Feature/Interview

#IWD2021: pianist Clara Haberkamp

“I have done a lot of different things in music,” says German pianist/ composer/ songwriter Clara Haberkamp. “But in my new trio album, Accumulation [to be released on Malletmuse on 12 August], I want to concentrate on just one style which is closer to the heart of who I am.” Profile for International Women’s Day 2021 by Sebastian Scotney.

Clara Haberkamp, now 31, still vividly remembers the first jazz concert she played. She was just eleven years old. It was at the Jazzclub Domicil in Dortmund, the closest city to her hometown of Unna, and she was taking part in a performance by the regional prize-winners of the “Jugend Jazzt” (youth plays jazz) competition.

The following years brought many, many more prizes, distinctions and – as she is the first to acknowledge – fantastic opportunities. In some respects this might be expected, because the region of North Rhine Westphalia has set such a superb example in providing structures of long-term support for its young musicians over many decades. But even in this context, it is hard to avoid the strong impression that Clara Haberkamp was singled out as a very special talent from an early age. She has certainly been working at the very top level for a surprisingly long time.

As the pianist of the NRW regional youth orchestra, she toured Southeast Asia, Israel, Estonia and Malta. She occupied the piano chair in the German National Youth Jazz Orchestra, and her tenure of that position culminated in a particularly big occasion, captured on video (LINK), when she played at the Orchestra’s 25th anniversary concert with Kurt Elling

She is from a very musical family: her parents are both saxophonists, and Clara’s mother, llona Haberkamp, is also the biographer of one of the great female icons in the history of German jazz, pianist Jutta Hipp. Both her parents encouraged her to develop a broad interest in music. And gender never presented any problems, for which she acknowledges gratitude: “I was brought up on a very equal footing – it was never really an issue that I was a girl. It was always about quality and never about posing, making assumptions and pre-judging.”

She has been leading her own trio since 2010. Its first appearance was at the invitation of Sedal Sarden, of Berlin’s A-Trane Club, to mark Herbie Hancock’s birthday, and the group has been attracting plaudits almost since its inception. It won the Newcomer Award (the IB.SH-Förderpreis) at the 2011 Jazz Baltica Festival. The trio’s members are Tilo Weber, who has been with Haberkamp more or less since the start, and bassist Oliver Potratz, who has been a member for around four years, but about whom Haberkamp is utterly convinced “he is the right one.”

The group has worked with some stellar guests. Two of its appearances at the “Jazz goes Föhr” summer festivals in the Frisian Islands featured American bassist Greg Cohen (2013) and Dutch trumpeter Ack van Rooyen (2014). Clara Haberkamp, while still a masters student in Hamburg, was also commissioned to compose music for the NDR Big Band.

Another facet of her musical being is that she is just as comfortable talking about the jazz inheritance of Keith Jarrett, EST and Craig Taborn as she is about classical composers such as Skryabin and Ravel. And that dual sensitivity is there in her playing in the trio context.

There have been teachers and important mentors along the way, notably the American-born vibraphonist David Friedman, who taught her at Jazz Institut Berlin and who has been, and continues to be, a consistent supporter and advocate right from the beginning of her studies as a 19-year-old.

Her association with academia has continued, and she is now on the teaching staff of not just one but two higher education faculties in Berlin. She is also doing a doctorate, supported by funding from the Claussen-Simon-Stiftung. Her doctorate is not a theoretical but more a practical venture, and is involved with helping school teachers to integrate instrumental improvising into teaching in general and into class singing in particular. This work provides an extra source of motivation: “I like the fact that it brings the practical and artistic sides into real-life contexts,” she explains.

She also has a very strong feeling that she has recently been changing as a player. “What I did before was more the impressionistic way of playing, colours and moods; I have been called a ‘mood player’”. And although she is not likely to lose that sensitivity, there is now much more focus on keeping the continuity of voice-leading. Another change is that, having been a singer/lyricist as well as pianist, her new album will be purely instrumental, although she does play both grand piano and Fender Rhodes, sometimes both simultaneously, developing fascinatingly complex contrapuntal threads.

Her eloquent remarks about her own experience as a woman in jazz fit well in the context of this International Women’s Day feature, but what resonates above all is her underlying sense of positivity and energy as a musician.

“My general opinion about women in jazz is this: it is important as a woman in jazz to be clear about what you can do and what is musically possible. And this certainty about one’s own quality, one’s own strengths, makes it easier to work with male colleagues. I think this day is important because it reminds us of the achievements of our predecessors on which we can now build.”

Take 6 poster

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

LINK: Clara Haberkamp’s website

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