Morten Jagd Christensen is a physicist and an engineer who in his spare time devotes himself to music. He plays the piano and composes music in the jazz band Beats and Bubbles, a contemporary jazz group formed in 2012. The current lineup was established in 2017. They play warm, energetic, and playful Jazz from the American songbook.
Mr. Jagd Christensen has been kind enough to answer our questions. This time we will get a view of kizomba and kuduro from the point of view of a talented jazz musician.
Hej, it’s great to have you with us, please tell us a little about yourself. Your training, education, etc. ?
Tak (gracias). Ok, first a small disclaimer. Professionally I work as a physicist and engineer. Currently, I am designing and developing the infrastructure for processing large amounts of scientific data at high speeds at the European Spallation Source.
Besides my ‘real’ profession I have played music ‘forever’. I play the piano and also synthesizers. However, my formal training consists of three years at Danish high school (gymnasium) where my subject was mathematics and music.
Until recently my main training has consisted entirely of self-studies. I wish I had started earlier and learned some good technique and theory while I was younger. However, it hasn’t stopped me from playing and composing. Six years ago I started studying music theory as applied to jazz more seriously and I have also attended three jazz summer schools at Engelsholm højskole, where we live in a small Danish castle and play jazz all day long for a week under the guidance of some of the best jazz musicians in Denmark. I found the Jazz Piano Book by Mark Levine to be a really good introduction to jazz. Besides this, I try to ‘play’ with different musical concepts and bring that into my jazz vocabulary. This summer
I discovered a short Bach piece in which there is a passage that sounds like it can be used in modern salsa. This inspired me to work this musical pattern into different scales fitting to different jazz chords.
I used to play funk in my youth, then I started playing electric jazz fusion, but the last six years I have been moving into contemporary jazz.
Does music talent run in your family?
Both my parents were very supportive of my music interest but did not play or sing themselves.
My father had a great interest in music and started playing the piano late in life. I think he had some talent, but he didn’t spend much time on it. However, he had a lot of jazz records, listened for inspiration on the radio and sometimes brought his enthusiasm on to me. In fact, he introduced me to Lee Ritenour which was my first encounter with jazz fusion.
Who are the artists that inspire you the most?
It is a really difficult question. This has changed over the years. Earlier I was much into soft electronic jazz like Lee Ritenour, Dave Grusin, Spyro Gyra, and Wishful Thinking. Then I discovered jazz fusion and here my favorites were Yellowjackets, John Scofield, Tribal Tech, Dave Weckl and Steps Ahead. For more traditional jazz I have always been a great fan of Oscar Peterson whose piano skills were amazing, but also Keith Jarret, and recently Brad Mehldau. And then there are also a couple of danish pianists, Søren Møller and Jacob Christoffersen, whose playing I enjoy.
How would you define your music?
Well, the soft and hard jazz fusion I have written is pretty standard and has a definitive 80’s sound to it. For that genre I typically use electric piano and synth sounds, heavy use of syncopation and 16’th notes and a good variation of chords. I never liked monotonous music and get bored if there is too little variation.
As well as being a piano and keyboards player, you are also a composer, What does each of these facets bring you?
I am not sure, but the fact that the piano is a chord instrument, as well as a solo instrument, certainly helps me get inspired. Knowing the chords and playing them in the left-hand helps me tremendously when I solo. It is like having the list of ‘allowed’ notes presented for you and helps me play more freely.
Also, the keyboard/piano is essential to me when transcribing music: I iterate back and forth between listening to the music, replicating it on the keyboard, writing the notes and checking with the music.
I am not a very structured composer, and rarely have a clear idea of where I am going so typically I let myself get inspired by fooling around on the piano until I ‘invent’ a small musical element that feels right. Actually, the best thing about also composing is to experience how an idea that was once written as a draft on a sheet, sometimes takes on a life of its own when presented to the band. More often than not, the final result is much better when the band members have also had a chance to contribute and make suggestions.
What inspired you to write songs?
I just have this creative mindset and I am not content with just copying what others have done. Sometimes it is a challenge I give to myself, such as when I wanted to write a fusion tune with a Salsa element, but mostly I just want to create music and see if I can make it sound good.
Everyone needs free time. What are your hobbies?
Hah, I guess since I am foremost a physicist and engineer, music must be my main hobby. However I have too many hobbies/interests: I paint occasionally, and I study languages, both dead and living. Currently, I am learning Spanish – again mostly without a formal teacher. Prior to that, I was very interested in Old English and Egyptian Hieroglyphs. I have an IANTD advanced Nitrox certificate and like to go diving (when the water is clear and warm), but I also do rock climbing and mountain biking. Finally, I like to cook and make experiments in the kitchen, cold smoking, infusions, baking. There are simply not enough hours in the day to do all of this seriously and simultaneously, but I easily get fascinated and enthusiastic about things so who knows what comes next?
What are your future plans? Your vision for the coming years.
I guess the obvious is to try and get more gigs with our jazz group. I have maybe been too happy with the weekly rehearsals in our small but cozy studio and the great musicians we have been able to assemble. It is only a few months to the Copenhagen Jazz festival and we should probably start working on getting some small gigs for this event.
How can people find you and follow you online?
We’re working on it. Our current group is called Beats and Bubbles and we recently put together a crude homepage www.beats-bubbles.dk with some music samples recorded live in our small studio an evening not long ago. But we expect that page to be a little static. Soon we will add a Facebook page for the band, but that has not happened yet. You can listen to the demo songs from my previous fusion band, Chromatones featuring the same guitarist by the way. http://www.jcaps.com/chromatones/demo08/
Finally, I’m sending you some links to Afro-Latin music and dance videos, can you tell us about your impressions?
Honestly, I didn’t know that kizomba existed before you asked 🙂 I’ll do my best to describe my impressions based on the two examples.
Well, the two examples are very different. I don’t know what I expected musically or rhytmically, but in both cases, the fundamental rhythm is solidly based on 4/4, with rhythmic ostinatos repeated throughout the whole song. In terms of the variation of chords, they are very simple compared to what I normally play. Basically, the first tune has a progression of four chords.
The second tune seems to have an underlying subdivision of each quarter note in thirds making for some interesting rhythmic beats. I get the overall impression of a hidden samba rhythm or sound, maybe it is the drums that makes me think of that. This tune basically stays on one chord and it is clear that this is not what drives the song as much as the rhythm itself.
The first dance is calm and the moves performed by the lady are very sensual, the contact between the dancers is very intimate although it seems like the male dancer is a little more discrete or composed in his moves. The initiative seems to lie with the woman.
For a Scandinavian, coming from a more quiet culture this can be a little intimidating to look at, but the moves are very soft and beautiful.
The second dance captures the life on the street in my view, with the noise and the daily rumble. The moves look a little like street hip hop, but I actually get the impression that the three guys are playing soccer with each other. Their dance looks more improvised whereas the first one seems almost choreographed although it probably isn’t. As mentioned I had no idea what to expect, but to me, the Afro-Latin’ness seems more pronounced in 2). But then again my knowledge of Latin rhythms is limited to the 2-3 and 3-2 son claves