Jazz To Classical Piano: A Conversation With Jean Kleeb

Jazz To Classical Piano: A Conversation With Jean Kleeb

There is no doubt that music, piano and a love for playing brings people together. Every so often we come across an individual who represents this notion brilliantly. Today we speak to renowned composer, world pianist, clavichord player and choir director, Jean Kleeb all about his goal to unite the musical worlds and break down barriers between musical genres and approaches from around the world. 

Spending his childhood in Brazil, before moving to Germany and since having travelled the globe appreciating different interpretations of music, Jean’s work aims to artistically combine music from different cultures and times. His compositions, masterclasses and books all form bridges between world music, jazz, classical, modern and traditional cultures from Latin America, Africa and Asia.

We sat down with Jean to discuss his works and in particular his compositions of the blending of Classical and Jazz music, offering both classical musicians an easy to follow opportunity to understand jazz approach and likewise, jazz musicians to create their own spins on classical repertoire.

“I began to play the piano when I was 9 years old in Brazil and studied composition, music education and classical music in great detail. Also in Brazil though, we had many other amazing styles such as Jazz, Samba and Tango being played, so it was very important to my journey to have all these music styles next to each other.

For me, I don’t believe in having departments for styles of music, instead I think it is important to create bridges between the different styles. When I was 27 years old I then went to Germany to teach at a music school and choirs and piano, then I developed a relationship with the publisher Barenreiter about all things piano. 

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At the time, Barenreiter was very classically oriented, but I discussed the idea of creating a classical book, but blending it with aspects of jazz. They saw my work and said yes to giving it a try, that was the first time that they opened up to new styles of music such as jazz. For me it was a great experience to write with them and have been doing so for 20 years.”

What is particularly interesting about Jean’s work is his observation of how different cultures may perform the same piece, yet the two will sound dramatically different based on that country's interpretation and performance style of the music. He explains this and how he observed this phenomena and how he wanted to make international playing accessible to anyone. 

“I first noticed it when I was in South America - there, music is all about the soul and  It is all about the experience of playing. I was trying to take this experience and write music such as Samba and Tangos in a form that people from other countries can understand and pick up the essence of what Samba is all about. 

That’s why I wrote Beethoven goes around the world: I travelled the world, going to countries and hearing how people are playing iconic Beethoven pieces differently depending on where it is played. For example in Indonesia they played it completely differently to how we know it in Europe - It is so different, but still Beethoven. 

At first, particularly in Germany and Europe, people were hesitant and didn't think it was possible, but others were getting really excited about it. It offered people who perhaps hadn’t dipped into classical playing before a reference point to understand what Mozart or Beethoven were trying to say, but by hearing it in jazz, they could understand it.”

With so much to explore, Jean has plenty of exciting plans for the future (including some potential collaborations with us at Millers in the future!) and has just finished his latest symphony and will be soon touring with that.

“I am so happy to be able to play my editions of Classical goes jazz around the world and it has been great to see the response. For me now, it is interesting to give the experience with the piano for players and hobby players who want to learn how to improvise. I want to teach people to try to move away from the paper and to have the experience of playing music in the moment. That for me is the reason why I got started on this journey and it is important to not play exactly what is written down, but to discover your own sound within your instrument.

One fun exercise I like to begin my workshops with is to ask students to play just one note and analyse their intention behind that one note. It’s so interesting what they come up with, some elect to play softly and slowly, others loud and fast, it’s amazing what they think of.”

We absolutely love the work that Jean has put together and are incredibly excited to see where his journey takes him next. All of Jean’s repertoire can be found in our Cambridge showroom, so be sure not to miss out on your opportunity to get started with jazz!

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