Bo Van der Werf

A baritone saxophonist, bass clarinettist and mostly a composer who in his work seeks to strike a tenuous balance between profound philosophical ideas, layered structures and some sort of accessibility.

03.11 & 04.11, 22.00, Sounds
Bo Van der Werf with Songbook of Changes


Who is… Bo Van der Werf?

Bo Van der Werf (°1969) graduates from the Conservatory of Music in Amsterdam.

Early on, he works out a dual career path: as sideman on the one hand and as leader of his own projects on the other.

So, he is involved right from the start when the Brussels Jazz Orchestra is founded and still has his permanent spot in the band.

In addition, he performs with several other ensembles, including Septych (Bram De Looze’s septet), Lidlboj (with pianist-keyboarder Jozef Dumoulin), Dragons (French saxophonist Alexandra Grimal’s quintet), Workshop (with French saxophonist Stéphane Payen), the Sylvain Cathala Septet and MikMâäk. He also composes music for documentaries and dance performances and there is the collaboration with contemporary music ensemble Ictus. He plays on the first Aka Moon albums as well.

He develops his personal vision with his band Octurn, which just like the BJO sees the light of day in the Brussels jazz club Sounds. Here he focuses on deepening principles in line with Olivier Messiaen’s ideas and contemporary classical music, and linking all of this to jazz idioms and improvisation.

Quite exceptional in that respect are the recordings with the monks of the Gyuto Monastery where this vision rises to a crescendo.

During the upcoming concerts in the Sounds, his quartet Songbook of Changes takes centre-stage with Fabian Fiorini, Jozef Dumoulin and Dré Pallemaerts within its ranks.


What is…

... your favourite spot in Brussels?

I am what you may call an extremely avid reader and as such the bookshop Tropismes (Galerie des Princes 11 Prinsengalerij) is for me an ideal haven which I visit on a regular basis. The fact that they have competent staff is a big asset because I have a wide array of interests, ranging from philosophical works about Buddhism to French literature and comic strips. I am currently reading authors the likes of Jonathan Franzen, Paul Auster and Richard Ford who dissect the American society. To completely clear my mind, I like reading manga’s. I am especially fascinated by Korean manga’s. And obviously, besides all of that, there are also books about music theory, my usual bedtime reading.

… the last CD or album you bought for yourself?

I actually purchased several at once, all by Steve Lehman, issued by Pi Recordings. Steve Lehman is a musician I have been following for a long time. He is not only a gifted instrumentalist; all his projects also include very interesting ideas and views. He proposes different approaches to harmony with sporadic references to Gérard Grisey’s spectral music. Hence, his work is both intelligent and intellectual but he still manages to make it sound somehow accessible by surrounding himself with musicians who lift it all to unparalleled heights. Accordingly, this results in extremely organic sounds.


… your fondest memory of a recent concert?

It was a concert by Harmen Fraanje alongside Brice Soniano, Toma Gouband and Magic Malik a few weeks ago in Vrijstaat O. in Ostend. On stage I have seen four poets who were exactly on the same page. No complex and layered ideas but first and foremost, four musicians without any barriers whatsoever. They remained true to themselves without making concessions but were a perfect match both on a musical and spiritual level. It is far from being self-evident. I have personally experienced the same intensity whilst recording with the monks of the Gyuto Monastery. It was not just about notes and music: the philosophical aspect played an important role.


… your favourite quote of the moment?

Here I will refer to Gandhi: “The greatest traveller is not he who has gone around the world ten times, but rather he who has gone around himself once.” I am strongly influenced by Buddhism but I certainly do not consider myself a Buddhist – I have far too many flaws. This being said, I draw a great deal of inspiration from these teachings and Gandhi’s quote is closely related. In the same vein, there is also Gnosticism. The trick is to find the right balance between body and mind. Know thyself. That is my first assignment when I wake up in the morning.