Frank Vaganée & The Brussels Jazz Orchestra vs. The Big White Screen, part III
Frank Vaganée Trio + Zefiro Torna
Who is… Frank Vaganée?
For saxophonist and flutist Frank Vaganée (°1966), it all began with a training in both jazz and classical music. His first encounter with the world of big bands dates back to a concert of a local orchestra featuring guest musician and American saxophonist and clarinettist John Ruocco. After attending a series of improvisation lessons with the man, there was no stopping the floodgates from opening. Vaganée quickly started forming his own bands. Today, he is the driving force behind the Frank Vaganée Trio, alternately expanded with Cyclop Max or Zefiro Torna. As a freelance sideman, he regularly performs with Rebirth::Collective and other ensembles of young wolves who truly value his knowledge and experience.
He teaches at the Lemmens Institute (Louvain) and from 2011 to 2013, he was appointed city artist of Mechelen.
However, for him, priority goes to the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, as a musician of course but first and foremost as a composer and artistic director.
In 1993, together with Serge Plume and Marc Godfroid, he decides to found a big band residing in the Brussels jazz club The Sounds. Twenty-two years later, the orchestra is internationally acclaimed. Remarkable highlights are a Golden Globe award and an Oscar for the original sound track of ‘The Artist’, plus another two Grammy nominations for the album ‘Wild Beauty’ featuring Joe Lovano. Not to mention recordings and performances with world-class musicians such as Toots Thielemans, Kenny Werner, Richard Galliano, Joe Lovano and Enrico Pieranunzi. Meanwhile, it seems like New York has become a second home base, as evidenced by another 3-day residence only last month (with two concerts per night) at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Next, in June, BJO has planned the recording of a brand-new project which just had its preview in Strasbourg. The orchestra brings well-known songs from Jacques Brel’s repertoire, together with talented guest vocalist David Linx.
But first, there will be the concert at Flagey: the BJO will perform live music for two gems of Hollywood’s silent movie history: ‘Pollyanna’ and ‘An Eastern Westerner’, written respectively by Lode Mertens and Dieter Limbourg.
... your favourite spot in Brussels?
During the daytime, I enjoy wandering around with my family in the surroundings of Rue de Flandre, Place Saint-Catherine and Rue Dansaert. It has somehow become our favourite neighbourhood because everyone of us finds his or her liking there. What we especially appreciate is that every shop and every restaurant add their own unique personal touch to the place. In fact, we discovered this vibrant part of Brussels during the annual Christmas market.
As a musician, I obviously know this part of town but then, especially in the evening and at night because of its many jazz bars where there are live jazz sessions on the programme, such as L’Archiduc, Roskam and now also Bravo. In the wee hours, you will run into plenty of other jazz musicians. At the end of every one of my concerts, going out for a good pint of beer is a never-failing ritual of mine. What can I say... we need to debrief at some point (laughs). The social aspect of being a musician is very important to me, getting together with my fellow musicians but also with students who come and see me perform on stage. For me, these friendships have a peculiar added value.
… your fondest memory of a recent concert?
That would be the concert by the Pat Metheny Unity Group at Ancienne Belgique: an intense 3-hour journey through his own repertoire but alongside new musicians and with a star role for Chris Potter. Truly impressive!
More recently, there was a performance by the Joris Roelofs Trio at the Lemmens Institute: a trio (without piano) with Dutchman Roelofs on bass clarinet and his two American sidemen, Matt Penman on double bass and Ted Poor on drums. What a great team! It is an extremely inspiring experience for those of you looking to find out how modern jazz can sound like.
… the last CD or album you bought for yourself?
For the moment, I continuously listen to Dré Pallemaerts’s latest work. It is a live CD recorded during the jazz festival at Coutances (France) with a very particular cast: saxophonist Mark Turner, Dré on drums obviously and then two additional piano players, Bill Carrothers and Jozef Dumoulin, who also plays on Fender Rhodes. They bring contemporary but above all brassy interpretations of self composed material, all of which with resolute open-mindedness, away from all hallowed musical traditions. They play acoustic in any case but equally use electronics. Anyhow, it is a top-rate musical production.
I also discover new stuff regularly via my students who are very up on everything that’s going on in the music scene. In addition, as BJO’s music director, I receive scores of material from musicians who would like to work with us. As of late, I frequently purchase old vinyl records because I just received a turntable with USB connection as a present. And then, whether for better or for worse, I too started to download. All is so much up for grabs on the internet. That’s positive but it also has an undesirable effect in a way. All of a sudden, it is as if everything seems less valuable. Besides, my car is the place where I listen to music a lot and in a much focused way.
… your favourite quote of the moment?
Oscar Wilde’s “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken”. It is crucial as a human being but even more so as a musician. There is no point in trying to be someone else or copying someone. The only way to gain recognition is by being yourself and unfolding your personality. There is no better compliment than people telling you that they recognise your sound right away. And, yes, of course, we inevitably get influenced from all sides and by musicians of all stripes. I do not mind, quite on the contrary. I think it is ok as long as you do something with it and bring forward your unique personality. People recognising your music in a blind test, can be considered as the pinnacle of a career by any musician. That is an invaluable asset. Of course, it does not happen overnight, it takes work. You can perfect your style of play and the way you handle your instrument(s) but at the end of the day, you might get there or not. You do not hold the key to everything. You are who you are; it is what it is but what is important is to remain true to yourself, always.