SJM editor Charlie Anderson spoke with award winning Norwegian pianist, composer and teacher Vigleik Storaas ahead of his appearance with the legendary John Surman at this year’s Brighton Festival.
You’ve obviously known John Surman for a long time, you’ve been playing together since the mid-1990s in the Nordic Quartet.
“Yes, I think the Nordic Quartet album was recorded in 1994 and released in 1995.”
So, how did you first get to know him?
“It must have been through Karin Krog because I worked with her before I started working with John. And I also worked a lot with Karin. The first time I started working with John was with Karin and then a Norwegian trio that we put together for a tour. That was the first time we played together. After that they started the Nordic Quartet with Terje Rypdal and myself.”
“We have played together on different constellations after that but in the last decade or so we have started to work more as a duo. And various gigs with John as a duo.”
For the upcoming gig at Brighton Festival, do you know what sort of material you’ll be playing?
“That would be a mix of tunes written by me and tunes by John. And we have played a lot of gigs together, and we have sorted out a programme of regular tunes but also more free things that we play in between, it will be an integral part of the programme. And also John plays, sometimes, different instruments, small flutes and stuff so that we can get a varied sound.”
Tell us about some of the other things that you do, you still have your piano trio?
“We play from time to time. We’ve done five albums together. Also I play in a quintet with bassist Bjørn Alterhaug and several other bands. One is called Hegge which received the Spellemannsprisen (Norwegian Grammy) just a few months ago and I’m playing gigs with them as well so I’m quite busy.”
You also do a lot of teaching work as well?
“Yes, I work at the Musikkonservatorium at Trondheim. We’re actually having a youth jazz programme this week and there are people coming from the UK too. So there are lots of things happening at the school.”
It’s quite a well-known conservatory in terms of having well-known jazz alumni (e.g. Nils Petter Molvaer, Thomas Stronen etc.) and Trondheim is a great city for music.
“Yes, that’s true, there’s a lot of things happening. There’s a big festival coming up, Stiftelsen Trondheim Jazz Festival the same week as our gig in Brighton. I actually have a gig coming up with Daniel Humair, in a trio, just a few days after our gig in Brighton so that’s an exciting thing too.”
What’s your approach to teaching jazz?
“I would say that my approach is that I try to make it as close to the working situation of a touring musician as possible, or as close as you can get in a classroom. I’m talking about how people react to each other, the dynamics of the band play. So I try to get it as close to that as possible because they are young musicians and good musicians but they don’t have this experience of being on the road. Often they’ve played a lot by themselves but not so much with other people so I feel that it is necessary to get to know all of the dynamics of people playing together. I think that’s important and that’s my main aim when it comes to approaching this.”
Do you teach playing by ear and reading charts?
“Yes, it’s both types. Both things are important. Playing by ear is the main thing for a jazz musician especially in todays milieu, there are a lot of things written out for jazz musicians as well and they have to be good at sight reading as well as all the other skills. It will be required of them. They’re playing in big bands and bands of various types, such as small groups where it’s mostly improvising.”
How do you go about composing music?
“For me, I’ve done a lot of it so it isn’t a big issue anymore because I’m not sitting there waiting for some idea to pop up. I have the musical idea, the structure that makes it coherent in terms of which constellation used for. So I have a lot of material that’s never been used for anything. I pick it up and look at it if there’s a commission or something coming up. There might be musical ideas there that can be used for something different than what it was originally worked out for. So I always look at ways of using material in different settings. And because I have so much material it’s not a problem. It’s more having to work it out in a coherent way, that’s the big challenge for me as a composer. Ideas are popping up in my head all the time so I don’t have to worry about that.”
What do you have planned for the future?
“I have a commission coming up for a big band in Trondheim and several gigs with different bands over the summer. Of course, with the school, at the end of the semester there’s a lot of work to do but then there’s time off from teaching over the summer. I also have lots of new things coming up in the autumn.”
Is there anything else that you’d like to talk about?
“Yes, I’d like to talk about John Surman! He’s a brilliant, wonderful musician. It’s such a thrill to work with him and I’m very much, as always, looking forward to this time too. I’m sure it will be very good. It’s always a thrill to be with him, travel with him and most of all, play with him. He’s such a fantastic guy, and still going strong. It’s incredible that he works so much. It’s very nice. I’m very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with him.”
John Surman and Vigleik Storaas appear at St. George’s Church, Kemptown, Brighton on Thursday 10th May, 2018 as part of Brighton Festival.