About the album
An incredible cd with mostly duos and some beautiful trios with Fay Claassen. Jan Verwey has a quiet, thoughtful approach and plays a lot of bebop-oriented lines. He derives inspiration from musicians playing bebop and beyond, among them Tom Harrell, Phil Woods, Jim McNeely and (not surprisingly) Bert van den Brink. Playing with Bert together on this cd Jan Verwey sees as a wonderful gift.
Jan Verwey: harmonica
Bert van den Brink: piano
Fay Claassen: vocals
At 73, Dutch harmonica expert Jan Verwey is still growing as a musician every day. Listening to a concert recording he made half a year ago, he keeps saying to himself: “I can do better now.”
A couple of years ago, he says, it would never have entered his mind to ask Bert van den Brink to record a session consisting mostly of duets. (The 50-year old piano virtuoso with a classical background, is well-known for lengthy associations with Dee Dee Bridgewater, Toots Thielemans, Philip Catherine and others.) “Bert is a giant on his instrument, and I thought he was out of my league. But at the concerts we did, he repeatedly said he loved the way I listen to him and react to his improvisations.”
Both are empathic musicians with great ears and fast reflexes. Like Bert, Jan can make incredible runs sound easy.
Jan’s instrument – the chromatic harmonica – is more complex than it looks. “It has twelve tiny holes, and each of these can produce four notes: the first by blowing, the second by inhaling air, and the third and the fourth by doing the same with a side-button pushed in.” Coordinating all that demands the precision of a watchmaker, especially when you’re blowing choruses on fast bebop changes.
The idea to record with just piano – adding singer Fay Claassen on some tracks – came partially from Chet Baker, who showed Jan you can make swinging intimate music without drums. In 2007, Jan accepted an invitation to perform at several Canadian jazz festivals with just Jilian Lebeck on piano and Paul Rushka on bass. “After a concert in Medicine Hat, we got a standing ovation from around 600 people. They clapped for 12 minutes; it was almost embarrassing. When I finally returned to my dressing room, the promoter said: ‘You have to go to the lounge; people are standing in line to buy your latest CD.’ So I sat down to sell and autograph my records; I felt like a bestseller author.”
After that experience, he resolved to keep his next recording sessions small and intimate, to make music with a fragile air. “The two days in the studio were pretty relaxed. Bert and I don’t need a rhythm section; we keep time in our heads.” Jan picked the songs, including “Stella by Starlight,” done as a fast waltz for once, and “It’s a Dance” by the late Michel Petrucciani, a French pianist he greatly admires.
Fay Claassen, a singer who never wastes a note and never raises her voice, is a multi-faceted artist, able to scat in a Chet Baker-like manner but also to interpret a lyric, making every word count. It was Suzie Scraggs-Van de Geyn who wrote the words to Fay’s rendition of Charlie Parker’s solo in “Perhaps”.
But it was Bert’s suggestion that they also record some free improvisations: “Just sit down and play.” Jan: “I said it was all right by me, as long as we didn’t make the tracks too long. And I did propose we start in D-minor. Before we knew it, we’d recorded five tracks! That’s the kind of session it was.”
Een ongelofelijk album met voornamelijk duo nummers en een paar hele mooie trio tracks met niemand minder dan 's lands beste jazzvocaliste Fay Claassen. Jan verwey heeft een rustige, nadenkende muzikale benadering en speelt veel bebop-georiënteren lijnen. Hij haalde inspiratie uit muzikanten zoals Tom Harrell, Jim McNeely en (niet verrassend) Bert van den Brink. Jan Verwey ziet het als een fantastisch geschenk om samen met meesterpianist Bert van den Brink deze plaat te hebben kunnen maken.
Es gibt nur wenige Mundharmonika-Spieler von Weltrang. Ein wenig im Schatten seines Landsmannes Toots Thielemans stand immer Jan Verwey - obwohl technisch ebenso versiert und st�rker am Modern Jazz und Bebop orientiert. Mit van den Brink, vielleicht dem besten lebenden Pianisten des Landes, und auf einigen St�cken der S�ngerin Fay Claassen, hat er jetzt nicht nur einige All-Time-Standards ('Stella By Starlight', 'How Deep Is The Ocean') eingespielt sondern auch 5 frei improvisierte St�cke - ein Beweis f�r die Offenheit des Mittsiebzigers.
Jan started playing harmonica in his native Vlissingen, in the Netherlands’ rural south-west. “I joined a harmonica club for a while, but that bored me to death; after two rehearsals, I knew all their songs inside out.”
As a young man, he studied double bass with a musician from the local symphony orchestra. “He wanted me to become a professional bassist and join his orchestra, but I was studying to be an interior architect, and had decided to pursue a career in that.”
Jan indeed made quite a career as a designer, making contributions to the Amsterdam Krasnapolski Hotel, a Hilton hotel in Egypt and other prestigious venues. But, after having moved to the center of the Netherlands, close to the broadcasting studios, he was in constant demand as a musician too.
“I wasn’t a great musician back then, but my instrument was my unique selling point,” he says self-effacingly. “When it came to the chromatic harmonica, it was just Toots Thielemans and me. When producers couldn’t get Toots, they’d hire me. I could render a pretty melody, with some embellishments. Many skilled saxophonists could have done something like that. But anyway – I did about 150 radio shows in the ’70s alone.”
After the company he worked for folded in 1985, Jan decided to concentrate on music. “Finally, I had time to do some serious woodshedding. I learned a lot about music theory from youngsters I worked with. They all attended the jazz conservatories that were just getting started.” He specialises in playing octaves. “It took me a couple of years. Nobody else is doing that at length on the harmonica. I can play a whole Charlie Parker solo that way.”
Gradually, he developed a highly original musical personality. “Toots once told me he likes my playing because I don’t try to sound like him.” Nowadays Thielemans is a lyrical, emotional, impulsive improviser; Jan has a quiet, thoughtful approach and plays more bebop-oriented lines. He derives inspiration from musicians playing bebop and beyond, among them Tom Harrell, Phil Woods, Jim McNeely and (not surprisingly) Bert van den Brink.
Bert van den Brink
From his childhood Bert van den Brink (1958) has already been improvising on piano and organ. In this field of music Bert is completely self taught. He got his first piano lesson when he was five years old. In 1976 he started his professional classical education at the conservatory of Utrecht, with Herman Uhlhorn, and graduated cum laude in 1982 with the immediate invitation to take the chair of jazz piano teacher. He gave several classical recitals, but gradually the Balance changed more to jazz.
He performed with musicians like Toots Thielemans, Chet Baker, Nat Adderly, Benny Golson, Lee Konitz, Jesse van Ruller, Clare Fischer, Enrico Pieranunzi, John Engels, Hein van de Geyn, and many others. In 1990 and 1991 he was the pianist in the quartet of Dee Dee Bridgewater. For some years he was musical director in the band of Denise Jannah. Of his several solo albums, "Jazz at the Pine Hill" (PHCHR 75084) got an Edison Nomination. The first album of the Bert van den Brink Trio (with Hein van de Geyn,bass and Hans van Oosterhout, drums) "Between Us" (Challenge Records SACHR 75230) was released in 2004. With vocalist Thomas Oliemans Bert recorded Franz Schubert’s “Winterreise” (FineLineClassical FL 72409). As arranger/producer his works are played by the Metropole orchestra, the Dutch Wood winds Ensemble, Denise Jannah and others.
In April 2007 Bert received the VPRO-Boy Edgar Award.