Wolfgang Haffner wears his talent lightly despite a huge list of recordings and collaborations… and is a sensitive human being to the core… SAROOP OOMEN
“There are only two types of music, good and bad!”
“Some musicians need to show off and they play fast and loud – some musicians just, are!”
“Sometimes I finish a great concert and some guy walks up to me saying ‘awesome drum solo man' and I disconnect immediately from that person! It's not about the drum solo - it's about the hundred other artistic choices!”
Pearls of wisdom dropped from the ever smiling, world renowned, jazz arranger/ composer/drummer – Wolfgang Haffner. The man is one of the most honest musicians I've ever met with the ‘what you see is what you get' attitude – no airs, just incredible, tangible talent!
Wolfgang has 400 recordings and 12 albums to his name. His long list of collaborations includes Pat Methany and Chaka Khan; workshops alongside Steve Smith, and his recent album, Round Silence features Dominic Miller (that's Sting's guitarist!) When someone with those kinds of credentials can be so down to earth, you quickly learn the fact that real talent is light and that people who have understood their gift, give more than they take!
The Wolfgang Haffner trio was brought to our city by the Goethe Institut – Max Mueller Bhavan and they met exclusively with 15 young musicians at the Unwind Center, Adyar last Thursday. Those of you who missed it, please accept that there are potholes on your road to appreciating good music.
The workshop started off a little after 11a.m with Wolfgang introducing the four main qualities a musician should have – timing, feel, dynamics and the ability to listen to the other musicians. He then gave a faint nod to Hubert Nuss on the piano and Christian Diener on the stand-up bass – and we were transported instantly to Pandora with lilting, magical sound scapes, moods and textures as we pinched ourselves to remember that there was only three musicians on stage! No effects, no electronics, just pure sounds coming from extraordinary, instrumental virtuosos!
“The point is to create magic. Music is about playing for the audience and if you can't create the magic that will engage the people, might as well stop the concert for the night!” Wolfgang said this just before they performed their ballad ‘Wordless' with a light piano melody and deft brush work on the snare drum. Taking us from silence to soul gripping melody lines, with tasteful rhythms – it was amazing how they would weave from genre to genre, painting picture after picture and all so seamlessly! Wolfgang would change from brushes, to sticks to even his fingers in the same song! And Christian Deiner would suddenly shift from bowing his double bass, to soft solos to suddenly deep-end heavy, serious bass grooves!
Next, Hubert Nuss explained his jazz history and explained how it is so easy to play with Wolfgang and Christian, as they are masters in giving space to each other musically. Every evening he is playing in a different city and piano, but it does not bother him as, “a good musician has his own sound, so it does not matter what type of piano it is, my sound is the same. That's a guarantee”.
Christian Diener was the epitome of humility and said simply, “You have to choose to be a bass player. If you want to be doing flashy stuff, do not choose the bass. I am extremely comfortable with who I am and I would not choose any other. I'm between the piano and the drums, and if I try to be ahead of them, the band structure will crumple.”
They then invited musicians to come up on stage and our stars like Georaj George, Shane Fernandes, Prithvi Chandrasekhar, Naveen, Enoch David and Bruce Lee took turns sharing musical ideas with the trio. Wolfgang, grabbed a stool and sat in the midst of all the Indian musicians, with the gleeful expression of a four year old in a bubble bath!
He was evidently impressed as he called back Alwyn (Congas), Naveen (bass), Bruce (guitars), Shane (keyboards) and Daphne Singh (vocals). They played the George Gershwin classic ‘Summer Time' with Daphne literally making heads turn as Wolfgang strained to turn around and see who this incredible vocalist is!
Anyway, when the workshop came to a close, Daphne got the surprise of her lifetime – Wolfgang invited her to sing for their evening concert at the Music Academy! Please read that again folks! One of our city's amateur musicians, jammed with a world class jazz artist, and was invited to perform ‘live in concert' the same evening! Incredible moment in Chennai's history!!
The music was exemplary, but the take home was the sensitivity as human beings. They were so connected with their creativity and at the same time deeply interested with the people around. We didn't just learn about jazz or the nuances of drums and basses; we experienced a festival of creativity. We celebrated with Wolfgang, Hubert and Deiner as they showcased the heights that disciplined talent can achieve. They made us part of their art!
Back in Germany, Hubert and Diener teach Jazz Performance at University while Wolfgang is mostly composing or performing. “If I wanted to, I would make the time to teach. Guess I'm not that passionate about teaching, but if it was like something we had this morning at the workshop, I would do it anytime. Those young guys are really sensitive musicians!”
Lots of learning and one more feather in the cap for Chennai's brotherhood of musicians!