Peter Guschelbauer, musician, organiser and founder of the annual Steyr Jazzfestival and boss of alessa records

Interview with … Peter Guschelbauer
Musician, label boss of alessa records (Austria), organiser of the annual Steyr Jazzfestival

I met Peter Guschelbauer at Steyr. He is the driving force behind the annual Steyr Jazz festival. alessa records is as well his 'baby', an independent record company named after the nickname of Peter's daughter.

Why did you set up a record company competing with mayor labels like Sony, ECM or ACT?

PG: It's very kind of you that you say that my label could compete with all the big labels. I started in the 80s and the reason for that was the typical Austrian record industry. I went to them in the 70s with demos and asked them if they could release this or that type of music. Everyone said at that time:. 'We can't image.' It didn't matter if it was Jazz or Pop or R&B. At Sony they told me: 'You have to make it a little bit more like Tina Turner or like Michael Jackson.' My answer: 'Sorry, Tina Turner exists, Michael Jackson exists. We want to make quite different music.' I still remember there was one major event of BMG Ariola once and I was there. I wanted to get some opinion of those in charge. Eventually I arranged an appointment and went to Vienna. At BGM I passed the secretary who tried to stop me. I went into the office of the boss. The guy got up and shouted: 'Out!' My reply: 'No, I don't go out I want to hear your opinion about the chance to release this record. There was a stack of tapes on the office table – probably he never had listened to them – and the guy threw them all on the floor. I had to laugh of course. He said: 'Look what you have done!' - 'Me? If you would have listen to all the tapes they wouldn't be placed on your table anymore.' In the end I was convinced that it doesn't make sense to talk to those people any longer. They have no idea of music. They are only interested in figures. We have sold 2000, we have sold 20000 … Therefore I did the first step to create my own label. I had a recording studio at that time and after a while I founded a publishing company. I wanted to be completely independent. After more than 300 music productions of different genres and attending fairs in Cannes and London I came to the conclusion that my label has to have a straight  philosophy. Then alessa records was born. I wanted to release Jazz music, especially more acoustic Jazz music.

In your short introduction at your homepage you mention the importance of John Coltrane, Miles Davis and John Surman on one side and Jimi Hendrix on the other side as far as your music taste and preference as a bass player is concerned. Would you mind to explain that more in details please?

PG: It is very easy to explain: It was the year 67. That was very important for me. I was 14 at that time and Jimi Hendrix released his single 'Purple Haze'. As I heard this tune the first time, my world was defined in a new way. It crashed into my brain and that of my guitar player I went to school with. By the way we still play together nearly 50 years later. In 67 John Coltrane died but in Austria nobody took notice. I had just heard few short tunes by this nice saxophone player. His music interested me very much and I went to the records store trying to buy the Vinyl albums of Coltrane. I found out that he was an outstanding saxophone player and I loved him so much. When I went to a concert of John Surman I had not idea what I would have to expect. Wow, his music blew my mind. The music set so much energy free. I knew then that setting energy free is most important in music. 67 was the most important date in my life.

Do you still play music or did you stop it when you started your recording business?

PG: I still play music. I always had. I played in a Big Band, a Ballroom Big Band, just to earn money for my productions. I still play the music of Jimi Hendrix. Miles Davis for instance loved the music of Hendrix, also Gil Evans. Gil Evans made arrangements of Jimi's music for his strange Big Band but Jimi died two days before the first rehearsal. When I read this years later it was Wow. The CD with Hendrix' music arranged by Gil Evans was never released. They released one or two titles with other guitar players. Miles Davis wanted Jimi for the 'Bitches Brew' sessions. Miles Davis wife organised a big celebration for Jimi's birthday. Davis was on tour but left some scores for Jimi but Jimi could not read them. He did not understand the message Davis had left for him. I read that Dave Holland the great bass player was on board of 'Bitched Brew' because he could play the electric bass not only the acoustic one. They still looked for a guitarist. Dave Holland let Miles Davis hear a tape with recordings of John McLaughlin. Miles decided that John should join them. I met John McLaughlin at Salzburg ages later.

