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Interviews of Prog

Jan Akkerman
Jan Akkerman

Here are the remarks of Jan Akkerman (press conference plus personal questions), which took place in the city of Odessa a few hours before the concert. The Maestro presented a kind of solo chamber program: he played Spanish guitar classics and his own works, those written for lute included. So, Mr. Akkerman tells:

About Frank Zappa and his influence on the creation of Akkerman the guitarist:

Zappa was one of the leading avant-garde guitarists in the course of the sixties and the seventies, and his creation has run all through my life. Frank sometimes played only one chord, but he did it with such expressive delivery and unusual coloring that it just could not have been compared to anything. I also attempted to play in that manner, though with my own vision of music. As an example, Hocus Pocus was written under the influence of Zappa. Although I can't say he exerted much influence upon the formation of my own style of playing, I have always been greatly impressed at his mastery. Once I met him, in London in 1969. Frank came, and we jammed. All of his accompanying musicians were Europeans. Then Zappa said me: "You greatly play guitar and you have your own image as a musician. I would even invite you to play in my band." (Jan laughs)

On the origination of his last name, Akkerman, and the Akkerman fortress in the environs of Odessa:

I think I have Russian roots. My aunt told me that one of my great-grandmothers was from the Akkerman region where were then living the Dutch merchantmen who traded between South Russia and Holland. My last name seems to be very eloquent in this respect, though sometimes I think I can't be completely certain in that. All in all, I don't have a wish to delve into my genealogy, but I believe my ancestors were from here. I'd like to take a photograph of the place where they were maybe living some time. (Right after the press conference Jan went to see the fortress. Alas, in its current appearance, it represents merely dreary deserted ruins.)

On how critically Akkerman the musician treats the works of Akkerman the composer:

I don't make any analysis when I work. I write music, because the weather in Holland isn't that pleasant, so one of the privileges of our native artists and musicians is to stay home and create. The difference between Akkerman the musician and Akkerman the composer isn't great, as I often improvise when I play. I am not about to criticize myself - I am certain in what I do.

About relations with other musicians:

I love jamming; I often play jams with other musicians, none of which has been planned, though. It's just the matter of luck. I've often met foreign musicians abroad in the past years, but now, I prefer to play at home, in Holland, with the guys from my band. I consider them superb musicians! I found them one after another, and I constantly play with them when I have new ideas. However, we talk with each other not often - they're so much younger than I. There is a whole generation between us; they're like sons for me. My coevals endlessly murmur of how was it great when they were young, etc, while I am not interested. Some musicians still play the same three chords they played 30 years ago; nonsense! I like to do something new, to play something new:

About Focus and himself:

I think there is nothing awful in the fact that my name associates above all with Focus. It was I who created most of the band's hits, while Focus opened my own potential. It's all right with me that the band has been reorganized and is in the ranks again, but I am not interested in such a kind of music that they still perform. I am filled with new ideas. Focus was my youth; I like to recall those times, but all of that is inside me. I don't talk over my memories with other musicians. The renewed Focus is touring actively, and that's good. Though their new guitarist plays in the style that I did 40 years ago, and the band tries to recreate the atmosphere that was typical for Focus in the '70s, which not always gives a positive outcome and not in everything. To reproduce the atmosphere, it is necessary that all of Focus's original members would rejoin, but I am doubtful whether it's possible now, if ever. I was happy to play that music in the course of five years, but then I said to myself: "Stop! It's time to move forward." It was strange to feel how you wake up every morning and go to the studio, knowing accurately within one fraction of a second what melody begins and when it finishes. It's rather hard to endure such sameness, you know?

About guitarists and music styles:

I am deeply impressed by the new generation of flamenco performers. In Spain, you can drop in any bar, and there's a boy at the age of 14 or so, masterfully playing the stuff. I can join and play a couple of things, just to feel the moment of truth, of playing impromptu. The Spanish folk music lies in the basis of our European guitar school, as well as Blues, though. B.B. King is a brilliant blues guitarist, very unique. I love jamming with him. We often meet, accidentally. It may occur at any moment, when our tours in some of one of the countries clash:

Jan's opinion on the proverb "Blues it's when a good man feels bad":

No, it's an erroneous conception, lying in the misunderstanding of Blues' roots. It's not about that the slaves have been working hard. I played with B.B. King many times, and he never was in a bad mood, although he had experienced the racism on his own back, when he gathered cotton in America. Nevertheless, he is always happy to play Blues. White musicians sometimes take drugs trying to comprehend the mystery of the Blues, but it's the way to nowhere. Some people have that feeling, some not, and that's all. By the way, I think there are elements of Blues in the music of Russian classical composers, such as Tchaikovsky and Borodin.

On how Jan listens to music:

Classical music prevails over the other genres in my collection. It's complex and profound, and I can listen to it at any time. Of course, these are different matters - to play classical music and to listen to it. I love listening to music without subjecting it to any analysis, regardless of who plays what, whether it's pop or classical music, doesn't matter. It sometimes happens to me that while listening to some music I exclaim "Wow! He plays not unlike me!" and my friends tell me "It's just you!" (laughs)

About Jan's first musical experiences and about choosing a guitar as 'his' instrument:

When I was a child, we were living close by church, and I heard the music that played there. At that time, I had a small piano, so I tried to run through some melodies. My aunt showed me the photograph of my father where he was shot with a guitar and told me that he often played it. For the first time, I took a guitar when I was a little boy, and I've constantly played it since then; a guitar is definitely my instrument; I am just doing that which I have always had a taste for. By means of playing a guitar I communicate with myself, with my family, with people, which is probably typical for any musician. In 1992 I got into automobile accident and was paralyzed, and a guitar was the first thing that my wife Marion brought to me in the hospital. Then I understood that I would revive only by playing a guitar. I believe it was a sign. A guitar is my life, as well as my family. I am a domestic man and I spend most of my life with my family in Holland. This year I will tour in the UK and Europe, while in the middle of summer I may get back here, to Ukraine, along with my band. Welcome to my concerts!

Written down by our Ukrainian correspondent Olga Potekhina
Photographed by OP

Translated by VM: May 12, 2005

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