Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Interview: Emil Viklický

In March 2011 pianist Emil Viklický was interviewed by Detlaf A. Ott. The interview was translated into German and abridged slightly for publication in German magazine Jazz Podium. Emil very kindly sent us the original English transcript of the interview for publication on Prague Jazz.

Emil had previously recorded a concert in Leipzig, where this interview was done. It begins with Ott asking him about the recording if that album. Enjoy...

JP: One year ago you played an amazing concert with the English sax player Julian Nicholas. How does it sound to you today? Are you satisfied with the result?

EV: If you listen to the material immediately, let’s say in a week, you are too emotional to listen to the failure. After one month, or let’s say three months, listen to the material and if you still agree [that it is good] then it is probably good. If you hate it still after three months then it is bad. In this case – the concert in Leipzig - Julian and me, we chose about 65 minutes of good playing from the two hour concert for the CD.

JP: Can you tell me something about your collaboration with Julian Nicholas? When did it start? How did you get to know him? What do you think about him as a sax player?

EV: I know Julian for nearly twenty years. Back 1992-3 I was invited by the English Jazz Federation to be one of the tutors of the Welsh Jazz Society. I met Julian there. Then in 1994, when I was President of the Czech Jazz Society, I invited Julian Nicholas and drummer Dave Wickins to teach in the Czech Republic at a jazz workshop in Frýdlant . During our teaching we played together a lot and got the idea to record. The resulting CD is named after William Shakespeare, Food Of Love. It is interesting that this CD was already issued three times. The Melantrich company was bankrupt soon after they published the CD. They paid us peanuts. But I had the tapes and went with them to the Lotus company. That was the second printing. Julian had a friend in England at SYMBOL records. And so it was published there, too. Three different labels. I wonder which one will be the next…

Next month, on April 15, 2011 Julian and I will play at the Polička Jazz Festival, the city where Bohuslav Martinů was born, plus a few gigs in Prague and Olomouc. Julian is my kind of musician. He very much listens and can react very fast. There are so many great musicians around us who we don’t know. There is a bunch of incredible players in England and they are very little known. A classic example is the tenor saxophone player Bobby Wellins who was actually Julian´s teacher. He is now 75 years old. Practically nobody knows about him. Bobby is originally from Scotland. In the fifties he used to practise in London with Sonny Rollins, and after Rollins said “This is the best European saxophone player ever.” Sometimes the media will push the young musicians whether they are good or not and forget the old masters.

JP: I recognised that you played an Abdullah Ibrahim song in your concert. What is the tie to his music?

EV: Julian brought that song called “Wedding” in the afternoon before the concert in Leipzig. I met Abdullah once in Spain, at the Cadaques Jazz festival. Charismatic person. There is certain melodic sense in this South African music which is similar to old Moravian melodies. I talked to Moravian folklorist Zuzana Lapčíková - we did a few CDs together. She told me the “folkloristic” border cuts Europe in half and it goes down south. There are certain similarities between Hungarian and Turkish folk music, and this can go down as far as South Africa.

JP: What role will this new CD with Nicholas play in your immense discography?

EV: Of course doing such a CD here in Leipzig is something special. It is the town where Bach lived, Wagner was born, and Mendelssohn and Schumann worked.

JP: You’ve said Bach was a mathematician. What does Bach mean to you and what are your main influences in music beside folk music?

EV: Yes, that’s what I’m saying. J.S. Bach! When I’m listening to Bach I’m always amazed how incredible his compositions are. If he wasn't a musician he would have been somebody like G.W. Leibniz, a mathematician. Bach music is so well constructed. I listened to the Goldberg Variations this morning and wondered, “Why do we try to write something? The best things are already written.”

I guess in his time it was natural to improvise. We know the story when Kaiser Wilhelm invited him to play a newly constructed pianoforte in Potsdam. J.S. Bach improvised a fugue not only with three voices but with six voices on the theme given him by Emperor. In a way he must have had the ability that most jazz musicians are trying to have today, to improvise out of the moment. I think he could do that pretty well.

JP: Julian Nicholas wrote in the liner notes to your CD Food Of Love in 2001, “We share a common European experience of jazz music.” What does that mean?

EV: What that means is hard to say. Europeans usually have more interest in harmony and form, having on our shoulders that great tradition of classical music: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Messiaen, Bartók, Janáček etc. American jazz players share a mainly rhythmical approach.

