“I would describe my music as pure and raw,” says bassist Yannick Peeters from the Flemish part of Belgium, in this interview (*) for International Women’s Day. Born in 1981, she started out learning classical piano as a child, but was bitten by the jazz bug in her mid-teens and threw herself into playing the double bass. She studied at the Royal Conservatory in Antwerp (with Piet Verbist and Gulli Gudmundsson), and then with Anders Jormin at the Musikhogskolan in Göteborg in Sweden.
Peeters is now a much sought-after and highly regarded double bass player with a broad musical interest and cross-genre projects. She is one of a crop of fine, jazz-oriented female double bass players from Belgium: Anneleen Boehme (b. 1989), Kris Auman (b. 1987), Lara Rosseel (b. 1985), Trui Amerlinck (b. 1993).
Moreover, as a mother of three young children (twins aged 6 and an 8-year-old), she is concerned with finding a good balance between motherhood, musical development, lockdown rules and a busy schedule, and this together with her husband Kristof Roseeuw, double bassist and jazz programmer at De Bijloke Gent. Zoom interview by Bernard Lefèvre of the Belgian site Jazz’halo and co-published with various European sites:
How hard does life feel with your family in the time of corona?
I think we are lucky, because our children are in a good age bracket. They don’t have too many problems with that and can still go to school for the time being. I am mainly teaching this year. Kristof continues to be responsible for the programme at De Bijloke and is working on all sorts of projects. So we are still busy, albeit with a different focus and rhythm.
All the musicians I hear find it very challenging with all the gig cancellations. All the motivation to stay busy, to live from project to project, from concert to concert, has suddenly gone.
Did you do some streaming too?
I have done a few. There is another one in the diary, and it is good that it is there, but it does not really feel like a live performance without an audience present.
Double bass is a demanding instrument, what attracted you to it?
I hesitated a long time between cello and double bass. I was 15 years old when, during a performance of Moondog Jr (Zita Swoon) with Tomas De Smet on double bass, I decided to focus on double bass. Then came the jazz courses at the Halewijn Foundation in Dworp. Then I was completely immersed in jazz, and bitten by the jazz bug. My jazz heroes were Coltrane and Miles Davis. I had a cassette with Coltrane on one side and Miles Davis on the other, and on my bicycle with my walkman I went to Jazz Middelheim, in the days of Miel Vanattenhoven.
I have a very broad taste. I listen according to my mood, sometimes very melancholic, sometimes gloomy, sometimes cheerful, all kinds of very different music, my interests transcend genres.
I also believe that the sound you make is also the way you play, the way you face the instrument
Is the double bass you play a special instrument, have you customised it at all?
Yes, it is. I use my study double bass from the conservatory, which I will not part with, a bass that I have a love-hate relationship with, sometimes I am tired of it and want to buy a new one. At other times I can’t imagine letting it go. Meanwhile we have known each other for 20 years. I have searched a long time for the right strings and I have found them. I don’t think I could part with it now. It’s a bass with its own character and the way it sounds now, the way I play it, is how I want it. I also believe that the sound you make is also the way you play, the way you face the instrument. Whether a newer instrument would sound better I don’t know…
Do you have more time to practise now, to perfect yourself?
Double bass requires a lot of practice, but now that I teach more, I have less time for that. I must confess that I have had a major dip due to corona and the cancellation of gigs. In September last year, I found it quite difficult to stay motivated. Fortunately, I’m over that now and the past few weeks I’ve got back into the swing of things, practising every day to get back on level. Just like in elite sport, if you don’t keep that going you’re going to suffer, and it is necessary to do it in order to get back to the right level.
Your husband Kristof is also a double bass player, do you work with him as well?
Yes, I do. We are both professional double bass players, but with a different approach. I like that, because it creates an exchange. Kristof lets me discover things from his experience and suggests things to try out, and he in turn comes to me to ask questions when it’s more jazz-oriented. In the beginning of the lockdown, we played a lot together while the children were asleep. And we are going to bring that even further together with Drawing Basses, Kristof and myself together with Peter Jacquemyn. A premiere was planned for 13 March 2020, just on the day the lockdown started.
Earlier, we had done a project with five double bass players: basssss. And there was also Fundament, a 12-piece ensemble with all instruments from the nether regions of pitch.
