INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Brant Tilds (Hindemith Goes Ape, The Bear Club, Luton, 20 June)

Brant Tilds. Photo credit:Michael Leckie

The world premiere of  four new pieces inspired by Hindemith and animals will be the centrepiece of an evening of music featuring the trumpet playing of Brant Tilds at the Bear Club in Luton on 20 June, with the title Hindemith Goes Ape. He speaks about his international career, about Charlie Haden, about altarpieces and animals. Interview by Sebastian: 

LondonJazz News: Your name sounds Scandinavian (?) but you‘re actually from the USA?

Brant Tilds: My family came over to America in the 1890s from the old Austro-Hungarian empire through Ellis Island and some settled in New York, and some moved to Chicago. I'm fourth generation American. There's actually a trumpet mouthpiece maker in Vienna who makes mouthpieces stamped Tildz... because that's his name. I'm not sure where my parents came up with Brant. I was born at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina where my father was stationed during Vietnam. When I was two, my parents moved back to Detroit, where my father had grown up. The story is I was going to be named after my great grandfather Benjamin, but my mother didn't like that name, so she came up with something else beginning with a B.

LJN: At what age did you get your first trumpet? Why the trumpet?

BT: When I was in the fifth grade they started Suzuki violin class in my school. The entire class did it. For some reason I didn't like it and I thought that the trumpet was the opposite of the violin. After the first term we were allowed to change instrument so I went with the trumpet. And I was terrible. It was really hard. I was the worst trumpet player in middle school.
Then I met a really inspiring teacher, Howard Kagen, when I was about 15 and I started to get a lot more serious about playing. He ran the Jazz department at Cass Technical High School in Detroit. That's the school that was the model for the New York High School for The Performing Arts. Then I was sneaking into bars and going to jam sessions around Detroit.

LJN: Your biography says you studied at CalArts and mentions Charlie Haden. Do you have an anecdote about him?

BT: Oh, there's lots of great stories about Charlie. But what I remember personally is that he did a record with Chet Baker in Italy, and had me transcribe Chet Baker's solo on Relaxin' At Camarillo, and then we jammed on the tune together as a duo. He told the story about Charlie Parker going crazy in Los Angeles, setting his hotel room on fire and running down the hallway naked. And then Bird was locked up at Camarillo State Hospital.

They have a little jazz festival out there for the patients, and I played it one year. The place was beautiful countryside and fantastic old looking buildings. It was a really very peaceful looking place. And after Charlie Parker recovered he was working with Chet Baker around Los Angeles and he wrote the tune at that time.

LJN: And you did connect with Scandinavia… or rather Denmark what‘s the story there?

BT: Around the time I was leaving Los Angeles I decided I want to go somewhere else and I won the principal trumpet job with the orchestra at the Teatro Amazonas in Manaus, Brazil. As it's in the jungle where the Rio Negro and Amazon River meet I went and got all of my injections, and then at the last minute the IMF went into Brazil and shut down all government hiring. So I had the job but they couldn't actually give me a contract.

So I moved to Copenhagen with my wife who was Danish and being thrown out of the country for some imagined visa violations. I didn't know anyone or speak the language. I lived in Copenhagen for seven years and during that time I worked, writing and playing, and I ran the Copenhagen University Latin Ensemble as well as travelling with a number of Cuban groups around Europe.

LJN: You moved to the UK in 2004 - what drew you to these shores and what have been the highlights? Do you have a "working band" or bands?

BT: In the early 2000s my kids were really small and I was traveling a lot with bands. I decided I wanted to be around the house to see them grow up so I took a teaching job in England running the brass department for a large music service. After eight years of seeing state education cut year on year I thought there was not enough left to continue, so I quit and went back to playing full-time. I spent nine years leading one of the last hotel bands in London, and we spent the last year working with Arts Council England at The Bear Club in Luton.

LJN: Hindemith Goes Ape - you are kidding, right?! 

