INTERVIEW: Kaja Draksler

28-year old Slovenian pianist KAJA DRAKSLER, filmed above at Jazzahead in 2014, studied jazz piano in Groningen, Holland, and classical composition in Amsterdam, where she now lives, and is emerging as an unique voice. The mix of influences she has taken on board includes her Slovenian heritage, her teachers Vijay Iyer and Jason Moran; Cecil Taylor; Ligeti; Monk, Duke and stride pianists. For this interview she talked to Alison Bentley, after her solo gig at the 2015 Inntoene Jazz Festival:

London Jazz News: Would you say much of your musical inspiration comes from Slovenia?

Kaja Draksler: I think definitely some inspiration comes from there- nostalgic ideas of church bells and so on. Definitely memories, landscapes.

LJN: You studied piano in New York with Vijay Iyer and Jason Moran.

KD: The first time I was in New York I was on an exchange programme, and I had lessons with them, and I enjoyed it very much. When I went there again I had lessons with them again so…they are definitely two of my favourite pianists.

LJN: Vijay Iyer was influenced by Steve Coleman- is there something of the M-Base sound in your playing?

KD: I never really listened to Steve Coleman much, but definitely he’s had such a profound influence on many people that I like, for example Craig Taborn, who is also one of my favourite pianists. He was also under [Steve Coleman’s] tutelage. Vijay and Jason both played with [Coleman] as well. So many people played with him and went through his school. I guess he’s influenced me second-hand.

LJN: What about your Classical studies? I wondered if you enjoyed Ligeti?

KD: I love Ligeti! I’m trying to play some of his stuff but it’s very, very difficult- the Études- I’ve played some of those. And there’s also Musica Ricercata- there are some pieces from there that I tried to play but it takes a very long time to learn that, even to just read it, so I don’t really have enough patience most of the time to go through it!

LJN: And you wrote about Cecil Taylor?

KD: I did my Master’s thesis on one of his pieces.

LJN: Has he had a big influence on you?

KD: Definitely, at least for that period when I was writing about him and analysing his piece. I think not only his music, but also what he says about it- I mean, just his way of being a musician- his beliefs, his determination, and a lot of things about musical ethics. He believes very strongly in what he’s doing, and is very elaborate about it; very broad too, taking inspiration from architecture, talking about forces that exist- a little bit ethereal, philosophical. So that’s what I was very drawn to in his music- that he had this really broad way of thinking about it.

Kaja Draksler performing solo at the WDR3 Jazzfest, Dortmund, Jan 2015
Photo Credit: WDR / Lutz Voigtländer

LJN: Do you play differently in your solo performances ? Compared, for example, with your latest album which is a duo? [Miniatures From Our Living Room with guitarist Matiss Cudars]

KD: Of course there are some differences, because as a soloist you’re on your own and you can go wherever you want. But I’m trying not to separate things consciously- it’s just what happens organically. I’m on my own and there’s a different way I should treat the piano because I’m on my own. I have to think much more orchestrally, and I don’t really react to anything except the audience. It’s a different kind of dynamic, so I guess that changes the style as well to some degree.

LJN: Are there other jazz musicians you admire?

KD: The stride pianists, especially James P. Johnson and Jaki Byard. There are other pianists that I’m influenced by, like Herbie Nichols, Duke Ellington- as a pianist and also a composer, but mainly as a pianist- I really enjoy what he does. The whole lineage of James P and Duke and of course, Monk- a big influence. I very much enjoy pianist-composers. They have wonderful technique but it’s not just about showing off chops- it’s more about thinking in a composerly way- orchestrally.

LJN: Do you see yourself in a European jazz tradition?

KD: I don’t know- when I started my studies were very American-based- with my Bachelor’s [degree in Groningen] they have this Berklee programme of jazz, but now since I lived in Amsterdam for the last five years, I’ve been playing a lot with the people from that scene and so that’s definitely influenced me a lot. And also the fact that I was studying Classical composition- that also changed a lot of things aesthetically. For sure, I’m part of the European scene, since I live here!

LJN: How do you feel about this Festival?

KD: I think it’s great. I really enjoy the fact that people come here with open attitudes, ready to receive whatever comes. It feels very chilled. Sometimes at a festival you have almost a competitive feeling of band versus band, when there are more stages. Here, there is only one stage so it’s focused on only the person who is playing. It’s a very cosy atmosphere- it’s very easy to be natural, to just be who you are.

LINKS: Kaja Draksler reviewed in  Jan 2015 at the WDR3 Jazzfest in Dortmund 
Inntoene 2015 review
Kaja Draksler's website

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