When did you decide that you wanted to be a musician?
Well, I don’t think I ever decided that I wanted to become a musician. I started playing when I was 8 years old in a local marching band. That was mostly because my friends were playing in the marching band, not because I particularly wanted to play music; it was more of the social aspect that drew me in. My friends at the time were travelling on these field trips and seminars, they got to wear these uniforms all decked out with medals. It looked real cool! I wanted to do that, be a part of that, meet new people, travel, that whole thing. The marching band lacked clarinet players so, there wasn’t really any choice in instrument, that’s basically why I started playing clarinet.
My mom didn’t want me to join because she was forced to play violin when she was little. She didn’t want me to have the same seemingly horrific experience. And she was really bad at making cake…so at the marching band fair they have once or twice a year, she didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of all the moms. That’s why I couldn’t start. But I kept bugging her about it and finally she agreed I could start as long as I was serious about it. So there I was and I started practicing a lot. My grandfather gave me a record of Benny Goodman. That’s when I started listening to his music and he just blew me away. The way he played – his lines - he’s brilliant!
In the house I grew up in, we have a bay window that faced the street. (I was a real attention getter!) I used to practice with the stereo blasting benny Goodman in the living room, real loud and position myself in the bay window. When people would come home from work they would walk past, I would stand there and play with the record of Benny Goodman for them. Our neighbors would look up and I’d put on a show. I would do that almost every day. Afterwards, I would run down with a hat, accept payment for the performance, get some cash and I would make money.
One day, my next-door neighbor (he’s the son of our former mayor of the Capitol of Norway, Oslo) was celebrating his 50th birthday with his family and friends. I was playing inside and he could hear it all the way up to his party. He called me up and said “Hey, can you come up to our party and play?” His father, the former mayor of Oslo, was there and called me a couple of weeks later. He called me and asked if I wanted to play a gig. It was the main fortress in Oslo in front of the Queen of Norway and I played two songs solo all by myself and got $400. I’ll do that! I was twelve and that was my first gig. It fulfilled all of my expectations and needs at the time. I got attention, money, and people enjoyed it. I used that money to buy more albums of Benny Goodman and I got more gigs. It went by word of mouth and when I was 14-15, I did my first appearance on national television. That’s when I got more shows and started to become serious.
I never had a “regular” job in my entire life. This has been it. I’ve been playing music my entire life. It happened by accident, I guess. I think it became more clear to me when I was 18. That’s when I got a full scholarship to come to Berklee College of Music in Boston. Now it was on. I’m getting an education and moving to Boston. It became more real.
How long did you stay at Berklee?
From 2008-2012. Then I moved to New York.
Who are some of your musical inspirations?
Benny Goodman, definitely. He played clarinet and he’s the main reason that I’m playing jazz today. Also for his social agenda. He’s not separate from the music like many are today; he’s intertwined in the music. He was the first guy to really use his position, stand up and have black musicians in his band at a time when it was custom for musicians of color to use the back entrance only to get into clubs. He was really ahead of his time. Some of the words he said back then, “If a guys got it, let him give it. I sell music, not prejudice.” It may be more suited today than back then in many ways. That’s been a mentality I’ve had all along. In the pursuit of excellence, it doesn’t matter your sex or gender, etc. it doesn’t matter who you are, as long as you can play. In hindsight I feel really lucky to be ushered into jazz with those core values. I feel like it’s really important to have as a musician.
Louis Armstrong would definitively be in there. From a technical and learning perspective Michael Brecker and John Coltrane. However, these old cats are more deeply prominent in me.
I would also say Brahms is definitely one of my favorite composers of all time. I listened a lot to that. James Brown also! He’s just himself all the way. James’ persona is really entertaining and has no shame. Something to aspire to. It’s difficult to list all my inspirations (as there are so many), and for different reasons. Bottom line is “Good music is good music no matter what music it is.”
Do you have any advice for musicians – a life lesson as a performer?
For musicians in jazz and classical, I would recommend a couple of tips. Dress well on stage! The audience sees you before they hear you play. I don’t mean just wear a suit and fulfill the couture. Look good in your suits. A lot of people just dress up and it’s way too big. You need to take pride in looking good for yourself and the audience. Respect the audience.
Another tip is to commit to what you’ve said. If you get a gig for instance and you say yes, even though it doesn’t pay as much and you get a better gig from an offer later, still be true to that first gig. Don’t be flaky. You’ll get a reputation for that. Show business is something else. Your word and reputation are some of the most important things you have. Don’t say things that you don’t mean. Take responsibility.
Also, it’s important to be true to yourself throughout the whole process. Learn your craft fully, at least on the instrument. There’re so many instances where so many people take shortcuts when trying to learn things – don’t learn it all the way, fake it, etc. Maybe the audience won’t know you faked yourself out of a musical situation, but you’d know. You have to be fully satisfied. It’s easier to reach that point of satisfaction if you know your stuff. I’m not saying you have to explode all of your knowledge on the audience, but be able to. If you choose not to, that’s an artistic choice. When you start to make artistic choices, that’s what I think is true art. And you’d be a lot happier and content at the end of the day.
Also, don’t take life too seriously, either. Sometimes I see some people get way too specific with things. For instance some are using their reed measuring machines to measure specific reed strengths and are such gear heads. I use two boxes of reeds a year. Don’t use me as an example, that’s not what I’m trying to say, but maybe if they spent that time shedding their reed issues would start to disappear… who knows. Also, go and have a good party once in a while and enjoy your life. Music and life are the same thing. They’re one. If you’re proper, that’s what your music is going to sound like. It’s the same brain and mind that’s making the same decisions and music.
Whatever is going on, enjoy the process because 10 years from now when I think back to when I was 27, whatever I’m going through now is what I’ll be thinking about. This is my life. Many artists are naturally anxious and speed up the process, chase the next goal, gain more reputation, etc. You can’t always be in the mindset of chasing the next goal. You’ll be living in the future. For instance, if you are looking forward to play a huge concert a year from now, and all the focus is there, all the preparations, all the mental energy, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the performance; when the day comes you just live that moment, for the duration of the concert, about an hour and a half. Then it’s over. And then it’s onto chasing the next big thing a year from now, just living one moment at a time. That doesn’t sound much fun. Of course it’s important to have goals, but try to enjoy where you’re at as well. It’s difficult. Develop a center in yourself. Be happy with who you are and what you do, past, present, and the future. Let the experience from your past guide your future, while you enjoy the moment!
Dress well, learn your craft and live your life.
What would be your ideal situation?
What I’m doing now is the ideal situation right now, maybe not in 20 years. I can picture myself later down the line, maybe performing and running my own jazz club in USA or Norway. Maybe run a school. Have a community of musicians. Something that has to do with giving back and bringing people into a healthy way of being an artist. That’s something I can see myself doing... later. That’s the great thing about being a freelance artist. Who knows what opportunities comes my way. But for now, I am in hot pursuit of realizing my dream of being an internationally touring artists, soloist, and entertainer, and spreading love, joy and inspiration through my music wherever I go. I really love what I do.
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