saxophonist David Liebman states, “This book is perfect for the beginning to intermediate improviser who may be daunted by the multitude of chord changes found in most standard material. Here is a path through the technical chord-change jungle.” Says vocalist Sunny Wilkinson, “The concept is simple, the explanation detailed, the rewards immediate. It’s very singer-friendly.” Adds jazz-education legend Jamey Aebersold, “Tony’s wealth of jazz knowledge allows you to understand and apply his concepts without having to know a lot of theory and harmony. Cutting the Changes allows music educators to present jazz improvisation to many students who would normally be scared of trying.”
Of his jazz curricular work, Standard of Excellence states: “Antonio García has developed a series of Scope and Sequence of Instruction charts to provide a structure that will ensure academic integrity in jazz education.” Wynton Marsalis emphasizes: “Eight key categories meet the challenge of teaching what is historically an oral and aural tradition. All are important ingredients in the recipe.” The Chicago Tribune has highlighted García’s “splendid solos...virtuosity and musicianship...ingenious scoring...shrewd arrangements...exotic orchestral colors, witty riffs, and gloriously uninhibited splashes of dissonance...translucent textures and elegant voicing” and cited him as “a nationally noted jazz artist/educator...one of the most prominent young music educators in the country.” Down Beat has recognized his “knowing solo work on trombone” and “first-class writing of special interest.” The Jazz Report has written about the “talented trombonist,” and Cadence noted his “hauntingly lovely” composing as well as CD production “recommended without any qualifications whatsoever.” Phil Collins has said simply, “He can be in my band whenever he wants.” García is also the subject of an extensive interview within Bonanza: Insights and Wisdom from Professional Jazz Trombonists (Advance Music), profiled along with such artists as Bill Watrous, Mike Davis, Bill Reichenbach, Wayne Andre, John Fedchock, Conrad Herwig, Steve Turre, Jim Pugh, and Ed Neumeister.
The Secretary of the Board of The Midwest Clinic, Mr. García has adjudicated festivals and presented clinics in Canada, Europe, Australia, The Middle East, and South Africa, including creativity workshops for Motorola, Inc.’s international management executives. The partnership he created between VCU Jazz and the Centre for Jazz and Popular Music at the University of KwaZulu-Natal merited the 2013 VCU Community Engagement Award for Research. He has served as adjudicator for the International Trombone Association’s Frank Rosolino, Carl Fontana, and Rath Jazz Trombone Scholarship competitions and the Kai Winding Jazz Trombone Ensemble competition and has been asked to serve on Arts Midwest’s “Midwest Jazz Masters” panel and the Virginia Commission for the Arts “Artist Fellowship in Music Composition” panel. He has been repeatedly published in Down Beat; JAZZed; Jazz Improv; Music, Inc.; The International Musician; The Instrumentalist; and the journals of NAfME, IAJE, ITA, American Orff-Schulwerk Association, Percussive Arts Society, Arts Midwest, Illinois Music Educators Association, and Illinois Association of School Boards. Previous to VCU, he served as Associate Professor and Coordinator of Combos at Northwestern University, where he taught jazz and integrated arts, was Jazz Coordinator for the National High School Music Institute, and for four years directed the Vocal Jazz Ensemble. Formerly the Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Northern Illinois University, he was selected by students and faculty there as the recipient of a 1992 “Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching” award and nominated as its candidate for 1992 CASE “U.S. Professor of the Year” (one of 434 nationwide). He was recipient of the VCU School of the Arts’ 2015 Faculty Award of Excellence for his teaching, research, and service. Visit his web site at <www.garciamusic.com>.
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