An Interview With Silke Eberhard

Silke Eberhard

I consider myself extremely fortunate to be in touch, at least via email, with the great German saxophonist, bandleader, composer and arranger Silke Eberhard, who is clearly one of the most interesting performers on the jazz scene today, and she was gracious enough to do an email interview with me for my blog. So here are her own words about her background, how she developed as an artist, and where she is going today.

Art Music Lounge: I was wondering about your musical background. Did you begin as a jazz musician, or did you start by playing classical music? The reason I ask is that your music shows good structure, and that is something closer related to classical music than jazz.

Silke Eberhard: I started playing the clarinet at the age of 11, in the folklore brass band of the Swabian village where I grew up. My first teacher was my father, who also conducted the band. There I first played Bavarian polkas. Later I also practiced classical pieces like the Mozart Clarinet Concerto or played in the Symphonic Wind Orchestra before I switched to the Jazz Big Band of our town. But very soon I became interested in jazz and improvisation.

AML: Who were your early jazz influences? Did you start out by hearing Eric Dolphy, or were there other musicians who influenced you?

SE: My earliest influences were my father’s Dixieland and his red Glenn Miller record and also anything on the radio at the time. I listened to a lot of blues and jazz programs. When I went on my own jazz discovery, I started with Charlie Parker. My teacher at the time also recommended Eric Dolphy, he said I might like that – and I did! I was lucky enough to hear many great players in the ‘80s in my small southern German town, these were Lee Konitz, Charlie Mariano with the Karnataka College of Percussion, Jan Garbarek, the Brecker Brothers about three times and Oregon. All these concerts have remained unforgettable. A little later I heard Ornette Coleman live, that was something else to me.

AML: How did you come to form your band, Potsa Lotsa? Were these musicians you had played with on other gigs who impressed you? I ask this because they all sound to me like quite extraordinary musicians, and I know it’s not that easy to find players of that caliber when forming a large ensemble.

SE: Potsa Lotsa is a grown band. Originally we interpreted the complete works of Eric Dolphy as a wind quartet in 2009. Later I added the Love Suite by Eric Dolphy to the program, but for this work we needed a larger instrumentation, so clarinet, tuba and electronics were added. For the XL instrumentation I asked people in our Berlin jazz community, that I have known for a very long time and with whom I have had experience in other groups. Actually, I thought less about the instrumentation than about musicians with whom I would like to play together.

AML: How do you divide your time up between playing with your trio and playing with the orchestra?

SE: This happens naturally. With the orchestra we play more project-related and plan it more long-term, which is also due to the size of the band. Often there are one or two concerts that we prepare. With the trio we can come together more spontaneously, even if it’s just to try something new or just for a jam.

AML: I know that many musicians had trouble finding work in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, but I also know that small groups like your trio had it easier than larger ensembles. Were you able to perform live occasionally during this time?

SE: I was fortunately able to perform with both groups during those two years, perhaps not as often as I would have liked. We were able to perform at open air concerts in the summer months and there were streaming concerts or hybrid concerts with small audiences in the fall/winter. That kept us going.

AML: I know that you’ve recently gone to Switzerland to play. How are the audience sizes? Are more people turning out for jazz now than, say, a year or two ago?

SE: It is quite different. The concerts are “sold out” more often now, but that may be also because there is an audience limit nowadays. The concerts in Switzerland were all well attended as always. In Berlin, however, there are some places that are fuller now than before, people are really in the mood for music and culture, which is great.

AML: I’m curious about your approach to jazz composition. Do you try to write an interesting line and then work the improvisations into it, or do you think in terms of underlying harmony first and then just tack on some sort of top line? The reason I ask is that your original pieces on Being the Up and Down seemed to me based more on rhythm and harmony and less on melodic lines.

SE: I have different ways of composing. Some pieces start with a structure, a rhythm, in another piece there may be a melodic idea first, which can also be completely abstract. I never actually start with harmonies, like jazz harmony chord symbols or so – but I might add them later-  but it could be maybe clusters of notes from where out of it a melody can develop, or I take a row of tones I am interested in and move it forth and backwards until I like it.

AML: What does this coming year look like for you? Will you be making any new recordings?

SE: The new album Potsa Lotsa XL album will be released in March, we worked together with Youjin Sung, who plays the korean Gayagaeum. The suite I wrote for Youjin is entitled GAYA and it will be released on Trouble in the East Records on Vinyl and digital. Also, our collective trio I Am Three, with Nikolaus Neuser and Christian Marien, will go to the studio for our third album. We have been interpreting the music of Charles Mingus on our first albums, now we will add our own music to the repertoire.

AML: Wow, that sounds interesting. I’m looking forward to hearing it. Thank you for your time!

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

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