JP: What's the difference for you between playing in a trio or quartet with a rhythm section, and playing in a duo as you did with the Belgian sax player Steve Houben in 2009 or with Julian Nicholas. Is the work with only one partner more intensive?

EV: There is a big difference playing with a trio or quartet or in a duo. Playing in a duo you have to find a partner who can listen and respond. There are a lot of things that you can do only in a duo by closely following each other. Experience plays an important role in doing such things: to guess or intuitively expect what your partner will play.

To play with a rhythm section you have a completely different situation. You can’t expect that all of the four players will react similarly to some of the changes. Material used in trio or quartet must be more precisely structured.

JP: You’ve studied mathematics, left the science because of political reasons and became a jazz musician with SHQ. You then studied composition at Berklee in the 1970s. Why didn’t you decide to follow musicians like Jirí Mraz or Jan Hammer Jr. who left Czechoslovakia for the USA after 1968, or Jan Jankeje and Rudolf Dašek who played in West Germany?

EV: You asked me about my mathematical studies. Not long ago I joked and said, “I should be grateful to this communist rector of Mathematical Faculty.” When I finished in 1971 I wanted to play jazz. My thesis on “Symmetrical Polynomials” wasn’t bad at all, so I was recommended to do a doctorate in mathematics. And I said: “OK, I'll try.” After I finished my 5 years mathematical studies at Palacký University in Olomouc in 1971, I went with my thesis to visit the communist co-rector. He looked at me and shouted:” Viklický, I don’t care about your thesis. You want to have a doctorate, so you have to study Marxism-Leninism.” I didn’t say one word, took my papers, turned around and left the building. I haven’t been there since 1971.

In 1977-1978 I lived in the USA. In May 1978 I decided to stay there. Living in NYC, playing with Joe Newman, Ted Dunbar, Todd Capp and others was great. Mel Lewis told me: “Look Emil, if you stay here I can take you from September '78 as a member of my Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Big Band.” I said: “OK. I probably could do that.” In August 1978 I went back to see my family. After that, no more States. When Roland Hanna saw me playing in the club with Mel Lewis he came to me and said, “Hey, Emil. I thought you were a bass player.” I said, “Why?” “Because you always hang around with George Mraz.” He thought, he is Czech and so he must be a bass player. Sir Roland was surprised that I play piano. We sat down and chatted and I told him the difficulties about my decision. He said: “What’s the problem? Fuck the Communists. Stay here. I'll keep you busy. Don’t worry.” He liked my playing. Maybe I lost my career in the States, who knows?

JP: In his book Northern Sun | Southern Moon Mike Heffley called the Czech jazz musicians freelancing expatriates and not representatives of the official Czech scene. Where do you stand? Would you say that you represent your country and your roots, or does this mean nothing for a wide open mind like you?

EV: I was always trying to find my own way and expression - my own space. I realised that if I’m from Moravia why shouldn’t I find more influences from my heritage? I’m not a folk musician, but was trying to find what were sources of inspiration for Leoš Janáček (1854-1928), a Moravian composer that I admire. Janáček collected folk songs and used the “pattern of speech” method in his composition. When I recorded in New York with George Mraz and Billy Hart for the first time, in 2000, [the Morava album (Milestone/Fantasy MCD 9303)] the famous producer Todd Barkan suddenly said, “Now I know where George got that melodic sense from.” There is something of the Moravian melody in me, and of course also in George.

JP: You did an very interesting album, The Folk-Inspired Piano, on the Supraphon label.

EV: Yes, that’s my old one, before my stay in Berklee. When I was in the studio in 1977 to record the album somebody from the Ministry called and told that I was not allowed to go to the States. Antony Matzner - the producer - was so clever he didn’t tell me. He let me record and after he said to me, “Hey, Emil, on Monday I should have told you aren't allowed to go to USA.” But later on somehow they gave me the “stempel”.

JP: Years later you went back to the States. Recently you played a sold out concert at Dizzy’s with Mraz and Bittová and Moravian Gems. Why do you think your music so popular in the States? Does the Moravian inspiration make it exotic there?

