Rob van Bavel and son Sebastiaan keep on exploring jazz

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Rob van Bavel (1965) and his son Sebastiaan (1991) are gifted pianists. Considered as premiere jazz sons of the Netherlands. Both of them also have a penchant for classical music.  This year was a special year for Rob and Sebastiaan. Their joint cd ‘Like Father, Like Son’ was released. The subtitle of the album is ‘The Edison Duo’, both being winners of an Edison, the ‘Dutch version of the Grammy‘s’. With rave reviews, this father and son piano duo album has achieved the highest Dutch accolade.

Rob graduated in 1987 at the Rotterdam Conservatory with the highest possible mark of distinction In the same year came his international breakthrough. He was runner up at the Thelonious Monk International Piano Competition in Washington DC. Marcus Roberts was the winner. In 2008, Sebastiaan also won the Netherlands Princess Christian Competition in the jazz category. Only three years later, he won the same competition’s classical category.

The Rob van Bavel Trio won a Jazz Edison in 1990, and The Sebastiaan van Bavel Trio received the Edison Jazz National 2014 for the debut album ‘As the journey begins’. Sebastiaan van Bavel album release has a trio is made up of bassist Maciej Domaradzki and drummer Jimmi Hueting.  He has two guests on ‘Cosmic Dance’. They are saxophone player Jasper Blom and singer Vera Naus.  Six of the seven compositions are written by Sebastiaan van Bavel  – John Coltrane’s ‘Pursuance’ is also on the cd.

Texts of the Indian poet Sri Aurobindo were the inspiration for the compositions of Sebastiaan van Bavel. The structures from Western classical music mixed with melodies and rhythms from Indian classical music. With this theme, the five musicians improvise. It’s a concept that fully reflects the qualities of the musicians. There are no limits to their art boundaries. This is necessary for the creative art form as jazz.

Jazz in Europe asked the van Bavel father and son duo some questions.

-What is your main motivation to play jazz?

Rob: Jazz for me is the most complete form of music; on the one hand, you have the large musical freedom of improvising and the rich tradition of the jazz repertoire/styles and on the other hand, you have the still ongoing renewal/extension of the jazz music. In short, a music style that is in a relatively short period of time (100 years) has improved significantly and still expands/develops.

Sebastiaan: As far as I am concerned, there are two driving forces: swing (groove) and improvisation.

-Do you have a favorite pianist, and if so why just him/her?

Sebastiaan: To choose one favorite is very difficult… Lately I’m bowled over by Maria Yudina, a pianist who was active until the 1970s. Her touch is magical, really very special. In jazz, I am now totally in Bud Powell! He is a genius for completely different reasons.

Rob: There is a lot great players, but the last 15, 20 years I always end up with Bill Evans. There were periods that I was crazy about Herbie Hancock, Oscar Peterson (and many other pianists), but Bill Evans remains for me the best jazz pianist, mainly because his harmonic concept (the way he uses chords) and his way of playing themes continues to amaze me, and touches me emotional.

-What can the jazz world do to hold the attention of the public?

Rob: Education is very important; jazz is not easy enough to just from the very beginning to appreciate, it requires listening experience of the public, but that is the case for some classic music too I think. Of course, there are also easier accessible jazz styles (the more pop-like jazz) but I mean mainly the ‘ real ‘ jazz (swing/jazz with American roots).

Sebastiaan: First of all: play the music as well as possible. I do not believe there is more to do. Jazz and Western classical music are types of music that demand some experience of the public. To make jazz more accessible, does affect this kind of music.

-Who is your favorite composer?

Sebastiaan: That is Mahler, especially because of his later symphonies. In the 4th part of the 9th Symphony he expresses, as far as I’m concerned, the most high: solving the ego in the cosmic consciousness.

Rob: For me that’s most composers of the ‘American Songbook’ such as Gershwin, Cole Porter, Hammerstein…  But, of course, also jazz musicians like Monk, Wayne Shorter, Hancock, Chick Corea, Bill Evans among others.

-With whom would you like to play in the near future?

Rob: With Sebastiaan of course! As a duo, with two piano’s, we have performed a number of times now, and it’s so great fun to do that.  Very adventurous and of course it is a very special stage experience to perform as proud father with your son.

Sebastiaan: Of course with my father! It is always a great pleasure and every gig I learn from the maestro! In addition, I’d really like to play once with a Symphony Orchestra.

-What is the meaning of classical music for you?

Rob: Classical music to me is a great source of inspiration as an arranger and composer. I listen to it as much (or maybe more) as to jazz. There is so much to discover in that rich classical history.  Many things we do in jazz are have already been done in the classical music!

Sebastiaan: Classical music is the ultimate development of harmony, counterpoint and form.

-What do you consider as a highlight in your career so far?

Rob: The 2nd Prize during the Monk competition in Washington is a highlight for sure. Performances with musicians like Woody Shaw, Johnny Griffin, Toots Thielemans and other greats were also great to do.

Sebastiaan: I think the Edison Awards, when my trio performed with the Metropole Orchestra. I worked on the arrangement for a month and was particularly surprised by the result.

-What is your favorite song to play?

Sebastiaan: Well, that changes regularly. Now I’m very fond of Billy Strayhorn’s ‘Lotus Blossom’.

Rob: Autumn leaves! Seems so simple to play, but when you go into this song and study all the possibilities, this composition has the most options for me as a piano player.

-If you were not a musician, what would have been your job?

Rob: Teacher ancient languages: Latin and Greek.

Sebastiaan: I can’t do anything but play the piano.

-A final remark.

Sebastiaan: My father and I try to take the best of two musical worlds in our duo performances. On the one hand, there are swing and improvisation from the jazz, on the other hand there are harmony, counterpoint and form from classical music. There is still a lot to explore. We like it very much!

Rob: I have been a teacher at conservatories for 27 years and that has had great influence on my perception of jazz music. It’s very inspiring to meet, hear, and experience what jazz pianists of all levels  are engaged in. Hopefully, I can help and inspire them to become a jazz pianist.

Extra Images: Cees Van de Ven, Jos L. Knaepen, John Hoffman & Hans Speekenbrink

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Last modified: July 15, 2018