Kathrine Windfeld: “We really need to be close to audiences to make interesting music”

Stuart Nicholson
Friday, May 7, 2021

A fortuitous break in lockdown allowed pianist-composer Kathrine Windfeld to record her latest (and best) album Orca and despite the brakes being applied yet again, the Dane is determined to be ready once the scene gets going again, as Stuart Nicholson discovers

Kathrine Windfeld [photo: Stunt Records]
Kathrine Windfeld [photo: Stunt Records]

Pianist, composer and arranger Kathrine Windfeld is not one for crystal ball gazing. But like everyone else in the coronavirus crisis, she’s looking for signs that at some point in the future, things may return to some sort of normality.

“The specifics here in Denmark have begun to look good, so I’m quite certain we’ll have some kind of relaxation in the coming summer when I hope we’ll be able to play live concerts again,” she says. And while every death in the crisis is a tragedy, leaving grieving families in their wake, the statistics – or specifics, as she calls them – support her view, showing just 2,216 total deaths in Denmark during the pandemic to 16 February 2021, which is among the lowest in Europe. Supportive of her government’s efforts to contain the virus, she says: “We have had a pretty hard lockdown because the government wants to make sure we don’t take any risks at all”.

“Instead of just making a traditional jazz album with a blues and a ballad I tried to make it a storytelling event”

Like so many musicians, she saw her livelihood curtailed back in March 2020: “We’re no different, I guess, to the jazz scenes in the rest of the world, of course. Live music requires audiences, it’s really hard to do these things online.

"We really need to be close to audiences to make interesting music – the band and the audience – but we have some great support possibilities, we can apply for financial support, so at least we’ll survive more securely than [musicians] in other countries as our support works out quite well”.

Kathrine Windfeld [photo: Stunt Records]

Looking back over the past year, at the beginning of 2020, Windfeld was planning to record and release her third big band album, something she had been steadily working towards since the release of Latency in 2017, “I started writing the first tunes for this album after Latency; I wasn’t writing music all the time, but throughout 2017, 18 and 19, I was working on the album. We wanted to record in March 2020 and then there was a lockdown in Denmark, and everywhere else, I guess.

"But then we had a lucky punch and it was actually possible in June. The same day the restrictions got a little lighter it was actually possible that day to record when the rules were not too strict, so we got together and recorded it. That was super-lucky and I was so happy that we managed to do it.

"We had six 'release concerts' planned in October and November, which of course were cancelled or postponed. You put so much effort into a work and then you can’t go on tour, that was really frustrating – I mean I am not more frustrated than other people – I have been extremely fortunate with other things, but of course I am very much looking forward to performing this album live”.

Nevertheless, this latest album has finally been released, via Stunt Records. Orca, named after the graceful but ruthless killer whale, flags up a series of largely nautical themes that hark back to Winfeld’s formative years in Svendborg on the Danish South Funen Archipelago, one of the most beautiful seascapes in the world. The idea of a nautical theme and approaching this album from a programmatic perspective came naturally to her, having come from a town that has heavy sea traffic and memorable land and sea views.

“I think I was attracted to the idea of helping the listener a little bit more”, she says. “Instead of just making a traditional jazz album with a blues and a ballad I tried to make it a storytelling event to appeal to listeners who are maybe not that much into jazz, so I tried to attract people who want the music to have a story and make a more coherent impression on the listener.”

This she has succeeded in doing, in what must be her most impressive work to date.

“I think the opening tune, ‘Undertow’, shows quite well the different aspects of the new tunes – it has the drama it has some poetic stuff in there and it also has this furious desperation in the middle part with the alto solo and high tempo, so I think ‘Undertow’ has the dramatic and poetic side of my writing. In terms of arranging and writing for the horns, I think, if I may say I’m proud of ‘Orca’, I think ‘Orca’ has the most work in the counterpoint things and was the most challenging one to write, a tune with a lot of different textures in the arrangement”.

Ever since the release of Latency in 2017, Windfeld’s career had been gathering momentum. As the respected Danish jazz writer Peter H Larsen has pointed out, “Kathrine Windfeld, over the last six years, has played numerous concerts with her big band and now stands as an artistic beacon in Scandinavian jazz”.

Windfeld modestly deflects any praise that comes her way, but acknowledges leading a big band in this day and age is hard work – she’s had to find 16 suitable musicians, find locations to hold rehearsals, organise concerts and tours, constantly get the 16 musician’s private appointments in tune with the band, convince record labels that her music should be released, and make sure her band is performing regularly so a strong and recognisable sound signature emerges.

Back in 2018, Windfeld realised she needed help to lessen the administrative burden of leading and organising her big band.

“I met Annika Westman, who is super, she has so much energy and so dedicated to what she does, and that’s extremely motivating and she does a lot of work for me – she has made some great deals with some great venues, so it’s a relief because I don’t have to sell myself all the time, I don’t have to say, ‘Oh, this is my new CD, isn’t it great!’ It’s so wonderful to have a person to do the selling stuff – I can focus on being ‘the artist’ and not ‘a salesman’, so I am extremely thankful she wants to spend time on working for my band, I really don’t take it for granted. Then Stunt Records came in with their great distribution, so to be able to release my music on a fantastic label, has meant an enormous change in my everyday life.”

While the new momentum in her career her little team were giving her hit the buffers in March 2020, Windfeld did not stand still.

Highly motivated, she says: “I have plenty of activities in spite of the strange situation we are all in – I utilise the time to practise a lot and check out records, I really, really try to develop all the time, I am very, very persistent in my work, every day I wake with something that has to do with music and my development, so that’s how I see things right now.

"I’m super fortunate as next week I’m gong to Frankfurt to play with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, they invited me for a week for a project, so we rehearse and on the Friday we play a concert, and when I come home from that I have a project with a Danish singer/songwriter – I have written some horn arrangements for her new record so we are going to record that.

"And in September I’m actually releasing a new big band record with the Bohuslän Big Band, a great Swedish big band, for which I wrote eight new tunes during the lockdown, so I’m extremely fortunate to be writing new things instead of playing live gigs!”

So when things get going again, as they surely will, keep an eye open for Windfeld and her big band; determined, talented and with no lack of charm she’s going places – she’ll make sure of that!

This interview originally appeared in the April 2021 issue of Jazzwise. Never miss an issue – subscribe today


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