EV: Probably. It was a sold out concert, twice. Both shows sold out, 19:30 and 21:30, 300 seats - simply incredible. And we were booked for a Monday date, January 3rd, 2011. Monday night is the worst one you can get. Of course on Friday, Saturday you can expect that it will be sold out at Dizzy´s. But not on Mondays. People came from everywhere: upstate New York, Connecticut, even from Boston, which is 300 miles away. They came to see the show. George Mraz had the 'flu, he couldn’t talk. So I was introducing the tunes we played. Dizzy’s is a wonderful place. From the concert grand Steinway you can look through those big windows down at Central Park and Columbus Circle. Very inspiring.

After that I played a duo with multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson at the Bohemian National Hall, on 73rd Street. On YouTube you can find nearly all the songs we did.

JP: You studied composition at Berklee. How important is the relationship between composition and improvisation in your music? In a characteristic about Czech jazz Mike Heffley wrote: “…so the Czech jazz scene tended to foreground technically perfect composers-arrangers first, and technically brilliant improvisers only in the frameworks of those principles.” What is your point of view on this opinion?

EV: Well, who the hell is Mike Heffley? I don’t think he knows the scene well. He probably talked only to some Czech youngsters trying to sound like ECM. Or has seen some types of musicians who worked like that. But I think you can’t generalise musicians from a country in this way. I don’t work the way he describes. The part of improvisation in my music, e.g. with Julian Nicholas in Leipzig, is very important. Nearly nothing was prepared beforehand.

Czech composer Leoš Janáček used a compositional method he called “Pattern of Speech”. He listened to people talking, especially sentences they said with a lot of emotions. He notated these patterns down and used them later for composing. The classic example is in the third act of his opera Jenůfa. Mezzo-soprano “Kostelnička” sings the phrase: F♭ , F♭ , Eb♭ , D♭ , B♭. That is an absolutely typical jazz/blues phrase, but composed in 1900. Janáček couldn’t know anything about jazz. That brings me to another fact: Recently I just finished a piano concerto with full symphony orchestra - 25 minutes long. Somebody asked me, “Is this a “jazz concerto?”. I said, “No, I don’t think so.” I don’t really know what that means, a “jazz” or “non-jazz” motive. It is up to the musicologists to decide. I don’t really care whether this is jazz or not. It's just music.

JP: You wrote a composition for Wynton Marsalis with lyrics from Václav Havel. What is the story behind it?

EV: Legendary producer Todd Barkan recommended me for a Lincoln Center opening in October 2004 to write jazz melodrama for the Wynton Marsalis Big Band. Six different composers from the world were asked to write six jazz melodramas based on the texts of the world's leading politicians. My score The Mystery of Man used texts from former Czech president Václav Havel.

Todd called and asked me, “Emil, do you write for Big Bands?”. Of course, I studied in Berklee with Herb Pomeroy - only 15 students each year could study with him! – so we are small closed society of Herb Pomeroy´s students around the world. In the eighties I wrote charts for the Zurich Big Band, NDR (Norddeutsche Rundfunk), all the Czech Big Bands. I’m an experienced Big Band writer. Then there was a telephone conference with Wynton. He asked me a lot of questions and at the end he said, “Ok, do it.”

My melodrama The Mystery of Man got a few great reviews in the USA. What helped me tremendously was my operatic experience. In the period of 1999-2003 I wrote 3 full scale operas. My Phaedra was played in Berlin´s Unten den Linden opera house, my opera Ackermann und der Tod was played in Deutches Oper in Berlin as guest performance from Prague. My experience with writing the Ackermann und der Tod score helped me to write The Mystery of Man. I have discussed it with Václav Havel, we both agreed that I don’t need one narrator but two. When Mystery of Man was played in Prague later it was a big success, too. Perhaps, there will be another chance in Germany?

JP: As an old master who is looking back on deep experiences in jazz, how do you see the future of our culture? Discussions often go about the role of studying jazz at universities and less opportunities for young musicians to play jazz and get paid. How is the situation in your country?

EV: The Czech scene is not different to other countries. Young musicians have the tendency to go more to the commercial side. Jazz has something inside that I call the “self saving ability”. Jazz is able in certain moments to modify itself. We know that universities and music schools produce more and more musicians but there are no opportunities for them to play. Jazz is the type of music that has the improvisation in it, and such a music won’t die, I hope. Another characteristic of jazz is the spontaneity, which is mostly missing in contemporary classical music of today. You have very well trained contemporary musicians, technically impeccable. If the joy, happiness and spontaneity of jazz could mix with the contemporary classical music, this could lead to something special.

