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Pianiste & Compositrice
Scherm­afbeelding 2024-01-21 om 11.40_ed

Interview in Jazz d'Hortense #122
Anne Wolf takes advantage of the Jazz Tour with her Quatuor to present a brand new two-track single "Kahane’s Walk in Kalahari."
She reveals her eclectic journey in this interview.

Hello Anne,
Did you grow up in an artistic family?
Not at all. Except for my great-grandfather, Georges Creten, who is a relatively well-known painter. My father was a Sunday painter and liked to collect paintings. My mother plays a bit of piano and is a big fan of Chopin. It's true that my parents were interested in art, but neither of them was a professional artist. I may have carried their dream...

Did they push you in this direction?
Not particularly. I was encouraged, but certainly not forced or pushed. There was a piano at home, and I liked to tinker with it and watch my mother play. My sister started playing the piano but didn't like it. Then I started, and I really enjoyed it. Even music theory. I loved music so much that even doing dictations and singing notes made me happy. And yet, you had to do a year of music theory before being able to play an instrument.

Quite early on, you decide to dedicate yourself to music and enroll in the conservatory.
I had a somewhat rock & roll adolescence. At 15, I decided not to go to school anymore. I would hide while my parents went to work, and I would go home to play the piano, pretending to attend classes. Obviously, that didn't last long... I didn't finish my lower secondary education. At that time, it was possible because secondary education was not mandatory until 18, as it is today. So, I told my parents that I wanted to go to the conservatory. But the idea was mainly not to go to school anymore. And then, I had a boyfriend who listened to a lot of funky music, Motown records, some electric Miles albums... I also had friends who jammed in a basement. We were a bunch of completely crazy teenagers smoking joints like crazy. I was really in a strange state, and I decided to quit school and go to the conservatory at 15. But it wasn't possible to enter directly, and my father said, "If you don't go to school anymore, you pay," implying "to stay at home," especially because we no longer received family allowances. But it was mainly to try to discourage me. He didn't succeed. For 2 years, I worked at a restaurant during lunchtime, and in the evening, I went to the academy. I did my additional 2 years of music theory and finished my classical piano, and then I could enter the classical conservatory. There was no jazz section at that time. I first won a music theory prize in classical 2 or 3 years before the jazz section opened. And then, I really wanted to go there. I had just done a jazz workshop with Alain Rochette. At that time, there wasn't much besides a jazz class at Les Lundis d'Hortense on Wednesdays at Le Travers, taught by Alain Rochette. There were also Charles Loos, Diederik Wissels, but it wasn't a lot of people in total, and there was no organized jazz education yet.

"I learned on the job, and it was complementary to the conservatory."

When did the jazz section of the conservatory open?
It must have opened in the early '90s. I started classical conservatory in 85-86, and I think I entered the jazz section in its second year. We were a group of musicians who already knew each other. I was already playing a bit in various groups, one in French chanson, one funky, one FM rock in which I played keyboards and did backing vocals in English... And when the jazz section opened, the few "light music" musicians of the time joined. We all wanted to learn. There were already Thierry Gutmann, Nathalie Loriers, Daniel Stokart... A small group of musicians who are still active today. But I didn't start with jazz immediately. I played mostly pop.

And did you continue?
Yes, for several reasons. First, I liked it, and then I had to make a living. Jazz came later. In fact, I didn't even listen to it. I got my music theory prize while also playing pop concerts. I accompanied some singers, like Isabelle Antena, and sometimes a bit jazzier artists. Then, I toured with Sttellla in 1992 with about thirty dates. I was mainly active in the network as a keyboardist. It went in all directions. There weren't many of us at the time, so we did everything: rock, salsa... A bit later, when I met Henri Greindl, I started playing more Brazilian music. I enjoyed it a lot. I played quite well with Marcia Maria, for example. In fact, I finished the conservatory in 4-5 years because I was always busy playing in parallel and didn't have the opportunity to focus solely on studies. Which I find great because I learned on the job, and it was complementary to the conservatory. It doesn't happen like that anymore. Access to information is much easier now. On the other hand, practice is much less obvious. I started with melodically and harmonically simpler music. I'm quite happy to have done that because I had a digestion phenomenon, so when I discovered tensions, they resonated strongly in me. I thought, "Wow, what chord is this?!" I could really feel tension in a chord and emotionally connect it to a sensation involving taste or color. I see a lot of people today who have access to all this very quickly, but not always with the chronology and time to digest it. I don't know if it's always well connected to emotional or physical sensation. The brain can understand it quickly, but can we feel and use it just as quickly? I have no regrets about the very eclectic path I have taken and continue to take. Occasionally, I get requests as a sidewoman to play different music than mine. Fortunately! It makes me happy. I've always liked playing with others and feeding off their music. Otherwise, there's the out, but no more in. For me, it's essential to continue playing with other people. I regret that it happens less often since I have my projects as a leader. I would like to, but I think there's a bit of a label phenomenon: "Anne does her projects, maybe she doesn't have time anymore...," which is absolutely not the case. I want to make that clear.

