An Interview with the Rembrandt Frerichs Trio & Sylvain Rifflet

By Sophie Malon
Wednesday, January 17th, 2018 

Last month, I had the pleasure of speaking to four world-class musicians: Vinsent Planjer (drummer), Tony Overwater (bass), Sylvain Rifflet (sax, clarinet), and Rembrandt Frerichs (piano, composer). Together, they make up a group which is three-quarter Dutch and one-quarter French, yet, despite their different backgrounds, set out to achieve a similar goal: help national audiences become familiar with international musicians using the common language of jazz. We spoke about their current project ‘Music made in Europe’, how music can be circulated to different scenes, and we spoke about the Western concept of finding your own voice in music.

Could you tell me a little bit about your current project ‘Music made in Europe’?
Sylvain: With this project, we have been trying to bring European musicians together because it is quite interesting to see how we get along with each other using the common language of Jazz. We’ve been doing this for a few years – different situations, different ensembles, different places.
Rembrandt: And different countries! It appears to be very closed. It’s not so easy for a 100% French group to play here, in the Netherlands.
Sylvain: It would also be difficult for me to bring these guys to France, for instance.
Rembrandt: This is almost with every country, so, with this project, we try to bring this stuff together – open up Europe.

What makes this so difficult?
Vincent: Different scenes.
Sylvain: It’s difficult to gain recognition for yourself, as a musician, in your country so it’s even more difficult to do this in another country. Most of the producers are very scared that they will not pull any audiences in for their concerts.
Vincent: Historically it was mainly Americans who visited. If you were playing in a band – I remember when I was playing in France, in the contract it was written that at least 75% of the band should be American. It was very American-based and the whole Jazz tradition became much more of a world thing and European Jazz culture became much more independent, and since then, there’s been a lot of very good different independent scenes and the music is also very different. But I think organizers still think a little bit in terms of well, we need to get big names, and when they think this, they think, we need to get American names but this is slowly moving and that’s the direction that we have to go to – that’s why we set up this series, made in Europe, to prove that the music that’s made in Europe is very much worth-while.
Sylvain: It’s also changing a lot because of social media. Now we get to know each other through Facebook in a positive way. It used to be that the only media we had was magazines and each country has its own and some American names and then ‘our scene’. We have this website in France called ‘Citizen Jazz’ that is starting to bring some reviews of albums of musicians from all over Europe and not only French musicians; they’re willing to do more.

How did you meet Sylvain?
Rembrandt: We met through the European Jazz Youth Orchestra; we were selected and this is how we met. They chose one nationality per instrument and I was the Dutch guy and he was the French.

Note, The trio met in Den Haag, here, they studied at Het Koninklijk Conservatorium in Den Haag.  Sylvain Rifflet studied at du Conservatoire National de Musique de Paris.

In the last months, I’ve been meeting many musicians – some conservatory students as well as self-taught musicians – and they have very different views on conservatory education. I am not a conservatory student and so, I too wonder; by studying, transcribing and playing the music of other artists so intensely, does this not hold you back from creating music that is truly original?
Rembrandt: I think it’s also how you learn English or Flemish and how we learned our language; when you go to school, you have these dictees (language tests) – the teacher would read something and you’d have to write it down in our first language. We also had these tests in French and German and with French, it was very difficult because they glue all the words together. Or at least, that’s how it sounded to me. This is how you learn French and with music, it’s the same. I think we all transcribed many things to be able to learn the grammar of music and vocabulary.
Sylvain: I don’t think there’s any other way to get deep into the language than transcribing it. It’s the only way to learn how things were played. I don’t think it holds you back from being yourself.
Vincent: But you need to feel the drive to find your own voice because not everybody does – most people don’t. Thus, they stick with what has already been done.
Rembrandt: On a world base, I think there are more traditions that do it orally than in a conservatory – this is very Western to go to school and get a diploma. In other places, they have a guru and you would have to copy everything that the guru played.
Tony Overwater: Also, this concept of finding your own voice is a very western thing.
Sylvain: Even, European in a way.
Vincent: But then when they become really good, they automatically have something of an own voice. You can’t practice every day and not have your own way of doing things.
Sylvain: That’s literally what Frans would say, our teacher: There is no way you can avoid your own voice. Even if you would try to copy someone else, you’ll always bring your own voice.
Vinsent: I think the voice, the language you speak, is something you learn and what you say with that is your own. The goal is not to find your own voice but to play perfectly what it is that you wish to play.

About the Author

Sophie Malon has a BA in Arts and Culture with a major in Media Culture and a minor in Creative Writing. In her free time, Sophie enjoys long walks in the forest, play-dates with puppies, occasionally writes short stories and poetry, and enjoys performing and playing her own music. Sophie also works as a freelance writer. She can be reached at Follower her on Instagram at @malon02

Upcoming Jazz Events

February 22nd – ECM Jazz Night: Saskia Lankhorn & Wolfert Brederode
March 12th – Joshua Redman & The Reis Demuth Wiltgen Trio
March 27th – Jazz At The Cinema, Nordmann Presents “Dementia”

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