Harmen Fraanje

M5: Ever since you graduated 'summa cum laude' from the Conservatory of Utrecht in the year 2000, it seems as if your career fully lives up to the expectation of a musician who graduates 'with high praise'. Did you consider this as a stimulant at the time, an acknowledgment for your talents already or does it also weigh like a burden because people have very high hopes?

HF: At that time I was just thrilled for the jury, the audience, my friends/family and myself to enjoy the music. It's always nice to see others appreciate the music you create. And I've never considered it as a promise I have to live up to, so no, it's not a burden of any kind.

M5: Let's go back to the beginning of it all. How old were you when you started to play the piano, and do you come from a musical family? What music did you grow up with and what made you turn to jazz?

HF: I started playing the piano when I was eight years old and although no one else in my family is engaged professionally in music, I do consider them very gifted. Like when I used to practise easy pieces of Bach, my little sister would sit behind the piano once I was done practising and she'd play everything she heard me play, in different scales even, just by using her ability to listen! My parents love all kinds of music, they listen to classical a lot, but also Sting, Paul Simon, music from India. My interest in Jazz didn't start until I was sixteen, when I discovered how much I enjoyed improvising when playing. That's the right incentive to become acquainted with Jazz and explore it.

M5: You're a bandleader and work as a sideman. You recorded 7 CD's for and with other musicians and released an SACD album of your own in 2003, 'Sonatala', named after a village in India. Your love for travelling and different cultures as well as compassion for what goes on in the world is reflected in the music you write and play, also in your 'choice' of musicians it seems. Do you feel this is important as a creative being, to be open minded when it comes to different cultures, people and ideas?

HF: When you're open to different cultures, people and ideas it's not that difficult to get inspired. We all have our own approach in life, in how we like to do things, so that's also evident when it comes to music. And when you tend to get stuck in patterns and routine, a spark 'from outside' can be just what you need to open up a new world of possibilities and arouse enthusiasm again.

M5: What were your goals or ambitions when you decided to study and learn pianomusic/jazz? And do you feel you have a message for your audience when playing? If so, what's the message?

HF: My goal is to be happy about the music I make; right now I'm quite comfortable with it, so I guess I'm doing fine; I practise a great deal, got a lot of gigs scheduled, I get to travel quite a bit and hang out with some of my favorite musicians. And I also think the audience enjoys it a lot, so if I have anything to say about it, let's keep it going like this! I think MUSIC is the message, even though every individual experiences this in his or her own way. I hope my music will be able to bring joy and happiness to those who feel down or sad or unhappy and that listening to me is a pleasant and positive experience to begin with!

M5: Your quartet consists of a Dutch bassist, Hein van der Geyn, the French drummer Matthieu Chazarenc and Brazilian guitarist Nelson Veras (both living in Paris). How did you meet these musicians and how can you tell you get along, on personal and professional levels? What qualities & characteristics do you look for in musicians and yourself?

HF: Hein introduced me to both Nelson and Matthieu; we got along from the first moment we met, it just clicked. It's great to play together and to be friends. Nelson and I communicate by computer each morning to exchange music, ideas and kid around some. Yes, to me it's important to really get along with the people I work and play with. Because I like to open up completely when I'm on stage and that's a bit tough when around people I feel hesitant about. So I think it's personality I'm looking for, yes, definitely personality.

M5: When you have time to listen to music, what do you listen to, these days? And are there any all time favorites?

HF: I make time to listen to music and currently I'm into Guillaume de Machaut (medieval composer), Pygmee Music, Ligeti, Messiaen, Bach, Mark Turner, Magic Malik and Kurt Rosenwinkel.

M5: You're 28, turning 29 this year. You're still young, but when you look back, in what ways did you grow or mature, both as a person and musician?

HF: As time goes by, it becomes more clear to me what I really love to do and this then automatically rules out anything I don't really feel passionate about. By focussing on the things that mean something to me I think I've grown substantially into a deeper understanding of music, myself and life.

M5: You're working on a new release, 'Ronja', and added flutist Magic Malik. What can the listener expect?

HF: This CD will be very different than our last one; less 'produced'. My hope is that we can reach that certain level, in the studio, as if we're doing a live concert. I've written some new pieces and we'll certainly record a few of those new compositions. And for Magic Malik to participate this time around is something I'm very enthused about, because he's probably one of my main sources of inspiration in the last couple of years. So I'm really looking forward to recording this new album!

M5: Improvisation is something you value a lot when performing live. Is it necessary for the musicians you work with to really know eachother well, so you're all aware of the options, in a way, or can you get on stage with anyone, sit down and see what happens?

HF: If musicians open up for what happens on stage, check their ego at the door, don't judge too much or not at all preferably and if they simply try and play music together, in a situation like that everyone should be able to perform well!

M5: Are there any musicians you'd like to play with and why?

HF: Actually I'm already playing with most of the musicians I'd like to work with. But it would be incredible if I got to play with Paul Morian, he's very tasteful and deep. Jack De Johnette also strikes me as special.

M5: Your plans for the future, what do you expect to achieve and where will you be ten years from now, if you use your imagination?

HF: At the moment it's not my concern, nor do I want to be thinking about the future. I'm trying to get the most out of the present, as in play the gigs, study, read and have a good time with my friends.

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