This Thursday, April 12, at The Jazz Gallery, drummer-composer Jochen Rueckert debuts his latest quartet, a group with which he has recently released an album—Charm Offensive (Pirouet). His original music is hard to categorize, and yet firmly rooted in the jazz tradition, maintaining both a high level of group interplay and classic swing. We caught up with Rueckert over email to talk about his nearly 20-year career in New York as a sideman playing with the likes of Sam Yahel, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mark Turner, and even a single gig with Pat Metheny at Jazz Baltica, in 2003.
The Jazz Gallery: How did you meet Mark Turner and what role does he play in your current group?
Jochen Rueckert: I met Mark at a restaurant gig he was playing in Soho, where I sat in, around 1996. He plays the role of tenor saxophone player and booking-mail-click-bait in my band.
TJG: What do you think of “the state of jazz” in NYC today?
JR: It’s fine, like it kind of always has been.
TJG: What do you think of hipsters in Brooklyn?
JR: Fuck those guys and their beards. Thankfully I rarely [have to] go to Brooklyn. Wear some socks already.
TJR: Can you speak about your early upbringing and relationship with the drums?
JR: Well, I grew up in Germany, my older brother plays the piano and my dad could be found lying on the carpet blasting Bach in the living room on the weekends. I don’t quite remember how I came to the drums—I was very little and can’t remember all that much from back then, but there was never any other job or instrument considered, really. My first (paid) gig was, of course, playing with my brother somewhere, as a teenager. Early influences were mostly mid 60’s Miles Davis quintet, some of the Marsalis brothers’ music and other acoustic jazz-renaissance-type early 90’s music.
TJG: You’ve worked with a lot accomplished guitarists, like Mike Moreno for this show.
JR: Well, Mike and Lage Lund have been “passing the pick” in this band, and Mike is on the last record. Lage was originally scheduled but has a very important doctor’s appointment that day he forgot about. (He is still figuring that whole ” calendar thing.” He told me that in Denmark where he’s from, the government usually provides a personal assistant to all jazz musician, that takes care of scheduling, nutrition and the like).
TJG: Do you like doom metal?
JR: No. It bores me and has no emotional value for me. I listen to other types of metal, something sometimes described as “grindcore” and “mathcore” because it’s interesting; and more melodic stuff like the Deftones.
TJG: Between your jazz-oriented groups and your project Wolff Parkinson White, your composition has lived exclusively in the instrumental realm. Any thoughts about writing for the voice?
JR: I would love to make more music with vocals. I can’t sing my way out of a paper bag and am really crap at writing lyrics. Trust me, I have tried. I played in many a rock band with singers up to about 2010-ish… Jazz singers are tricky these days, I very much do not enjoy 98% of their original music. Too many slash chords and trying to show off their range, their skill. It’s been hard to find a singer that writes music I like, and even harder finding one willing to sing in my own band. I have been working on a Wolff Parkinson White album with several guest singers for about 4 years and hope to have it finished soon.
TJG: What is the connection between the quartet and Wolf Parkinson?
JR: None really, except that being able to compose a somewhat coherent electronic album gave me more courage and self-confidence to try to write for jazz quartet
TJG: Any reasons for using guitar instead of piano in this quartet?
JR: Well, there are so many other possibilities too. It’s more about the person than the instrument for me. To argue for guitar vs. piano: I did get a lot of Scofield with Lovano and Rosenwinkel with Mark Turner during my formative years, so that sound is nostalgic for me, in a way.
TJG: You’re known as a versatile and in-demand sideman. What makes a good sideman gig?
JR: My favorite music made as a sideman was during my stint with the Kurt Rosenwinkel quartet in the mid-2000’s. I, of course, enjoy all the other ones. I don’t really play music I don’t like anymore.
TJG: What younger musicians do you like working with?
JR: Pretty much all of the ones you see me playing with. As I said, I don’t really play with people I don’t like anymore, thank God. Just to highlight a few I’ve seen or played with in the last couple of weeks: Immanuel Wilkins quartet was great, with Micah Thomas. Joel Ross is a bad motherfucker. I enjoyed Caroline Davis singing in her band, “Maitri.” On the other hand, there are a lot of younger musicians that inspire me to go not play like them, sort of highlighting mistakes one could make. That’s often centered around composition and certain musical tastes and style.
TJG: Do you think that has anything to do with how students learn jazz in school?
JR: I went to jazz school in Germany, it was basically all nonsense and I learned practically nothing, apart from what I learned from playing with many other students. I think that has changed and institutionalized jazz education is more relevant. Things are changing—I see more musicians i respect teaching at these places. But the students often seem as clueless as the were 25 years ago. I don’t know. I rarely teach at schools, besides a few workshops. I do sell instructional videos on jochenrueckert.net/#instructional-videos. I’ve tried to keep them as simple with the most essential information I could compress into this format and I hope it helps some people.
TJG: What else is influencing your music right now?
TJG: Mostly my 4-year-old son and the lack of time to leisurely write music and practice that comes with being a parent. I am in constant survival mode… Wheels on the bus / do the hokey pokey.
The Jochen Rueckert Quartet plays The Jazz Gallery on Thursday, April 12, 2018. The group features Mr. Ruckert on drums, Mark Turner on saxophone, Mike Moreno on guitar, and Orlando Le Fleming on bass. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 P.M. $15 general admission (FREE for members), $20 reserved cabaret seating ($10 for members) for each set. Purchase tickets here.