Antoine Pierre: interview with the Belgian drummer

When Antoine Pierre was brought up he was surrounded by music not only because his father worked as a professional Jazz guitarist. At the age of 12 he took up drumming lessons. In 2008, together with musicians such as Igor Gehenot, he created the Metropolitan Laboratory, a band he played with at various festivals. As he turned 18 in 2010 Antoine Pierre joined the regular band of Belgian 'guitar legend' Philip Catherine which allowed him to tour extensively. Apart from his stage experiences he graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Master degree from the Royal Conservatory of Brussels. Then he moved to New York to study at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music and to play with musicians of the local jazz scene. 'Urbex' is his latest album he has released on the Igloo label.

Comblain 2014 © Christian Deblanc

How important was music during your childhood? Do you regard parents who play music or at least love music as an essential stepping stone for starting a career as a musician?

AP: At least for me, I think, because my father is a Jazz guitarist and my mother is really a music lover. I was therefore embedded in a Jazz environment since I was a child. So, music was always played in the house and I was always listening particularly to ECM records. My father is really into that kind of stuff like Ralph Towner, of course, Keith Jarrett, Jan Gabarek, Eberhard Weber, all these artists of the 70s, late 70s and beginning 80s. My most important influences is Pat Metheny. His music is probably the first I really hooked on, you know. I was already a fan of him when I was still a kid. I think it is not mandatory for anyone to get raised in a musical family to become a professional musician but for me it helped a lot because I was from the beginning really in it.

© Ferdinand Dupuis-Panther

Do you still remember the melodies and rhythms you came across during those early years?You mentioned Pat Metheny. It is amazing because he is not a drummer as you.

AP: Exactly. The guitar is my favourite instrument although I never ever wanted to play it. Without even noticing it I did not want to do what my father is doing. We are like brothers in a way but I wanted and want to do my own stuff. I got a video tape of Pat Metheny and I was really enthused by listening to his drummer who was Paul Wertigo at that time. I thought his style is great and I loved it so much that I wanted to play drums as well. I was fascinated by the rhythmical aspect of Metheny's tunes but even more by the melodies and harmonies. Metheny was really into searching of new ways of using harmonies in every detail. That was something that touched me and still now more as a composer. Those harmonies are a kind of essence of what I am and they find their place in my compositions without worked on it. It comes back deep down from what I have been hearing since I was a child.

© Ferdinand Dupuis-Panther

Did you listen to the tunes your father used to perform on guitar?

AP: Oh yeah! I remember the first time he actually asked me to play with him in his band when I was a teenager aged 14 or 15. We had a rehearsal and I knew the tunes better than anyone in the band even though they had played and recorded them.

Is there a vivid memory related to the first Jazz tunes you heard? Is there any composition you can recall as the moment when it clicked and you have been hooked to Jazz? Maybe 'Kind of Blue' by Miles?

AP:  At first, I was not introduced to more traditional jazz so I listened instead to a lot of Metheny's stuff. If I could consciously recall one tune from that period it would be stuff from the 90s and the tune 'Have Yo Heard'. The mentioned tune was on a video tape and the first tune. When ever my father switched the tape on I was going crazy.

Comblain 2013 © Christian Deblanc

When you started your drumming lessons did you dream to follow in the footsteps of such legends as Ginger Baker, Ringo Star or Jon Hiseman?

AP: First of all the drummers you mentioned I didn't know by the time when I was more and more involved in Jazz. It took me actually a long time in comparison to kids my age to get into something else than Jazz. This is maybe weird but when I got into Rock, particular into Metal and Hip Hop, the music was for me directly leading to Jazz in a way. When I was a teenager I wouldn't think I would be a musician, you know. I was so young when I played but I loved it and I never thought that being in the music business would be my career until I was 16 or 17 when I realised that I was actually quite good as a drummer. I thought then: 'I am having fun making music and maybe I can do something about it.' It was without being ambitious or to be the best. Of course some drummer wer models you look up for guiding you to something you want to achieve. But most important was to play with others.

© Ferdinand Dupuis-Panther

What type of music did you play during the years at the conservatory in Brussels?

AP: Funny story, actually because there are two conservatories in Brussels, one for French speaking students and one for Dutch speaking students. I went to the Dutch speaking one because the only reason was that the drummer Stéphane Galland was teaching there at that time. I wanted to get lessons from him, exactly. And the other teachers were all engaged in the type of music I was interested in when studied. The kind of music I played, I mean, was wild and not traditional in a way. Learning the Jazz tradition was linked with Philip Catherine when I played in his band. At the conservatory the ECM recorded music was on the agenda. Therefore I found myself at home, you can say. With co-students I was as well into the stuff from the New York scene like Ambrose Akinmusire, Mark Guiliana and so on. All these great musicians, like Mark Turner, Avishai Cohen and so forth.