I read in your bio that you had a significant encounter with Michel Petrucciani. Can you explain what happened?
Yes, it was after a concert with the Rwandan singer Ben Ngabo. We had created a quite mixed group musically with jazz musicians: Manu Hermia, Bilou Doneux, Nicolas L’Herbette, Michel Seba, myself... I was coming back from this gig with Michel Seba, who said to me, "Do you know the pianist Michel Petrucciani?" I didn't know him at all. He made me listen to the piece "September Second" and sang the entire solo to me. I was surprised: "Wow, Michel, you know this solo." I loved it, and I started listening to Petrucciani. Then, I saw in a magazine that he was giving a workshop in Paris. I thought I'd like to go and sent a cassette with a recording of one of my first trio concerts at Le Travers. I went to Paris, and I expected to sit in the audience. But when I arrived, they said, "Ah, you're the Belgian who sent the cassette? You go on stage there with these other pianists." I found myself on stage with 5-6 pianists who had a special lesson. It was a masterclass in front of many Parisian pianists that I was fortunately not familiar with, otherwise, I would never have dared. I was very intimidated, but I did it anyway and found myself having a class with Michel Petrucciani.

What did you take away from it?
He talked a lot about the relationship with the instrument. He, who had a special physical connection to the instrument, had a lot of humor about it. At the time, wedge-heeled shoes were in fashion. I liked wearing them, and he laughed, "It's super sexy." He was a relentless flirt. And then, he said, "It's not very practical for contact with the instrument; it's better to have your feet on the ground. Look at me." Jokes like that... He made me sit lower to be more in contact with the ground. He also made me aware of where the movement starts and to use the whole body more. Like he did, actually. Because in reality, I think if he didn't hold onto the piano, he would fall. The body was really a pendulum for him. I even tried lifting my feet and balancing to better feel this sensation, and it was very instructive. He also gave me other little "home" secrets, like doing crescendos when going up and decrescendos when going down, which he used a lot. He also talked about the left hand. He said that all pianists influenced by Bill Evans study the piano from a certain period, but you shouldn't be afraid to play a fifth in the lower register or a bass note. It won't necessarily disturb the bassist. We also talked about inspiration, that it's impossible to have inspiration all the time during a 2-hour concert. Sometimes you throw in plans, and you shouldn't hesitate to do so, thinking about beautiful things or things that inspire you. These are just a few examples. It was very impactful. I have a recording of that lesson for those interested.

"I've always liked playing with others and feeding off their music."

I know your piano sound mainly from the album "Vivaces" by Pierre Van Dormael. I imagine that must have been a strong experience.
I played alongside Pierre for about ten years in different formations, including "Vivaces." It's an experience for a lifetime. Regarding the recording of this particular album, it was very special. There were many musicians in the studio. We all played at the same time, and Pierre made arrangements on the spot. And these were not just any arrangements... For example, for the intro of "Cap Vert," I remember he explained to us: "Here, you play 2 measures of this chord, here, I want three measures in 6/8 with congas, and then this and then that...". It was crazy. We had to remember everything, and then it was off. We barely had time to write it down. It was very stressful, even though the pieces were already extremely complex. For example, not all musicians had the written score in the same time signature. I could read some scores in 5/8 or 3/4, depending on what suited me best. Harmony was sometimes written in 3, but the rest in 5. Besides, I had to switch from synth to piano in the studio during the recording of a single take. I had to continue counting while walking to try to pick up at the right moment. It was extremely difficult. At one point, he got angry. There was a piece by bassist Otti Van der Werf in which I had to create soundscapes, but he never told me when. I always did it when I felt like it. And then, he stopped everything: "Come on Anne, it's every four cycles." Obviously, it was a very tense experience for him, I can understand, and I have no resentment about it. But he could be very authoritarian, and it was sometimes difficult to endure. And then, one day in the studio, in front of everyone, he threw something like, "Women belong in the kitchen." He obviously apologized later. But sometimes you had to hang in there. At the same time, he gave me enormous gifts and reassured me a lot: "When you play, it sounds right away. I need this color and warmth in my music, which is still quite tough. I need sugar and salt."

With your very crystalline touch.
Yes. Otti, for example, had a very round sound. We could latch onto the bass lines Pierre wrote. He had a huge background, very diverse musically. His music was complicated, close to contemporary music. It wasn't only cerebral but also very emotional.