JP: Do you sometimes feel that you haven’t got enough of a reputation?

EV: It is hard to say. I am satisfied about what I did. I wrote a lot of film music, theatre music etc. Also I did music for the German TV series Ein Hamster im Nachthemd in Cologne. I was lucky to work with film cutter Miroslav Hajek who did all the early Miloš Forman movies. Mr Hajek liked me and recommended me for other movies, so I worked with high professionals. In America as a jazz piano player I would never have got the chance to get to the movies. I am grateful for that.

My last CD is on a Japanese Label VENUS Record.s It is a trio with Lewis Nash and George Mraz. The company is marketing it as The Janáček of Jazz. That’s an old title I was given by Chris Parker back in the 1997 in The Times, London. The Japanese writer Haruki Murakami is fascinated by Czech culture. He often speaks about Kafka and Janáček. That is how the producers decided to call me Janáček of Jazz. And now I’m selling CDs in Japan quite well. That’s crazy. Last year I played a solo piano concert in Tokyo, and Murakami came. He usually doesn’t go out in public. Very, very seldom. My next record in Japan will be a tribute to Murakami.

JP: What are you planning to do next?

EV: This month I have a short tour with Steve Houben, next month – April 2011 – I will play with Julian Nicholas again. With Richie Cole I will play a few concerts in Chicago in May and some festivals in Europe.

JP: A last question. What is the CD title?

EV: At first I thought about Mood Indigo because we destroyed this Duke´s tune so beautifully in a kind of Thelonius Monk-ish way. A friend of mine, painter Jiří Anderle,  has a picture called Spring Frenzy. Our concert was on March , it couldn’t be better description of the mood during that time. So, that´s it.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The View From The Front Row - July 2011

A couple of days late, but better late than never! Welcome to the July edition of Prague Jazz, this month featuring two interviews, rehearsal footage from Emil Viklický, an invitiation to download and review a Czech jazz album for free, and GigTips - our pick of upcoming concerts.

The interviews are two sides of the same coin: an American musician who now plays in Prague and a Czech musician who now plays in New York City. They talk about the good (and otherwise) points of playing in their adopted homes, their collaborations, experiences, plans and ambitions.

In June Czech Radio had their annual Open Day, with tours of the studios and a chance to meet star presenters and also the ladies and gentlemen behind the scenes who make it all happen. It was very gratifying to be instantly recognised by Petr Vidomus, the man behind the Euro Jazz project. Euro Jazz is an internet radio station that continually broadcasts jazz music from around the world, with an emphasis on Czech and European artists. The programmes are themed around genres, such as modern mainstream, experimental, swing and bop. It is free to listen to on the web at, and with little talk and lots of music it can be enjoyed even if you don't understand a word of Czech. Their jazz news pages are also very good, and although they are in Czech they can be easily decoded using Google Translate.

If you are in the mood for even more free music then do download the Libor Šmoldas album (see below). Normally we review albums so you can decide whether or not you want to buy them, but as this one costs you nothing to download we're reviewing it in reverse, and asking you the reader for your comments and thoughts.

June saw the 70th birthday of President Václav Klaus, and it was celebrated at a Jazz na Hradě concert dedicated to the occasion. The inclement weather meant that the planned garden venue had to be substituted for the Spanish Hall, but still it was interesting to see Emil Viklický and Jiří Stivín jamming together. Emil is currently working on a new album, as you will see from the rehearsal footage. More news on that when we have it.

Writing these words in the PJHQ penthouse, watching the rain coming down hard, it is hard to believe that this is really summer. Hopefully sunny days are on the way, but until then our advice is to kick back at home, open a beer or three, and put on your favourite Czech jazz album. If you want to contact us don't forget the Prague Jazz Facebook page, and also you can follow @tonyemmerson on Twitter.

Interview: Rene Trossman

There are two sorts of blues fans in Prague: those who go and see Rene Trossman and those who should. His is the sound of authentic Chicago blues, coming from an authentic Chicago heart. It was there that Rene played the clubs for a decade before moving to Europe and settling in Prague. He is known not only for his slick guitar sound and raw voice but also for his frankness and honesty: Rene tells it how he sees it, and this is how he sees it...