There are various famous drummers in the history of Jazz like Gene Krupa, Max Roach, Art Blakey and "Chico" Hamilton. Is there anyone amongst those drummers I mentioned you would regard as the most influential musician as far as your kind of playing is concerned?Or are they only well know figures in the history of Jazz and you as a young drummer were and are more interested to shape your own image and style?

AP: Whatever you do you have to go back to those drummers because they formed the history of the drums. It is mandatory to go back to their drumming styles even if you are fan of Mark Guiliana, one of the hippest drummers right now. Of course you gonna listen to the guy and think 'Where does this guy come from?' and you might see some drummers he is part of. For instance Marcus Gilmore is for me one or even the most innovative drummer of this century, I would say. He influenced a lot of people. But where does he comes from is the question. You can clearly hear, not only because his granddad Roy Haynes; you hear Tony Williams; you hear Elvin Jones, you know. If you want to understand those drummers you have to go back in the history of drumming and to those drummers you mentioned. You have to go back to them to learn the essentials of drumming. It is similar to a pianist who has to go back to Duke Ellington or a guitarist going back to Wes Montgomery. It is very important for everyone to know the roots you are stepping in.

Dinant 2013 © Christian Deblanc

Is the drummer the better band leader taking into account that he can determine the tempo and the character of the piece of music?

AP: I wouldn't say it's the best position but for me it definitely changes the way the music goes. If the trumpetist would be the leader the music would go a totally different way, I think. I have a specific way to look how the music should be developed. I give a lot of indications and give directions. That goes back to the years I worked with Philip Catherine who is super accurate considering the details of the music. He knows exactly what he wants for every piece he brings to the band. That is something that really marked me. Of course you have to trust your musicians you hire. Those guys are so competent that they can get the music piece anywhere. The more you get such musicians in a band the more you multiply the chances for different ways of performing, If you do not define a certain trajectory you loose the focus in a sense that this is a tempo I want for that composition and this is the rhythm you have to keep.

How important is the tradition of American Jazz for you?

AP: You have to go back to the roots. Jazz was born in America. I lived in New York and there is something present in Jazz you do not find somewhere else but that doesn't mean that it is the right way to do it. It is only one way of doing things and I do not want to be stiff and say the only real Jazz is done by Americans or in the USA. Europe is so different, has so many cultures in such a small place. The United States are so big in comparison to the seize of Europe, I mean. When you travel to the Eastern countries and get to know the folk tunes of the Balkans mixed with Jazz than you can say that enriches Jazz. Think as well of Spain and the flamenco. You have to take into account that you need all those influences surrounding you. It makes music like Jazz richer as I see it.

Rossignol 2014  © Christian Deblanc

I would like to quote Martin Luther King who addressed the audience at the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1964: ‘Jazz speaks for life. The Blues tells the story of life’s difficulties and if you think for a moment, you will realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with hope or sense of triumph. …'.

AP: I think it  reflects the situation in the 60s when Free Jazz evolved. It was a political response to what was happening then, you know. Now there are far more Jazz bands around than there used to be. A half or a quarter less bands in the past to what it is now I guess. Now there are bands which make a living by playing and they don't suffer as in the 50s and 60s. I still think that a lot of artists - and I hope I am part of them - are a result of what is happening in the world right now. When I write pieces of music I am not constantly having in mind what happens in the world, e. g. wars, and politicians taking over public live but living in their own paradise like world. Maybe only 30% of the bands have really something to say and contribute I would say.

© Ferdinand Dupuis-Panther

Does Jazz refer only to an urban environment and is Jazz entirely an urban, metropolitan music for you?

AP: To me it does. I grew up in a city. I always lived in the city. It really influenced me to write the tunes for my latest record 'Urbex'. Jazz combines a lot of cultures like in a metropolitan environment. Last week I played with a Brazilian, Slovenian and a Dutch guy but we never met before. We played and it worked well. Why? We are covering the same territory by playing music and the only differences are that we are coming from various cultural backgrounds. Let me put it this way: 'We speak the same language but different accent!'
Thanks for talking with you.

Rossignol 2015 © Christian Deblanc

Interview: © ferdinand dupuis-panther

Photos © Christian Deblanc (colour) & ferdinand dupuis-panther (B&W)


© Ferdinand Dupuis-Panther

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