By: Peter Beije | Photo courtesy of the artist
Dutchman Bert van den Brink (1958) was born blind. When he was five years old he had his first piano lessons. In 1976 Bert started his classical education at the Utrecht Conservatory. He graduated cum laude in 1982.
That same year Bert van den Brink became a teacher at the same Conservatory to teach jazz piano. Since his childhood he had been improvising on piano and organ and, in this discipline, is completely self-taught. He went on to become a master on the accordion and the pipe organ as well (See for yourself on YouTube: Bohemian Rhapsody Queen on church organ played by Bert van den Brink).
After graduation he gave classical recitals but gradually the balance changed more to jazz. In 2007 Bert van den Brink received the VPRO/Boy Edgar-Award, the most respected jazz reward in The Netherlands. The jury was very impressed with his style of playing describing it as ‘’instantly recognisable, something only the greats in jazz are able to achieve”.
Bert van den Brink is a virtuoso instrumentalist, and a magician with sounds, exploring instruments like no one else does.
Blind Dutch composer, pianist and singer Jules de Corte is one of his heroes. “The beautiful rich harmonic turns in his music, the absence of ostentation and the very high, yet mild standard in his work have left indelible traces in me.’’
“The most important aspect for me in all music is that feeling and moment when your expectation is ‘surprised’ by that unexpected much nicer turn. That is true art! Sometimes a text or a nice groovy rhythm moves you, but that comes in second place.’’
“Of all the instruments I play, the piano is by far the most manual instrument. The piano requires the greatest skill of the hands and with the same hands you also create the expression in all facets of the piano music. And the repertoire written for the piano… beautiful! The majority of the music I have written is for piano but that is mainly due to the fact that I spend most of my time on that instrument.”
“There are so many pianists in all genres that I admire. In general, I have a preference for the players who play a less prominent role between the composer and the instrument. Great examples for me are Clare Fischer, Bill Evans and Brad Mehldau . However, I am also inspired by the pianists that I can hardly keep up with, like Tigran Hamasyan; and of course I admire all the great masters of the past, such as Art Tatum and all the greats from that era.’’
Some months ago Bert van den Brink was a happy man. A ‘new’ instrument was brought into his house: a restored Hammond organ! “I like playing Hammond because with that instrument you can achieve something great, while it is very interesting that the basis of this instrument is the completely objective colorless sine tone.”
Jimmy Smith is not an example for me, Jackie Davis comes closer, especially because of his orchestral approach. I hear in the Hammond organ many opportunities that are hardly used. I am working hard to change that.’’
The accordion has a special place in his heart. “The bellows of the accordion is your means of expression and your hands play as quietly as possible with the keys and determine the articulation: how to start the note and how to end it? This in very close collaboration with the handling of the bellows. In fact the accordion is an instrument that comes very close to your breathing.’’
Playing on a church organ is of course quite different. “The pipe organ with its stately but also static sound requires a lot of imagination from the player, especially because you are dealing with very different acoustic situations in churches. My personal mission is trying to avoid the heavy sound of the organ, because the inclination to do so is great in these instruments.’’