PJ: What was the Prague scene like when you arrived?

RT: Much more “transient”, and I refer to both the expat populations as well as the venues. In the nineties it was a lot easier in many ways, bureaucracy aside, to try almost anything, and people did. This applies to music as well. I remember “creating” venues in existing places that previously never had music. Walk in, hey do you want live music? Yeah, maybe!

PJ: What changes have you seen, for better and for worse?

RT: A huge increase in the number of quality musicians would be the main “for better”. Also, the jazz scene itself has become a lot more “sophisticated” and the blues scene, well, it “became”... Now, there are some incredible guys playing here, guys who are at an International Level and could play anywhere.

As far as the “for worse”, we could do a separate interview for that some day. In an effort to be concise here, I will limit my response to this with one specific “for worse” examples, that being musicians' wages.

Somehow, in spite of the fact that virtually everything costs a lot more today in Praha than in the nineties, musicians' wages are stuck in some sort of time warp. Granted, there are the exceptions that prove the rule and I don’t want this to be an overall indictment of all venues in the country, but, in general, the wages for musicians have not kept pace with all of the other increases. I receive offers that echo the nineties, and in many cases I can distinctly remember actually being better compensated back then! More recently I’ve played private parties where the shrimp table at the buffet costs more than what they were paying the band.

The result of this has been that a lot of the best musicians are sitting at home, because they don’t want to be taken advantage of and exploited, while owners make a profit from their talent. Even worse is the collateral damage, the programmes are now filled with those musicians who ARE willing to play for such insultingly pitiful terms.

The real losers? The paying public. What I do “get” is this: Typical venue here: 150-200Kč tickets, 40-80Kč beers, t-shirts for 200Kč, and for the band? It’s back to the nineties! Or some crappy offer a “door-deal” for a percentage of tickets sold, which if any type of promotion were to be done might be “alright”.

PJ: Who are the people you’ve enjoyed playing with most, both locals and international musicians?

RT: Locally, there are a few guys that I have played with, in various incarnations, for a long time. The Hammond Organ player, Jan Kořínek, drummer Martin Kopřiva, bassist Taras Voloshchuk (UKR), drummer Martin Šulc, and guitarist Jirka Hokeš are the guys here that I’ve known the longest and have worked with the most over the years. I continue to have musical connections to all of them in one form or another today.

Internationally, the blues man Mr. Eb Davis from Memphis, now living in Berlin. Eb and I have done a lot of things together over the years, including recording a CD with Jan Kořínek and Martin Kopřiva. A blues singer from Chicago, Mr. Lorenzo Thompson has also done a lot here, again including a CD with the same cats mentioned above.

More recently I had the privilege of working here with Miss Deitra Farr, an incredible blues singer from Chicago, and also recently we had the timeless wonder here, a blues guitarist and vocalist, Mr. Chick Willis from Atlanta, who did a tour here with us a couple of years ago at age 74. I learned a lot from all of these great people and had a lot of fun too.

PJ: When you are performing what gives you the most satisfaction?

Tricky topic here Tony! Naturally I want go out there each and every time and be better than the last time, and simply do the best I can, whether it is for 5 people or for 500 people. I try to do my thing in an honest way, and “do it like I mean it” every time. This being the goal, it is not always possible to achieve it every single time out.

Having said that, most of the time I am my own worst critic and have received compliments on nights when I did not think that it was warranted, and conversely there have been nights where I thought we really tore it up and not a word. The thing between the band and its public, it’s like the classic “chicken or the egg” argument of which came first. A band can get a lot of energy from their audiences, however it also necessary for a band to give energy to the audience, in order to receive any energy back from them.

Now I can actually answer your question and you may perhaps better understand this answer now that I have provided the “back-drop” to it. I’d say that when I am performing the most satisfying thing that happens is when someone tells me, “I don’t know anything about blues or have any blues CDs, but I loved the concert tonight.” The other is when someone says, “Hey, I also play blues in a band, back at home, and I really enjoyed your gig.” Everyone else seems to fall into some “middle” category, so to speak.

PJ: Where do you find the inspiration for your own songs?

