There is a generation of exceptionally talented and committed musicians in their 30s and 40s who have chosen to immerse themselves in the tradition of classic jazz rather than in more modern jazz styles. This was a conscious decision for them, and, fortunately for those of us who dig that music, they have become the standard bearers who promise to keep the tradition alive for future generations. An international group, many of them know one another because they often meet and play together at festivals or on recording dates. One member of this gifted cohort is German clarinetist and saxophonist Matthias Seuffert who celebrated his 37th birthday last January.
I was introduced to Seuffert and his music by former New Orleans drummer and bandleader Trevor Richards, with whom he has both toured and recorded. At the time, Seuffert was a jazz instructor at the Trinity School of Music in London.
"He is the only lecturer that I know of," Richards said, "who has a definite interest in the earlier styles of the music. He's doing a pioneering job there. A very talented young musician and arranger, he's one of the unexpected talents from the younger generation. He's one of the people that we desperately need to keep the music alive, yet keeping up the highest possible standards of the music. That's the only way we are going to achieve any kind of acceptance or recognition with the `cultural authorities.'"
Seuffert has since given up his teaching gig in London, but he continues to be one of the top players in his age cohort in Europe. I had occasion to meet up with him (and hear him live for the first time) last summer at the Ascona Jazz Festival in Ascona, Switzerland. We sat down together during a break in his busy performance schedule and talked about his career to that point.
"I started clarinet at the age of 12," he began, "but I played piano before that. Well, I still play the piano but not in a stage-worthy way -- just for myself and for arranging. I had classical training on the clarinet. As a kid, I listened to a band from Frankfurt [his hometown] called the Barrelhouse Jazz Band. Reimer von Essen is the clarinet player in that band, and he gave me lessons in the beginning. For three years we would meet every month or every six weeks or so, and he would pass on techniques on how to play classic jazz. He's an educator, and he was able to make clear sense and to give good hints on technical points.
"I finished school when I was 19," he continued. "Then I went to the university to study physics and did that until I completed my degree at age 25. But I played music all the time, and I studied with good players who visited from time to time. I played with local bands in Frankfurt, and I played in Bonn. There was a very good piano player who used to invite young guys over to listen to music. His name was Norbert Kemper, and he helped me a lot at that time. He died five years ago. His playing ranged from Jelly Roll Morton to Earl Hines, all the stride guys, and he could play bebop as well. He was a very swinging player and really helped me with timing, for example. Then I met people like Tom Baker and Dan Barrett at jazz festivals. At that time the Breda [Holland] Jazz Festival was much larger than it is now, and lots of guys came there. It would be very easy to meet them and play together."