A few weeks ahead of his first ever UK appearances with his band the Jeff Herr Corporation, the Luxembourg drummer/bandleader spoke to Stephen Graham. Jeff Herr was changing apartment, moving into the city at the time. “I’m juggling with furniture," he cheerfully admitted:
Music is in the 35-year-old Luxembourg-born drummer’s family. Both his father and his grandad played drums and Herr, whose latest album is the trio record Layer Cake that includes a cover of David Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ and on which features with him the musicians he will be appearing with on the upcoming English club dates, saxophonist Maxime Bender and bassist Laurent Payfert.
It’s the drummer-leader’s third album under the Corporation moniker. Herr explains that the band has changed a good deal since it came together in the Netherlands more than a decade ago where he had moved to study but which productively went on to release the albums Modern Times and Conspiracy. “It was more funk fusion then,” he says, “and was more electronics and working on the groove.” The difference now, he points out, is that the band takes inspiration more in piano-less bands like the Fly trio.
“It’s hard, very hard, to speak of influences. But the Fly Trio with Mark Turner, Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard have been doing some fantastic things. They’re very aesthetic and there are lots of colours in their playing.”
Herr in his own interior soundtrack growing up and moving professionally into the music has also been influenced by his father’s taste in music whether it’s Bowie, Jimi Hendrix or Cream. But Herr himself developed his own tastes and above all liked The Beatles as his tastes matured, the other aspect of his musical tastes also extending into playing funk and soul. He took lessons with Maceo Parker drummer Jamal Thomas who was living in Ostend and that pocket groove he learned from Thomas fed into a band Herr was in for a while, now broken up, called Funky P that had some chart success on home ground.
Speaking the Luxembourgish language first as a child and taking lessons through the medium of German initially at school, later French, and then later learning English in which he is speaking very fluently Herr was born in July 1980 and got interested in music early on. Later he attended the Conservatoire de Luxembourg in the early-1990s moving away to study jazz at the Maastricht conservatory where the Corporation was born. Herr wanted to learn an instrument as a young child and he decided that the best place to learn was at the conservatoire where the teachers he says were the most qualified. He learnt classical percussion and latin styles there and his intention later wasn’t necessarily to lead a band but to play and compose. “The idea came naturally. When we started getting more tours my manager said that it was better to put my name up front in the band. I’d prefer if it’s more a collective in a way but I can live with it.”
In his career to date he has played with a lot of leading players on the local scene over the years including internationally-known players vibes player Pascal Schumacher, and bassist Marc Demuth. Herr says his generation of Luxembourger jazz players are more educated than their predecessors but it’s not just education that is contributing to change. “The difference now is the help gained from cultural centres and money invested in programming. We get to play in clubs and bars and theatres, a nice mixture and move across countries as we’re so close to lots of places. The bass player in my band is from France but it’s only an hour away for him. There’s a big diversity as Luxembourg is more of a melting pot.”
As for the challenges of leading a band he says: “It’s easier writing and playing than running a band. Finding a booking agent, a label and management are hard. Nothing gets done by itself. The market is huge and everyone can have a message via social media. Perseverance and continuity are essential. Life is the biggest challenge.”
Newcastle upon Tyne - Jazz Cafe - 29 September
London - Vortex - 30 September as part of a double bill with the Christian Muthspiel/Franck Tortiller/Steve Swallow/Mathieu Michel band
LINK: Jeff Herr website