How different are Kristof and yourself in your approach to double bass?
I think we have very similar tastes. But you can feel that we each developed our own outlook from the music we used to listen to. Kristof has more of a classical bent. That interests me too, I also like listening to classical music. But when I was young, I used to listen to rock and traditional jazz. That is more my direction. But we have a common denominator in our training and as bassists we agree on what we like. To put it very bluntly, lyricism is more to Kristof’s liking, while grounding, the low end of the double bass is more my thing. My absolute favourite is Thomas Morgan. But we both also like Michael Formanek and Charlie Haden, Ray Brown, Mark Dresser…
Have you ever ventured into electric bass?
Certainly at home. With lockdown, I started to play more bass guitar, which I have been playing for a long time, but never in front of an audience, I like that. It’s a different way of playing and you have to maintain that. But I get cold feet at the idea of playing bass guitar at a professional level.
How do you present yourself as a double bass player, do you feel the urge to improvise… to be in the foreground with the instrument?
I have now been able to do three try-outs in August 2020 with my new project, GingerBlackGinger. I love the stage. And I also love soloing improvisation as much as background improvisation. I feel for a combination of them and I’m not looking to just be out front.
I would describe my music as pure and raw
How would you describe your music in this project?
I like to think in contrasts: beautiful, ugly, loud, quiet, raw, pure, groovy… I want it to flow together in a song. I would describe my music as pure and raw. That more or less sums it up.
I really tried to write with the musicians in mind and give each one space.
This project came about as a reverie, an answer to the question: ‘What combination of musicians would I like to work with? What is my absolute dream team?’ For me, the answer was Claron McFadden, Frederik Leroux, Frans Van Isacker, Jim Black. The combination of these fantastic musicians makes me curious and inspires me to think in all freedom of where the music can go. All of them are people I look up to, people who have been on a dream team list for a long time, musicians with a vision and a stubbornness that I can only respect. I have a close relationship with soprano Claron McFadden through the project Nachtschade: Aubergine. She is an expressive personality in classical and jazz.
Drummer Jim Black has always been a hero too. I already knew him from Jazz Middelheim in 1997 when he was with the Tiny Bell Trio. And alto saxophonist Frans Van Isacker and guitarist Frederik Leroux, who are both into adventure and improvisation, fit in perfectly. They are restless spirits who keep looking for new sounds, contexts and like-minded people, and are therefore the ideal travelling companions for me in this project.
In terms of content, I feel an evolution towards a more spiritual form of both making and experiencing music. All surplus ballast overboard. No showing off, no superfluous gestures, but rather honesty, purity, beauty in all possible forms… From raw rock and pure avant-garde to lyrical simplicity – or from lyrical rock and simple avant-garde to pure rawness – I want to see how we can work with contrasts.
Should you choose to invite another musician, who would that be?
Aside from those I’ve already mentioned, Craig Taborn is for me one of the most complete musicians I know, but I don’t know if I would dare to play with him. Craig puts so many little details in his sound, he is so subtle. I played the piano myself but I didn’t pursue it. I felt it was not my instrument. I don’t care about the instrument, I care about the musician behind it.
You turn 40 in April, how do you see your future as a musician and are there dreams you still want to fulfil?
At the moment, of course, the corona crisis is holding us back, but we have a lot of great projects coming up for next year. We’ll see how it goes from this unreal year to the next. I am already very happy that at almost forty, I am still active on the music scene. It’s not that easy to keep going. Fortunately, I have a safety net, I teach and I feel very good about that.
Looking to the future, I’m hopeful that I’ll be working in 2022 with my own project GingerBlackGinger and, together with Kristof and Peter Jacquemyn, Drawing Basses.
I am also involved in guitarist Guillaume Vierset’s Harvest Group, with whom I have a tour being planned for later this year.
This article has been published in the following magazines as part of an IWD collaboration to highlight young jazz and blues female musicians across Europe: Citizen Jazz (Fr), Jazzaround (Be), Jazz’halo (Be), Jazznytt (No), London Jazz News (UK). #Womentothefore #IWD2021
(*) The original version in Dutch is on the Jazz’halo site. Thank you to Emile Clemens on whose translation this English version is based.
LINK: (*) ORIGINAL INTERVIEW IN DUTCH