As festival names go, Jazz on The Edge is one of the funkier ones around. The fact that the December 19-24 event is taking place at Mitzpe Ramon, overlooking the sprawling spectacular Ramon Crater, makes it topographically and scenically appropriate too.
The titular nod to “edginess” also suits the thematic musical genre to a tee. Jazz is – should be – about just that, testing the boundaries of accepted sonic and artistic wisdom, and swanning into uncharted waters with nary a safety net in sight.
With the current COVID constraints, gaining entry to Israel by foreigners is a dicey business. Hence, it is all the more pleasantly surprising to see the name of German trumpeter Hans Peter Salentin on the festival roster.
The 60-year-old musician, composer and educator features in the curtain-raiser at the Mitzpe Ramon Community Center, alongside festival artistic director and bassist Ehud Ettun, and another couple of imports, Polish guitarist Rafal Sarnecki and compatriot drummer Adam Zagorski. And there’s a fourth offshore artist in the festival lineup, Portugal-based Argentinean pianist Pablo Lapidusas.
That’s quite a feather in Ettun’s managerial cap, getting four non-Israelis over here at this time, and one that should pay dividends for jazz fans down in the Negev next week.
Salentin brings a wealth of experience, and envelope-pushing exploits to these parts. He has more than 30 albums to his name and has written charts for small groups and big bands alike, with some film scores in his bio as well.
Hefty professional baggage notwithstanding the German says his confluence with his instrument was a serendipitous development, that and the result of a little sibling rivalry. “It was an accident,” he laughs. “I was 11. My sister was at the music school and I thought I’m much better than her at music, which is true,” he chuckles. “So I went to the music school too. I played a sort of wooden flute.”
The latter was about to change. “The music teacher had two young trumpet students but he needed a third one,” Salentin recalls. It seems there were some financial considerations to the move too. “With three students it became a group lesson, and that was cheaper for everyone. So the teacher said to me: ‘You take a trumpet.’ I was excited and I said ‘yes.’” And that was that.
Then again, it might have worked out differently. “I think it was because somebody said to me that I could do that, that I was capable of playing the trumpet. That gave me the confidence I needed. I suppose if he had said I should play drums maybe I would be a drummer today,” he smiles, “or, at least, I’d play drums as a hobby. Nobody then said I was going to be a professional.”
He was also drawn to noncommercial areas of creative endeavor. “My teacher sort of took me in the direction of jazz, although not as a beginner. As a beginner you have to try things, just to try to get some chops on your trumpet and some technique.”
But he always had at least one ear on less fettered domains. “I realized, very fast, that I liked to improvise. There was a movie and I still remember the line, the melody [of the soundtrack]. I think I was 11 or 12. I wanted to play the melody on the trumpet so I tried to figure out how to play the melody on the instrument. That, for me, was the beginning of listening to something and trying to remember it and put it on your instrument. That was the beginning of improvisation for me.”
He soon got into the work of some of his greatest fellow instrumentalists of the jazz world, such as Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Clifford Brown and Booker Little. “I listened to all the guys in the ’60s, the Blue Note [record label] stuff,” he explains. “Then, through my teacher, I got into [now 75-year-old American trumpeter-composer] Tom Harrell.”
That introduction was facilitated by Salentin’s second mentor, an American trumpet wiz called Jon Eardley, a friend of Harrell’s, who relocated to Germany. He was also a pivotal figure in Salentin’s artistic growth. “Jon ended up in Cologne. He played in a freelance band and then in the radio big band. He was very important for me because he was a brilliant flugelhorn player. He played with a very nice sound, and a very nice melody.”
The youngster certainly had an ear for a good tune. The melodic approach has been central to Salentin’s professional timeline. That comes across clearly in his ongoing collaboration with producer and video artist Hans Jörg Scheffler, which, to date, has spawned 10 albums and numerous video clips.
In fact, Salentin got in on basic melodic creation from the outset. “I had my first gig when I was 22, for 100,000 people,” he says. That’s quite a crowd to play for at any stage of your career. But starting out with that must have been nothing short of mind-blowing. “I was in a horn section for [1980s German pop outfit] Fritz Bause. I practiced jazz – Charlie Parker material and that sort of thing – while I was on tour with them.”
Now, almost four decades on, Salentin sees the importance of that formative passage for his subsequent career. “I didn’t appreciate it back then. I was arrogant. You know, I was studying jazz!” he laughs. “I wanted to play my own music.”
In fact it took him a while longer to push his own boat out into the world. “I accepted almost any offer of work until I was 30. Then I made my first record, All John.”
That debut release was an exclusively original compositional effort, although Salentin maintains an all-embracing, inclusive approach to his musical work and the peripheral, practical, stuff. With a voluminous discography and accumulated gigging backdrop under his seasoned belt, across all manner of musical avenues, including free improvisation, the German trumpeter has the street cred to voice a reasoned argument for maintaining a feet-on-the-ground line to artistic pursuit.
“What is a jazz musician for me?” he muses. “For me, a jazz musician is a real-time composer. So, when you look at this you are composing all the time. Then you need some help from some friends. Knowledge means you need to know how to work with chords, and also to get some information how grooves are made and that sort of thing. I call that dialect.”
But there are outside fundamentals that need to be addressed too. “You should learn things like pop music production. You need to know how Michael Jackson was produced. You need to know how [rapper] 50 Cent is produced. If that attracts your interest – that works with me very good – if something attracts my interest I want to know how it works.”
That has, clearly, been working well for Salentin for some time now, through a busy career that has also seen him play Dixieland as well as straight-ahead jazz, and cutting edge stuff, and also make ends meet, comfortably, as a member of a TV show house band.
“It’s all just music. There’s good and bad music,” he observes in a riff on the oft-cited Duke Ellington gem: “There are simply two kinds of music, good music and the other kind.”
No prizes for guessing which kind the Mitzpe Ramon crowd will get on Sunday evening.
For tickets and more information: https://tickchak.co.il/23090