photo: Michele Rossi


Many a young jazz pianist approaches a recording's track listing with some degree of conservatism guiding the process, with a judicious number of originals typically joined by respectful renderings of standards like “Stella By Starlight” or “Solar.” Others, however, forge bolder paths, and a stellar example of this rarer type is UK-based Bruno Heinen, whose latest release offers nothing less than an interpretation of Karlheinz Stockhausen's Tierkreis (meaning “the signs of the Zodiac”). Heinen, a one-time classical piano student at the Royal College of Music and now Guildhall School of Music and Drama teacher, was introduced to the work at an early age, as his parents, cellist Ulrich Heinen and violinist Jacqueline Ross, worked with Stockhausen in the ‘70s when he composed it. Heinen's sextet recording of the material presents a marvelous fusion of classical and jazz forms that both honours Stockhausen's work and provides a wonderful showcase for the talents of the group's individual players. We thank Heinen for taking the time to speak with us recently about Tierkreis and his other projects.

1. Twinkle Twinkle, the 2012 album you issued under the Dialogues Trio name along with bassist Andrea Di Biase and drummer Jon Scott, drew its inspiration from a set of tunes inspired by the nursery rhyme, and your new Bruno Heinen Sextet album presents jazz-styled interpretations of Karlheinz Stockhausen's Tierkreis. One naturally wonders what you might do to follow up on such imaginative and audacious projects. Do you have anything in mind or is it still too early to know what project you're going to tackle next?

I am currently working with Kristian Borring, in my opinion one of the finest guitarists in the country. We are working on a duo project arranging the lesser-known compositions of my biggest influence, Bill Evans. The project/album will be called Postcard to Bill and is in homage to his long-time partnership with guitarist Jim Hall.

2. While well-intentioned, classical-jazz fusions sometimes look better on paper than they sound in practice. Your rendering of Tierkreis, on the other hand, strikes me as a near-perfect realization of Stockhausen's work, as you haven't compromised its integrity in any way while still making it as accessible an interpretation as could possibly be imagined. Furthermore, rather than the classical and jazz elements being awkwardly conjoined, you've integrated the two dimensions seamlessly. Was it difficult for you to determine the approach to use in bringing Tierkreis to life, or did it come about in organic manner?

Firstly, thank you for your kind words. I have been working on this arrangement since 2006, so a lot of time has gone into working and re-working the material. I wanted as much of the original score to come through while at the same time adding my own ideas to the work. I would say that the arranging came about in quite an organic way. There is so much in the original melodies, even if they are only a few bars long, so I simply let the original score speak to me in terms of how to arrange the piece.

3. To what degree (if at all) did Stockhausen's music and sensibility influence you and your fellow musicians when it came to the soloing aspect of the recording? Were you attempting in any way to hew to the composer's sensibility in fashioning a solo or was it more a matter of using a standard's chord changes as a guide as a jazz musician might?

This came up several times in the recording. In “Capricorn,” for example, James Allsop played his first take of his solo (with accompaniment from the Stockhausen music box) based quite heavily on the original harmony. Despite the take being very good, it was not what I wanted. I told my musicians instead to simply improvise around the melody they were hearing, without constraints of harmony or rhythm. The second take was beautiful.

4. Apparently you have quite a historical connection to Stockhausen's work, given that your parents, classical musicians themselves, performed the work with him in the 1970s. Could you bring into clearer focus the nature of the relationship, professional and personal, that existed between your parents and the composer, and how that developed into your own relationship to Tierkreis?

My mother, who is a violinist, and father, who is a cellist, went to Germany having finished their studies at Julliard. They were heavily involved in the Darmstadt contemporary music festival where Stockhausen was teaching. They were also playing with many musicians who were in Stockhausen's close circle of friends, and this is how they acquired the original music boxes.

photo: Michele Rossi

5. Given that many a young jazz pianist follows a somewhat conventional career path that involves releasing recordings featuring originals and standards and playing in the group of an established veteran, you seem to be doing anything but following the usual script, so to speak. For example, in addition to the aforementioned recordings, your website also reveals that you' re part of a duo project with Palestinian Singer Reem Kelani that focuses on traditional Palestinian, Egyptian, and Persian music. Where did this boldly adventurous streak come from?

I think we are living in changing musical times that need adaptable musicians. The days of musicians playing one style of music for their whole lives are long gone. We are now expected to be able to play almost anything, and I for one relish that. It is all music after all, and I feel that every different style we play feeds into every other. I would be very bored just doing one thing.

I am glad you have mentioned my work with Reem. Working with her has been a huge part of my musical life for many years now, and she is such an inspiration to me. I have always loved playing many different styles of music. I grew up playing classical music, and now play in all kinds of groups, including a project with the master tabla player Sirish Kumar, the Ska band The Big Steal, and the jazz and reggae guitarist Alan Weeks. I don't know if I think of myself as adventurous, as every different style feeds into the other. It's all music, after all.

June 2013