From my own life and experiences mostly. I sometimes joke about a certain song I do as being from “The angry period” and another about being written “After she dumps you for the second time”. Of course as with a lot of writing, there is a certain amount of “poetic license” granted. So, if you ever hear me singing about killing someone or some other unreal scenario, be sure, I am using that license!

PJ: What advice would you give arriving musicians who want to break into the Czech scene?

RT: Be realistic. Disappointments will be the result of your own expectations, and how realistically these two things line up. Visit the scene, evaluate it and your own expectations in order to decide if they should in fact choose Prague. Tony, two things here, NOBODY gets into the jazz/blues music business, ANYWHERE, for the purposes of making any actual money, and secondly, I would not list Prague as a place where someone is going to become “famous” or renown in the fields of jazz or blues. There it is, the plain and simple truth.

I would like to say here that I do NOT live in Prague, nor did I choose to live here, because of the “music scene” here. Yes, there are opportunities to play, it is one of the collateral advantages of living in high-tourist city such as Praha. The key word being “opportunities” As to the quality of these opportunities and what rewards they offer, again, this is the expectations part.

The fact is, doing what I do, I can do it almost anywhere in the world that I choose to do it. I happen to enjoy living in Praha. After all, we all live in a place more than we play (work) in it. I can travel all around Europe to play, from Praha. I came here a lot of years ago and certainly did not ever plan on or even think I would stay as long as I have. Obviously if it did not suit me I would no longer still be here.

PJ: What are your current plans and ambitions?

RT: Currently, I am working on completing a new CD of all original compositions. Further on, I want to focus on booking festival appearances abroad. This is such a great way to reach a lot of people in one moment, and affords a lot of great new opportunities to return somewhere in the future as a result.

My ambitions are to quit smoking and attain Nirvana. That is all Tony, thank you.

And many thanks to Rene for his time and this thoughts. You can visit Rene at his website - - and see him in action at the end of July:

JULY 26 - Jazz Dock
JULY 27 - U Malého Glena
JULY 28 - Blues Sklep
JULY 30 - U Malého Glena

And finally here is the official video for one of Rene's songs, "My Endless Blue Mood", featung his band and filmed at U Malého Glena.

Emil Viklický - New Album Rehearsals

It is always a time of excitement and anticipation here at PJHQ when Emil is working on a new album. His current project is Kafka On The Shore, an album for Venus Records in Japan. To give you a taste of what it will be like here's a clip of the band in rehearsal at Czech Radio's famous Studio A, where many great Czech (and Czechoslovak!) albums were recorded.

CD Review: Your Turn!


Anyone who says that there is no such thing as a free lunch has never gatecrashed a wedding reception. Anyone who says that there is no such thing as free music has never been to the website of guitarist Libor Šmoldas. The former member of Organic Quartet is giving away his Live At Jazz Dock album for free, although you can make a financial contribution if you feel so inclined.

We at PJ spend a lot of time telling you how great Czech jazz is so it would be interesting to hear your opinions on Libor's album. You can download it at - just follow the instructions on his website. Give it a listen and please leave a comment to let us (and the world) know what you think!

Interview: Ondřej Pivec

When the Prague Jazz website started one of the most exciting emerging musicians on the local scene was organist Ondřej Pivec. He had that star quality: a young player with technical skill but also a young writer with something to say in his music. He was clearly one of the guys who was going to “make it”, and it was only a matter of time before he headed out into the world to expand his horizons and his musical vocabulary.

Here we catch up with Ondřej’s story in the “city that never sleeps”. No, not Brno. New York, New York.

PJ: Why did you decide to go to NYC and how do you like it there?

OP: The primary idea was to go for about half a year, take lessons, play sessions with people and get better at playing jazz music. From today's point of view it seems like quite a silly idea, as I see that the real learning process takes years or even decades, if you want the outcome to have some kind of value. So overall I really love it - I get to learn so many new things I would never have in Prague.

PJ: How does the NYC scene compare with the Czech scene?

OP: Well, speaking from a jazz perspective, the difference is mainly in the fact that there are more people. So there are more good musicians, more great musicians and more bad musicians. More places to play at, more people to come and listen to etc. which creates a highly competitive environment and therefore a greater level of music. Also, if you are great at what you're doing, there is a chance for you become a member of or play with world renowned bands, which consist of major headliners or as I like to call them "jazz superstars". The prospect of playing with truly amazing musicians keeps everyone motivated and this is something that is unlikely to happen in Prague due to the scale of our jazz community.

