|Eberhard Weber. Photo credit : Nadia Romanini/ ECM|
We interviewed Martin Mühleis, head of the theatre production house and book publisher Sagas, who is the instigator and mastermind behind the Gala Concerts for Eberhard Weber in Stuttgart in January 2015. The line-up for the concert is astonishing: Gary Burton, Jan Garbarek, Pat Metheny, Danny Gottlieb, Scott Colley, Paul MacCandless, Ralph Towner and the SWR Big Band. In this interview Mühleis talks about his own friendship with Eberhard Weber, and what has led up to the concert
LondonJazz News: Was it your work as theatre producer and film director that first brought you into contact with Eberhard Weber?
Martin Mühleis: Yes it was. I booked Eberhard Weber 27 years ago for a literary and musical project all about the concept of where home (Heimat) is for Hermann Hesse and for other authors. I’d asked Eberhard to write the music for it. We stayed in touch after that, and a couple of years later he also wrote the music for a documentary which I produced for German TV.
Since I also oversee the programming of a small festival, I used to invite Eberhard to perform at it, in extremely varied ensembles. I have also produced concerts for him, with musicians such as Gerardo Núñez, Richard Galliano, Enrico Rava, Paul McCandless – and many others. Then there was the 65th birthday concert that I produced for him in the Theaterhaus in Stuttgart, with the SWR Radio Symphony Orchestra, and Jan Garbarek, Gary Burton, Wolfgang Dauner, Rainer Brüninghaus and Marilyn Mazur. That concert was on the theme of how his music was rooted in the western classical tradition. It consisted of works by Ravel and Stravinsky, contrasted with compositions by Eberhard Weber, which he had arranged for an ensemble and large orchestra.
LJN: How is he these days, after the stroke?
MM: On the morning after his stroke in 2007 I was on the telephone with him. In that first phase of his recovery it was far from clear how debilitating the consequences of the stroke would be, but he was working on the assumption that with the right drug regime and physiotherapy he could get it all back together again. He was quite pragmatic about it in fact: his bass had a problem and he saw the gap as a good opportunity for the instrument to go in for repair.
After that came a period in which he worked single-mindedly on the course of therapy, and was convinced that he would be able to get back on stage. However, when he realised that it was not going to be possible, there followed a period of severe depression, and it was also during that time that his wife died. However, once he had come up with the concept of the album, he started to be on a more even keel. Today he is very creative, he works for hours at the computer, writes arrangements and composes.
LJN: And the autobiogaphy,“Résumé”?
MM: His work on that is an astonishing process. There are there memories which are clearly very moving for him, and which are resurfacing, from his early musical experiences through to particular concerts. He is indeed in a good, alert, and creative place at the moment.
LJN: Are you also a big fan yourself?
MM: I studied in Munich, where ECM is based. Through that I came into contact with Eberhard’s music quite early, at the time when he was working with guitarist Volker Kriegel. For a long time I didn’t pay much attention to the bass, I tended to think of it as an accompanying instrument, but after I left university I began to appreciate it, and became a huge fan. I love the distinctively different sounds of Charlie Haden, John Patitucci – and of course of Eberhard. In that context he is the most unconventional. He developed a sound which at times is very far removed from traditional bass-playing, I was always very impressed by his way of improvising. That is what fascinates me the most about his music.
LJN: Tell us about the January Jubilee concert and the Baden-Wuerttemberg Jazz Prize.
MM: The Jazz Prize of the Land of Baden-Württemberg has been around since 1985. The award is given in order to support and inspire excellence among the younger generation of jazz musicians. There are a few significant conservatoires in Baden-Württemberg: Freiburg, Stuttgart und Mannheim, for example. In Dieter Ilg, who teaches in Freiburg, Baden-Württemberg has one of the very great jazz bassists of our time. The Land’s authorities have also been doing their bit to ensure a lively and top-quality jazz scene for many years. There are good clubs, good gigs and many superb young musicians. Culture minister Jürgen Walter comes from the jazz scene himself, and it was he who had the idea to give a prize for the very first time for lifetime achievement, and Eberhard will be the first to win it. Given the fact that Eberhard himself can’t play any more, he gave the whole thing over to me, and basically said: “Surprise me!“
My idea was to let a few of Eberhard’s ‘old buddies’ interpret his music. So I then approached a few of the musicians who had been important for him and his development, and was deeply touched by the kindness and the joy with which they responded. They all said that the work they had done with Eberhard had been very significant for their own musical development. Gary Burton had brought him over to the States to work in his group as second bass alongside Steve Swallow, an unusual combination. In that same band there had also been a very young guitarist – that was Pat Metheny – and the two of them have been united ever since by their musical friendship.
Eberhard was on Ralph Towner’s 1975 album “Solstice”, which also had Jan Garbarek on it. These are long-term relationships, which we will be re-establishing for these concerts. There is going to be the World Premiere of a composition by Pat Metheny, which he has arranged around solos of Eberhard Weber. We’ve put these solos, from all kinds of ensembles, into order, they span from the 1970’s to 2006. I’m really excited about that!
LJN: And the involvement of the Land of Baden-Württemberg and the state government has been important?
MM: This line-up could not have been put together without the structure we have and without working in partnership with the state of Baden-Württemberg. The young Culture Minister has succeeded in getting the financing on board, and the costs of the concerts are thus carried by sponsors. However, the first pre-requisite of this project is the willingness of the artists involved to participate. It goes without saying that they are offering their services at well below their normal fees, and are taking on a massive commitment to appear in Stuttgart in honour of Eberhard. As a purely private sector enterprise this concert would be an impossibility.
LJN: And SWR and their big band?
MM: Eberhard Weber was the co-founder of the United Jazz and Rock Ensemble, so he has always had a strong affinity for big band music. We quite consciously wanted the sound of a big band for the concerts. It also allows us to establish the connection with the jazz scene in Baden-Württemberg, because a number of the Jazz Prize winners of the last few years are writing the arrangements of the Weber compositions for this line-up. The Big Band is such an important ensemble, and we’re just very pleased that they’re involved.
LJN: And your company is also publishing Eberhard Weber’s autobiography “Résumé”?
MM: Yes, that’s right. It took quite an effort to persuade Eberhard, because he sees himself as a musician, and not as a writer. What’s interesting here is that he lived in and through his music right up to and until his last sound check, so he wasn’t yet at the point where he wanted to look back, and that’s why the stroke was so harrowing.
In the first stage of the project he was reluctant to write an autobiography, because he was firmly of the opinion that could only tell a story through his music, and not with words. That’s why we began working through a series of interviews, to make it easier for him. And step by step he started to trace the story, to take pleasure in his memories and in his reflections on music and things.
Where that led to is that we never actually used those initial interviews. One day Eberhard simply got down to it and started writing. Anyone who has seen him on stage knows what an articulate, humorous and quick-witted entertainer he can be, and in time, the writing came just as easily to him. He is working assiduously on his jazz story, and we’re hoping that the book will be published before Christmas, or in any event for the concerts.