Feature/Interview

In lockdown with… pianist Niels Lan Doky

Danish jazz pianist, composer and producer Niels Lan Doky has recently been described as “one of the most important pianists that European jazz has given us in the last 45 years.” He has lived in Boston, New York and Paris. Based back in Copenhagen since 2013, he is now a central figure in Danish jazz scene, not least through his involvement in the re-opening of Jazzhus Montmartre and subsequently the founding of a new club, The Standard Jazz Club. His latest album is “River of Time”. 

Niels Lan Doky at home

First album you purchased as a “jazz musician”?

It was the soundtrack album to the Robert Redford/Paul Newman movie The Sting that came out when I was 11 years old and which featured ragtime music (the precursor of jazz) by composer Scott Joplin. Most of this music was written and performed on piano, so that’s how I fell in love with the instrument and switched from my previous instrument which was classical guitar.

What are you listening to right now?

I am listening to Flamenco artists like Duquende, Camaron de la Isla, Vicente Amigo, Paco De Lucia and Tomatito. This genre provides my main source of inspiration at the moment, although it not stylistic inspiration (you won’t directly hear Flamenco elements in my music, but indirectly through a host of other great qualities that this genre has to offer).

Have you discovered anything new since being in lockdown or revisited old favourites perhaps?

Yes I have been listening to a lot of old Erroll Garner clips on YouTube – essential piano greatness and uniqueness at its pinnacle. In terms of something new, I have enjoyed the music of pop singer/songwriter Billie Eilish. I am enjoying the emergence of well-crafted songs and authentic artistic expression on a level not heard in a long time in mainstream pop, I think she is a genuine talent.

Have you done or watched any livestream gigs/events since lockdown?

I have done daily live streamed solo piano concerts for 13 consecutive days from my home (March 22 – April 3), which got a lot of attention, including a feature from the TV news station in the US, PBS NewsHour, who broadcasted a segment alongside segments by Yo Yo Ma and Paul Simon among others. The daily series was timely as it all led up to the digital release of River of Time and it allowed me to introduce people to the new tunes and revisit some older songs I’ve not played in years. So that was nice. I’m also doing another one for an online festival with Blue Note Japan on International Jazz Day.

Do you feel it’s a good or a bad idea?

I think it is a great idea. It enables us all to stay connected via music and many fans told me it was a healing tool for them in these isolating times. I found the idea a little scary at first because I have never done that large of a volume of solo piano performances but getting out of your comfort zone is most often a rewarding experience and this was no exception.

Who have you been watching/listening to? Any particularly good ones?

I watched a livestream that my oldest son Ken Linh Doky (keyboardist/producer living in Paris) did with one of the backing vocal singers in Madonna’s band named Ellah Barbosa, they are both really great so I greatly enjoyed that.

Most memorable incident/event in your career or education?

Playing with jazz legend Thad Jones for the first time when I was 15.

Instrument you wish you played?

I love the acoustic bass and have been gravitating towards and played with the greatest acoustic bassists all my life (Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Ray Brown, Gary Peacock, Eddie Gomez, Buster Williams, etc). And when we were kids, my younger brother Chris Minh Doky started as a pianist but I talked him into taking up the bass instead, so that we could play together.

Has this time in isolation inspired any new creative ideas?

Yes. It has inspired me to return to – and focus more exclusively on – the essential values of life. Which includes music as well. So I am writing and recording new music and trying to reach beyond what I have already conquered or accomplished musically. Feeling the urge to do that is inspiring in itself so it is a process that fuels itself. And the peace and quiet time of Corona has allowed me to dig deeper.

What are you most looking forward to once this is over?

I am mostly looking forward to seeing my children again, they are stuck in respectively Phoenix, London and Paris at the moment so I only see them on video calls.

And more generally I hoping for and believe that there will be a new and better World order after this crisis and I am looking forward to a new chapter in life where the more important, societally-created issues such as climate change, poverty, inequality and sustainability are properly dealt with and at the top of the global political agenda.

A chance to plug a friend’s music right now…

I do think that Denmark has some of the finest new young jazz talents in the world today. Two of the top ones are featured on my new album River of Time, bassist Tobias Dall and drummer Niclas Bardeleben (who put a new album out earlier this year called N.O. in my Heart CPH in my Blood. But others include for example harmonica player Mathias Heise and Hungarian tenor saxophonist living in Denmark, Gabor Bolla.

 

River of Time is set for UK release on 29 May

LINK: Niels Lan Doky’s website

Categories: Feature/Interview

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