In Denmark, singer, saxophonist and songwriter Mads Mathias is well-known. He not only fronts his own Orchestra and Quartet, he also appears regularly with the Six City Stompers, the Tivoli Big Band and the Danish Radio Big Band, and has performed in venues across the world such as the Forbidden City Concert Hall in Beijing. He is about to embark a UK tour (dates below). IAN SHAW kindly interviewed him:
Ian Shaw:You write classic jazz songs – I can’t because they end up sounding like existing standards. Where does your inspiration come from? Gershwin? Porter? Buble?
Mads Mathias: I actually don’t really think my songs are in a particular music ‘style’. The melody is the defining point for me, and I go where that takes me. I guess my songwriting is a product of the different musical influences I’ve heard in my life, from Cole Porter to the Beatles to Carl Nielsen! But I start off with what sound like pop songs really, then they become more classic jazz sounding when I add jazz instrumentation or a swing rhythm.
IS: You have a very famous radio orchestra in Denmark – is there a specific jazz flavour coming from Denmark?
MM: Yes, we have the Danish Radio Big Band, who I’ve been very fortunate to work with quite a bit. It’s a great band packed with some of the best musicians of Northern Europe and also some from North America. I think we have a strong jazz tradition here. Back in the sixties and seventies many of the American stars lived in Copenhagen – like Stan Getz, Ben Webster, Kenny Drew and Bud Powell, which really made Copenhagen a jazz metropolis. Since then it has developed it’s own language – leaning towards a more Nordic lyrical sound, but there are also strong mainstream and avant garde scenes which come from the American tradition. I’ve seen a lot of great talent popping up over the last few years, which is on a high enough level to match the international jazz scene, but sometimes we have a problem with a lack of confidence in ourselves in our small country.
IS: I love your connection to your audience – who are your favourite contemporary artists who have a similar bond?
MM: Thank you! I just like to try and set a relaxed and good-humoured atmosphere and have a rapport going with the audience and see them smile, you know? When I go out to a concert or even a dinner party I appreciate it if the host is welcoming and sets a good atmosphere so to speak. I also think it’s important to introduce the songs, to let people in. Artists like Sinatra and Nat King Cole but also contemporary artists like Harry Connick Jr and YOU really had/have a great connection to the audience. I really admire your charisma when you perform – with your immediate humour alongside the strong musicality! Do you give lessons?
IS: One of our favourite jazz venues in London is the Pizza – why do YOU like playing there so much?
MM: In continuation of what I was saying, the Pizza Express jazz club really enables me to get nice and tight and cozy with the audience, as opposed to being on a huge stage where you are blinded by spots and can’t really see who you are playing for. That’s fun too, but in a very different way. At the Pizza you can see everybody’s faces and communicate more intimately – I love that. Also I appreciate a venue that understands jazz musicians, treats us well and has a great grand piano!
IS: Do you enjoy rehearsing your arrangements with new musicians?
MM: Yeah it’s a lot of fun to play my music around the world, as the jazz tradition varies from country to country, so musicians interpret my music very differently. Of course it can go either way, but when it really works it can take the music to a new level.
IS: Are there any contemporary artists you would like to collaborate with, either instrumental or vocal?
MM: Oh there are so many things I wanna do, and can’t wait to do in my short life, the challenge lies in narrowing it down (and of course convincing people to work with me…) but I’ve had a chance to play with some great musicians and singers (I still have to convince you though… 😉 I think the rhythm section is the key to a great band and a couple of musicians I have always wanted to play with are Christian McBride (when I heard him for the first time I was like ‘that is exactly what a double bass should sound like!’) and the great drummer Gregory Hutchinson.
IS: We are looking forward to your visit. Do have any special message for your UK fans? – Any musical surprises up your sleeve?
MM: Yeah I really am looking forward to the tour as well. It has been an eye opening experience to see you guys receive my lyrics and actually understand them! Back home in Denmark the audience get like 50% I think. So I’ve written some new songs that I look forward to playing for you.
IS: David Bowie just died – his creativity and voice shaped how I viewed popular music. His swansong album was a collaboration with the young New York jazz scene. Has his music affected you in any way?
MM: I’m a big fan of David Bowie and his ability to break down the barriers between music styles & genres and stir it up to become something ground breaking. Using tradition and innovation like that is what it’s all about.
5th February 8:00 pm – Cinnamon Club, Manchester
6th February 11:00 am Southport Jazz Festival
7th February 1:30 pm Seven Jazz in Chapel Allerton, Leeds
12th February 8:00 pm Lighthouse Poole
13th February 6:00 pm Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
13th February 10:00 pm Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
14th February 8:00 pm Pizza Express Music Lounge, Maidstone