We watched pianist Martin Kohlstedt play an impressive live session at Welcome to the Village. After listening to the hypnotizing sounds of his set we couldn’t just leave without asking Martin some questions about his views on playing piano, improvising and music in general.
That was pretty amazing what you did there Martin. Do you remember the first time that you touched a piano?
Thank you so much. Yes, I do remember the first time I started playing the piano. I was twelve years old. We had a detuned piano in the living room, so I would sit behind it and play the A key in sync with the big clock that we had in the room.
That was very meditative for me. So at one point I started to put tone on tone, on tone on tone. Step by step I began to form my own musical language with its own terminology.
So you designed your own way of interpreting music. But actually you weren’t aware of what tones, notes and chords you were playing?
Yes, I was just experimenting with sounds, combining tones and chords I liked and neglecting combinations that did not appeal to me. I did this for about three years. When I turned fifteen I started getting lessons for keyboard. That’s when I got acquainted with the traditional way of reading and interpreting music.
Was that hard after such a long time of thinking and acting in a certain way?
Actually no. It depends on the teacher. A classical teacher is more likely to force you to adapt to the “real” system and hit you on the back, so you sit straight when playing. Luckily I had a jazz teacher. A very nice and open-minded guy with whom I could talk about the way I saw music and experienced it.
That was the moment I knew that I was at the right place and that I had to learn to understand the jazz circle so I could talk to other musicians. So I started with jazz lessons.
Since you have another way of looking at sound, we at Chordify are very interested in what your favorite chord is. Do you have one?
Let me think. Yes I do have a favorite chord. It is an Em with a four inside it. I don’t know why, but maybe it has to do with the way I compose music. When I start playing I’m never deciding from the very beginning if the piece is going to be in major or minor. This chord kind of keeps all the options open. It helps me to be free in my play.
I saw that you have a lot of percussion in your style of playing. Where does that come from?
That’s true. The name of the song is TARNAO and it is made up from two three letter patterns – I always name my patterns. When I play I combine these patterns so it becomes one big improvisation. TAR is very percussion oriented. Especially in the piece that I did for the session I hit the keys hard, almost as a kind of drums.
So in your composing you still go back to the old piano in your parents’ living room. Do you still have that original instrument by the way?
Well, I kind of still have it. The piano is new from the inside, but the housing is from the old instrument.
Did you name the piano?
Interesting thought. Well actually I never had a name for my piano. It was more of a presence, a feeling which I associate with the instrument. Like a partner, someone you talk to and play with
What part of your job as an artist do you love most?
I’m free. The thing is, I grew up in a very conservative region in the south of Germany. Everybody was talking about the future in ways of making money. What jobs are the best, what skills are most likely to get you rich. I’m not like that. That’s why I didn’t like this way of reasoning.
What I really love is travelling around, meeting new people and learning from them, talking with them about music. That kind of freedom is something other jobs can’t give me, because I do what I love most; making music.
Who is the most inspiring fellow artist you met in the last couple of years?
There was one wonderful guy with whom I did an improvisation. His name is Peter Broderick and I played a session with him in Münster and also for a German radio station, NDR. We didn’t know each other personally, but we did a very intimate improvisation. He was very expressive and I was very introvert in the beginning.
While we were jamming we started to know each other through the music. So we got acquainted through playing together. That is a whole other way of talking to each other, a totally different and deeper conversation, than just sitting and exchanging thoughts.
That sounds really great. I have one last question for you Martin. If you could give one tip to a beginning musician, what would that be?
Wait with the sheet music. Use your own inspiration while getting to know your instrument. Don’t follow strict rules before you have explored the world of sounds on your own first.
Backstage with FOKN BOIS
Backstage with space cowboy Garrett T. Capps