He wanted to touch people and had a pop spirit.
Yes, Pierre loved songwriters. He was one himself and wrote many songs. All that background gives meaning to his music. I think that's why I managed to play this music, which initially was very particular for me. It was also very instructive rhythmically to play with musicians like Stéphane Galland. It happened that the only thing we had in common was the eighth note or the sixteenth note from time to time. So, you have to listen. And with Pierre, it's music therapy. The first time I went to his place, he made me play a kind of minor blues. I played my chords in the style of Bill Evans, you know, as we learn at the conservatory. And he said, "Oh no, not third chords, but rather a fourth and a second." He showed me guitarist's patterns. I didn't know this harmonic language at all. So, I tried 2-3 things, and right away, "No, not while I'm playing." And at some point, I couldn't play at all. I understood later that it was a tactic to put you in a certain awareness of the choice of what you're going to play or not. I saw him do the same thing later with Nicolas Kummert. During a whole rehearsal, poor Nicolas couldn't play a note. Pierre deconstructs your automatism to make you aware of listening and your choices. It was really enriching to work with him. We could talk about it for hours because he's a very special character.

You mentioned a sexist remark. Do you want to share something about the fact that women are less represented in jazz and music in general?
I am absolutely against any type of discrimination, including so-called "positive" discrimination. The quality of music does not depend on our age, genital organs, race... Music is precisely an art that allows for differences. However, we will try to play with all our heart and guts, and that's the most important thing.

Now we come to the topic of your project, which you titled "quatuor" rather than "quartet" because it's a piano trio with the presence of a cello. This interesting instrumentation gives a unique sound. How did it come about?
I played a lot in trios, and on the previous album, I had invited male and female singers. I've always loved the voice, but unfortunately, I don't sing well myself. I think the cello has the particularity of being very vocal. So, it allows for themes with long notes. But also to have lines in the background, pizzicatos, many different possibilities close to a vocal register. I also like male voices, either very high like Richard Bona or quite deep like the singer Marcia Maria could have. One day, Theo and I went to listen to a choir in which our son was involved. There was a cellist, Sigrid Vandenbogaerde, who was improvising with the soprano, and Theo thought it would be nice to have a trio with a cello. We contacted her, and it worked out great. We get along very well, and she's a lovely person who plays beautifully and is used to playing in formations that are not necessarily classical. It's going extremely well with her, and we're very happy. Of course, I had a little concern about writing for the cello, which is an instrument I don't know. I compose and can have some ideas, but I'm not really an arranger. Theo took on this role very seriously, and he wrote the cello parts. It's an instrument that is close to his, obviously. It gives this very special sound that I really like.

"What interests me is complementarity."

I was thinking that you are a pianist who prefers rather subdued atmospheres, melody, and beauty rather than unrestrained energy. There is really that character in this project. And the drummer, Lionel Beuvens, plays a bit like a colorist percussionist, even though he can play unrestrained in certain projects.
I agree with you, but it's still more dynamic than how you present it. It's a project with an intimate aspect, but there are still pieces where it moves more. What I like about Lionel is his dynamics, but also his extraordinary listening skills. He is completely empathetic. Whatever little thing I do, he adapts to it. Now, we know each other well, and I really enjoy playing with him. However, I sometimes have difficulties with drummers, maybe because I don't have a big sound. It might be due to my stature or my touch.

Or your personality?
No, I don't think so. There can also be a lot of anger in me. I'm not at all an introverted and calm person. However, I don't know why, but it doesn't transpire in my music. It's very present in me, but I can't associate it with the aesthetics I'm looking for and imagining. In this project, there is still a lot of energy, but what's important is that we don't all talk at the same time. What interests me is complementarity. If I'm in a swing with a cymbal making "tching tchikiding," I feel like I have to talk about something that's already there, to layer and not be able to express myself. It's not a complaint, it's just a personal feeling. I like when we respond to each other, interact. It's more the breathing I'm looking for. But I do like energy, like when we play more Brazilian pieces. I love this music, which is very lively, danceable, and can be very energetic. But I'm not someone who will play a lot of up-tempo. Maybe because it's more technical, and I don't think I'm a great technician on the instrument.

Is that true?
Everyone will appreciate it at its true value; some say yes, others say no. I would like to have more means. Perhaps we are all in this situation. I don't think it's my strong point. However, I try to make the most of it differently. I think there are other musicians in history who have done that too. And then, I don't know if I had the means to play a lot of notes very loudly, if I would do it. And that's a reflection that really interests me.

In any case, what comes out is that your sound is immediately recognizable.
I seek the piquancy in the melody/harmony relationship. At first glance, it seems very simple, but when you look at the scores, there's never a II-V-I. If, for example, you listen to "Petite pièce en faux mineur," it's not as nice as it seems.

I wish you a good tour.
Yes, it's going to be great!

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