Olivia Trummer: “I don’t trust musicians who can’t dance”
Berlin pianist and singer Olivia Trummer, one of the highlights of the 12 Points Festival in Dublin last February, blends real talent as a jazz pianist with unusually perceptive songs about love and life – and has a zest for life to match
Are you a pianist who sings or a singer who plays the piano ?
I¹m both. It would be impossible to choose between them: the piano, which has been my best friend for 24 years now, or my voice, which has been given to me. They are the tools that I used to communicate what’s inside. It’s all my voice.
My parents are both professional
musicians, so music has been around me all my life – it’s my natural state. My parents wanted me to play the violin, but I was more attracted to the piano. I started having lessons with my mother at the age of the four, but I was the hardest student she had, because of course, I wouldn’t hesitate to tell her if I wasn’t in the mood for practising.
So when were you bitten by the jazz bug?
Jazz didn’t come to me all of a sudden. That seems to be the story for many jazz musicians, but that’s not my story. For me, jazz is what I started with as soon as I started playing the piano. I just didn’t call it jazz.
But I do remember at the age of 13, when my father gave me a Bill Evans record, Waltz for Debbie, and I really fell in love. There is a melancholy in his music that is so beautiful. He seems to be so receptive to sadness, and he is able to turn that sadness into something beautiful.
That’s why I love jazz, because it delivers so many human qualities just by the way people play. It’s not just background music that has an elegant touch but it really reveals how a person is feeling.
There may be more women in jazz nowadays – such as Norah Jones and Esperanza Spalding – but there still seems to be an expectation on them to be decorative as well as talented. Do you find that a burden ?
I can feel that slight mistrust sometimes because people are thinking ‘Oh, she probably made her way using superficial qualities’ – not so much from the audience, because they get to hear me and experience what I do, but when I meet other musicians and they haven’t heard me yet, I can feel that they are a little reserved. But I’m getting better at accepting it and enjoying the space that
this allows me. Sharing something that I care about, that keeps me from trying to be decorative.
You are based in Berlin, surrounded by a very hip, avant-garde jazz scene, but you chose New York to record your last album. Why ?
There’s a large part of the Berlin jazz scene that I’m just not interested in, to be honest. I mean, there are amazing examples of every style, so I don’t want to put them all together in one box, but I just feel some Berlin musicians are trying to be something that they are not.
I really don’t trust musicians who can’t dance and I think there are many of the jazz musicians in Berlin who live totally in their heads, not in their bodies. That’s not where I’m coming from. That’s maybe why I turned to New York, because I feel everybody there has a body!
What music are you listening to at the moment ?
I recently discovered an electronic band from LA called Knower – actually, it was the soundtrack of my birthday and it really made me dance. On the other side, I’m listening to Laura Nero, singing about love, being very expressive, and Kurt Rosenwinkel’s music has this very unique vibe that I love. Also I like Shirley Horn, Steely Dan, Ahmad Jamal, Trygvie Seim, even things like Toto or Dusty Springfield – those singers who express so much to so many people.
I think many jazz musicians would turn away, not trusting that kind of music, but it’s amazing that moment when you discover a new artist, that you find yourself falling in love like that. It’s amazing what music can do.