Name: Jakob Bro
Occupation: Guitarist, composer
Current Release: Jakob Bro teams up with Joe Lovano for their full-length album Once Around The Room, a tribute to late jazz drummer Paul Motian, out now on ECM.
Recommendations: To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf is a book that really means a lot to me. And async by Ryuichi Sakamoto is an album that is very dear to me.
If you enjoyed this interview with Jakob Bro and would like to stay up to date with his work, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, Soundcloud, and Facebook.
Over the course of his career, Jakob Bro has worked with a wide range of artists, including Nils Petter Molvær, Marilyn Mazur, Wadada Leo Smith, and Theresia Philipp.
[Read our Nils Petter Molvær interview]
[Read our Marilyn Mazur interview]
[Read our Wadada Leo Smith interview]
[Read our Theresia Philipp interview]
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I grew up in a family with a lot of music. My mother and father were both teachers. My mom was teaching mentally disabled kids using music. In his spare time, my father was conducting a big band with kids from his school.
So we had a music room with all kinds of instruments: Trombone, saxophones, tenor, alto. We had trumpets, which was my father's main instrument, piano, bass, guitar, etcetera. And a big wall of scores of music like Duke Ellington and Count Basie and Glenn Miller. Also, my father had a big record collection, and his biggest heroes were Louis Armstrong, Pelle Mikkelborg, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, and so on. So I grew up with this music and and I felt the passion of music coming from both my parents.
And for that reason, I also became interested in music myself, I think, and it has remained that way ever since.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
When I listen to music, and when I play music, I go into some sort of meditational state of mind, where I am 100% devoted to the sounds that are surrounding me. I really enjoy being in that space.
If you're playing in a band situation, immediately when somebody is playing a note, creating a sound, the whole room starts vibrating in a way because we're all connected at that moment until the sounds disappear. So I find that extremely interesting and very inspiring.
I love many different art forms, but music just has this moving meditational approach. Even after 30 years of doing it, I still can't get enough of it.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
I decided to become a musician at the age of 15. Then I just really worked hard for many, many years. I quit high school and was accepted into the Royal Academy of Music in Denmark at a quite early age. And I felt like I had a lot of work to do to get to a point where I could express myself with my music.
Obviously, there were a lot of challenges. I was interested in many different kinds of music, and I was trying to absorb all these different inspirations. I was trying to become familiar with what was also inspiring to my fellow musicians and people that I played with. Slowly but surely, I was getting familiar with the sort of family tree, the different musicians that have been inspiring each other throughout the history of music. This took a lot of time.
The breakthroughs came on different levels. Sometimes I felt like I wasn't into listening to music, but then I did feel like playing and then breakthroughs would occur on that level. Sometimes I didn't like to play but I wanted to write music. And so I basically just kept having different platforms to work on. So that every time I somehow ran into a wall in one sense, I could then basically jump onto another platform and move forward there.
At this point in my life, I feel like I'm in a place where I can express myself quite freely. It's a lot of fun, creating music is not stressful to me. And I don't have this voice in the back of my head saying: You need to practice more, you need to become better in all aspects. Basically, at this point in my life, I just enjoy creating music and being in a musical situation with my friends, following the stream of sound where road takes us.
So that's a really good place to be at, especially considering the long journey it has been to get to that point.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
I see myself as a team player. I've never seen myself as a guitar player, I see myself as someone who likes to create music that I myself like to listen to. Obviously, I've worked hard on on my guitar playing. But but at this point in my life, I see myself much more as a composer and arranger and somebody who will try to set up musical situations where I feel like music can happen.
The key to these situations can lie in the composition, it can also lie in the choice of people. And I never go into a musical situation with the idea that something specific has to happen. The music happens when there's a lot of freedom in the room, and then people can be themselves. It's important to listen to each other and just be in the moment and breathe as a collective organism. That's the way that music becomes interesting for me.
In a way that reflects in how I am in general as a human being or at least the way I try to be: I'll make room for other people to say something when I'm in social relations. And I try to stay curious and just be focused on basically doing the best I can.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
Creating something unknown. The magic of music to me is when something happens that you did not expect.
Obviously, I have an aesthetic sense and there's a balancing act in terms of bringing in new aesthetics and at the same time keeping everything very open and free. But I think that's something I've become better at over time, bringing in just enough material to guide the music gently in a direction that I like aesthetically, and at the same time, giving complete freedom to the people playing it, so that I myself will also be surprised by the outcome.
I love the untraceable. I love watching movies that I don't completely understand - films by Tarkowski, David Lynch, or Stanley Kubrick. You're moved by something, but you don't really know why. The same applies to the fine arts. I like paintings were I can't really trace the idea to the final product. I like to leave a room being puzzled in a way. So the same goes with poetry and books.
Elaborating a little bit more on that, I've been playing with a lot of different musicians throughout my career. And one of the things that that I really find interesting and inspiring is that you play with someone like Tomasz Stanko, and he talks about music before going on stage. And when he starts playing, everything he said before going on stage makes sense in a way that only music can make sense. Like, he will pick up his horn and he will tell you a story with his horn in a way that you cannot be told in school.
How can you get to a point where you play an instrument and your whole life is basically coming out of it? It takes a lot of work and a lot of setting yourself free in a way. It's a journey from wanting to learn how to play an instrument and learning about harmony, to actually expressing something that other people can feel.
In music, for me, there's a lot of beauty in contrast. One person might do one thing and I might want to do something different. And in the contrast between these these two elements - that might not necessarily fit with each other - beauty occurs ... and I can't explain why.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
I can only make music that reflects the now. That's not the same thing as saying I'm not interested in tradition. I love so much that came before today. And for many, many years, I've been working hard in terms of learning the language of music: I've been transcribing, I've been training my ears, I've been a listening to so many different expressions and trying to figure out where he or she is coming from. Then going back another step in history and finding out where that person comes from, etc.
I really love the fact that we are all connected in the family of music. I think it's a beautiful thing that you can trace musicians to their roots. If you listen to Jan Garbarek, you can hear elements of Dewey Redman. That's a really beautiful thing, that we sort of come out of each other in a way. Stanko and Don Cherry, Thomas Morgan and Charlie Hayden. I'm not saying that these persons sound like each other. But you can hear that people are influenced by each other.
I myself, I'm influenced by John Abercrombie for sure, John Schofield, Pat Metheny, Charlie Christian, Jim Hall, Pat Martino, Kurt Rosenwinkel etcetera, etcetera. So in many ways, I'm a fan of getting to know the history and the tradition. But I'm also at a point in my life where I'm interested in the music of today.
Perfection, on the other hand, is not something I'm interested in at all. I don't think perfection exists in music. Originality, for sure. Innovation is a difficult thing. You talk about it and sometimes it actually happens. And then you don't realise it until many, many years later.
All the elements that you sort of have in your suitcase will come out somehow when you're playing music. And if you're true to the life you're living, it's going to sound like music of today, even if your greatest hero is Louis Armstrong.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
My most important approach to music has been to listen. Not just listening while playing, but also listening to music with 100% focus on a daily basis. Really, really focusing on the music while you're listening.
That was one of the biggest joys that I discovered as a very young musician: If you really become good at listening, if you can stay focused, and your mind doesn't wander, you can get very, very close to some of your musical heroes.
I have some mind blowing memories of listening to John Coltrane as a kid, where I felt like I was just right there next to the band, because I was so deeply focused. It becomes a journey, you forget about time and space and you're just in there with the band.
And of course, I brought that into my practice of playing music as well, deep listening, really trying to focus on what's going on around you. And getting to a point where the music can almost flow by itself.