We just had released a DVD of Joe Zawinul. By the way I was Zawinul's promoter for his last five years. Joe passed away in 2007.

McLaughlin was invited to perform at the Jazz Herbst Salzburg and I had the opportunity to talk to him. He speaks an excellent German because he is married with a German lady. I asked him if this story about Miles and him is true. He said: 'Miles called me, of course.' So these are the connections between Miles Davis, Gil Evans and Jimi Hendrix. I wanted to finish the recordings  of Jimi's music for Big Band. We recorded it at his 40th obit. It was a kind of Blues Rock Band with 12 musicians and I played the bass. Hmm!! Incredible! Christoph Cech a friend of mine and piano player arranged the music. For the 45th obit we played again at Linz.

How important is your own preference for certain music genres considering the release on alessa records?

PG: My personal taste is most important. If I like a musician, a band or the music I am most willing to produce a CD. There is as well some great music I do release because I think it is necessary to do it. A good example is a CD with Don Menza and Bernd Reiter. Bernd Reiter called me that he has a tour with Menza playing 45 concerts but they could not find a label. A band with a tour of 45 concerts that's an argument. I released the CD because Don Menza is one of the great saxophonists. I listened to them in Passau and Menza's sound is incredible. It's a bit the sound of yesterday but you never will hear that sound again, so unique. I really love it. 2016 we will record another CD with Don live at the Jazzland in Vienna.

Are you mostly looking for musician of Austrian origins or is the nationality of the musicians not so important?

PG: It is very important because we have great musicians in this country. All the big mayor label companies do not take care of the Austrian musicians. I think it is the task of an independent label to look after Austrian musicians if it is Pop, Rock or Jazz. Sometimes we mix the bands with Austrians and Americans. A good example is John B. Williams a bass player of Horace Silver. John B. Williams's father is a Caribbean and he likes the specific Caribbean sound. We made a first CD and I was interested to make another one. He said to me that he wanted to make a tribute to Horace Silver. Horace was still alive at that time. He tried to get the original band from 1968 together when he played in Vienna with Randy Brecker, Horace Silver and Billy Cobham. We tried hard. Billy Cobham was not the problem because he lived in Switzerland: Bennie Maupin far away. It was too expensive. It started always like: 'It costs you nothing.' But then: 'Give me 10000 Dollars for each musician.' Therefore I suggested that I organise the best Austrian musicians and John B. will be the original bass player. The line-up was then: Andy Middleton (sax), Lorenz Raab (trumpet), Oliver Kent (piano), John B Williams ( bass) and Klemens Marktl (drums). I love the idea of combining a band like this.

How did you get to know the outstanding Trio Akkzent with to accordionists and a female saxophonist? The instrumentation of that trio is quite unusual and off the beaten track.

PG: Paul Schuberth – what a name for a musician – is a local from Steyr. He realised that we organise a Jazz festival at Steyr and he called me. They had just recorded CDs with a small local label and were looking for a more international orientated record label. After I had listened to the Trio I was knocked out. Paul was 18 at that time and I told him: 'Come to the studio and let's do it.' In the meanwhile we made other recordings and Paul studies at the Anton Bruckner University Linz. I took the CDs with me to Jazzahead and other fairs. That is a trio of youngsters and we have to get them on the road to play.

May I just touch another extraordinary combination of musicians: Javier Girotto on sax and Soo Cho on piano. Let's talk a bit about them please.

PG: It is an interesting story. I met Soo at the Jazzahead Bremen. The Austrians have always a big booth there, and we always serve our customers great Viennese coffees. I met Soo at the coffee bar and she showed me her concept with Javier. I did not know him personally but I had heard of him. Javier himself had heard some of Soo's compositions and told his manager to get in touch with her. So Javier played with her in Holland but as a 4tet. Soo offered me that for recordings. At that time I was looking for an opening act for the Jazz festival Steyr. I said to her: ' I would love to have a Duo. Just you and Javier, no drumming because that would disturb this beautiful music!' Soo is capable of writing incredible beautiful music. We organised the recordings and presented the CD during a release concert at Hagenberg, where I live and run my studio, my office … .

Thank's for talking with me.

Interview and Photos © ferdinand dupuis-panther


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