Another factor that plays into this is the plethora of musical styles in NYC - something that almost doesn't exist in the Czech Republic. I am very slowly entering the gospel and RnB scene - only realizing the stereotype that "jazz musicians can play everything" is really really off. Especially in today's jazz music scene, when there is not much stress being put on stylistic accuracy and everything is played so "open".

PJ: What do you miss most about playing here, and what is the most enjoyable about playing in NYC?

OP: Well, when I was leaving at the end of 2008, Organic Quartet was in a very good shape and just finally taking off internationally. So it felt a bit sad - after six years of working on a project and leaving it just when the efforts start to pay off. But, I felt a strong need to learn much more about music and the best way I thought to accomplish that would be in NYC, where I would expose myself to new situations, which could lead to great musical learning experience. And that's what I love the most about being in New York - it keeps you on your toes and if you're open to it, you can learn something new every day.

PJ: What are your current projects?

OP: Besides playing for a Harlem gospel church every Sunday, I play every Wednesday at a war veterans' club with a be-bop trio of Jason Marshall (Roy Hargrove's baritone saxophonist) and I've also formed two new projects. One is a funk/fusion trio called CPR ( and my second project is with an R'n'B cover band ( I am very excited about both groups.

PJ: What are your long term ambitions and plans?

OP: I would love to be musically as versatile as possible, because that allows you to work on many different projects. Soon I want to start writing music again, which I haven't done for nearly two years. Because I took a break to absorb some of the new music I'm being exposed to. It's a never ending process; it seems to me that I'll just have "creative" and "absorbing" eras in my life.

PJ: Do you think you will ever return to CZ permanently?

OP: Currently I see my future here in New York, but like they say: "Never say never"...

PJ: Do you have any suggestions for young musicians who contemplate going abroad for getting more experience?

OP: Yes - do it! Being abroad forces you to adjust to and understand completely different mentalities and cultures, so you begin to understand that your point of view, no matter how strong and valid it is, is just one of many equally valid ones. And the lessons you learn from those experiences are invaluable.

PJ: Is there anything you miss from the Czech Republic that is unavailable in NYC (can be anything, food, things, events, people...)?

OP: I definitely miss my close friends and family members. Sometimes I wouldn't mind having a plate of svíčková or a baked duck witch cabbage and dumplings. Thankfully, they just opened a very good Czech restaurant on the Upper East side of Manhattan a week ago, which I plan to visit every once in a while for a memory of home.

Many thanks to Ondřej for taking the time to talk to us. Best wishes from Prague – we hope to see you here again soon. You can keep up with Ondřej’s work at his website - - and here’s a clip of him in action. Enjoy!

GigTips: July 2011

There are so many jazz gigs in Prague that it would be impossible to list all the good ones, even with careful selection to weed out the routine and the mundane. Instead we offer you a handful of gigs each month that we feel could be of special interest.

At AghaRTA Jazz Centrum this month you can catch many of the biggest and most influential names in Czech jazz. Guitar wizard Luboš Andršt will be in action on 10/7 and 11/7, followed by pianist Emil Viklický on 12/7. Trumpeter Michal Gera (30/7) and saxophonist František Kop (5/7) are also playing there, reaffirming AJC’s reputation for quality acts that would be respected on any stage around the world. They will be joined by one of the best young players on the scene, pianist Matěj Benko, on 29/9.

If Latin is your thing then do take the chance to see the Yvonne Sanchez Band at Jazz Dock on 13/7 and 14/7. The Polish-Cuban singer, who received very positive reviews for her My Garden album, is an accomplished performer with an enchanting voice. Another great jazz vocalist is Elena Sonenshine, who recently guested at the President’s birthday concert: she’s at Jazz Dock on 3/7 and at Reduta on 24/7.

Finally, don’t forget our recent interviewees. Karel Růžička jr. is over from NYC in July and you can catch him at any of the following gigs:

15.7. - U Maleho Glena
22.7. - U Maleho Glena
25.7.- Jazz Dock
28.7. - La Boca

Rene Trossman's July gigs are listed at the bottom of his interview earlier in this edition.

If you go to any of the gigs listed here please let us know what you thought, and please do tell the venue that you saw the gig tipped on Prague Jazz.