BT: I was thinking about Hindemith’s sorely underperformed opera Mathis Der Maler, and decided on Hindemith and animals as the topic. This might seem unusual, but the opera depicts the struggle of German painter Matthias Grünewald, whose paintings on the front of the Isenheim Alterpiece were beautiful timeless religious paintings, but on the reverse of the altarpiece he depicted various political figures of his day as animals. This was during the repressive political climate of the time, and he really paid for it!

LJN: There is a significant figure Nicholas England (1923-2003) lurking in the background here. Who was he, and how did he influence you?

BT: It was reported that Hindemith said of Nicholas England: "He's going to be the next Brahms." But what ended up happening was he got a gig, I believe as a sound recordist, or actually producing the films, or both, with National Geographic when they were sending big expeditions to explore the African continent. I saw some of these old black and white films with his name in the credits many years ago.

I had originally moved to California to study composition with Mel Powell (Benny Goodman's pianist/arranger/composer and a Hindemith student) at CalArts and sometime during the four days it took me to drive from Detroit to LA, he fell down some stairs and banged his head. I was a teaching assistant for the music department and my first job was to pack up his office. He never taught again and died a few years later. I believe Powell and Nicholas England came over around the same time from Columbia University in NYC. England had started Columbia's ethnomusicology programme. I became England's teaching assistant, so taught the classes that were boring for him, and he tried to teach me composition. Starting with Bach chorales.

LJN: Are you particularly drawn  to the Hindemith Trumpet Sonata?

BT: Not really. I like a lot of Hindemith's music. It was very challenging and exciting when I was younger. But right now I've really been focusing on the four pieces that have been inspired by Hindemith and animals. It's what Hindemith thinks about when he writes that makes his music interesting to me.  It's all laid out in the Craft of Musical Composition, which he wrote and then translated himself into French, English, Italian, etc.

I used to play trumpet for Dirk Fisher, the great big band arranger in LA. Claire Fisher's brother. And one afternoon my roommate Jason and I were with Dirk in his desert garden behind his house, and he explained his concept for writing, which he said was straight from Hindemith.

LJN: This is a classical concert - in Luton but you also have some quite deep jazz roots?

BT: I was really interested in jazz when I was a kid, when there were still jam sessions around and the last working big bands players would go to the sessions after their gig let out. And I remember these guys were coming in their matching suits sitting in with the house rhythm section at The Sir Charles Pub on Woodward near Eight Mile. I had to sneak out of my house, and into the pub. I told my neighbors about it and they used to come and see me play on condition that they didn't say a word to my parents. I met Dizzy when I was a kid in Detroit. And used to go see Marcus Belgrave play a lot when I was in school. Maynard Ferguson's band was around.  And I was playing with other kids who went to Cass Tech and Mumford. There was a lot of gospel music.

LJN: And there is a jazz influence/flavour/idiom about some of the project?

BT: I think that Piers Hellawell really went for that in the piece that he wrote. He told me about meeting Duke Ellington's band when he was a kid and seeing them play. He somehow melded Hindemith and Miles with a few other things in his piece.

LJN: And you have commissioned a programme of  four new commissions to go with it? Can you describe a bit more about what led you to these composers and how they have interpreted the brief?

BT: Sure, working backwards down my composer list Cheryl Frances-Hoad is one of the most exciting composers around, and I don't just say that because we're married. Piers Hellawell and Gordon Crosse have both written for people like Håkan Hardenberger, and Poul Erik Christensen was a neighbour in Copenhagen, but we lived on opposite ends of the street. He lived in the nice end! I premiered his trumpet concerto in Copenhagen nine years ago.

LJN: These things don‘t happen of their own accord. Who has helped this project?

BT: The RVW Tust funded some of the commissions, and Justin Dougherty who runs The Bear Club is a saint.

LJN: When and where is the concert?

BT: 20 June, The Bear Club, Luton, doors open at 7pm, concert at 8:30pm.

LINK: Hindemith Goes Ape at The Bear Club .

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