Kees Hazevoet, 1969
Interview by Clifford Allen Autumn 2009
When in 2001 Atavistic reissued the scarce Dutch-German-South African recording Unlawful Noise, a 1976 album credited to Haazz and Company originally issued by the KGB label, it seemed to come out of nowhere. As well as Peter Brotzmann, Louis Moholo, Johnny Dyani and the brothers Bennink, it featured a hitherto unknown pianist and clarinetist by the name of Kees Hazevoet in an incredibly dense, shrill and brutal – but entirely rhythmic – set of pieces, far removed from the aesthetically ubiquitous New Dutch Swing. Hazevoet, it turns out, has spent the past 30 years conducting zoological research on Cape Verde (he publishes under the name Cornelis J. Hazevoet), having dropped out of music in the early 1980s. Other than three albums as a leader, he appeared on two very rare records led by reedman Willem Breuker and tenorman Hans Dulfer. Late in 2009, Clifford Allen contacted Hazevoet by email to get the full story, a veritable window into the Dutch jazz underground, selections from which are reproduced for the first time here.
How did you get interested in music? Were you raised in a musical family? What was the environment around you, musically and otherwise, when you were young?
I was born in 1948 and raised in Amsterdam. My mother played the piano. My parents listened to the popular classics. There were also records by Glenn Miller, Erroll Garner and Louis Armstrong in the house, which I liked a lot as a kid.
Were you always interested in playing numerous instruments, or was piano your first and foremost attraction?
I started on piano in the good old fashioned way, taking private lessons and playing Mozart et al. But I liked to play in the open air so I bought myself a trumpet and later on a clarinet as well. We lived on the edge of town and there was still plenty open space around.
Could you describe some of your first playing and performances in the jazz idiom? What attracted you to playing "outside" or "free" music? What were you listening to – both in your immediate environment and on record?
I became aware of and started listening to jazz consciously at age 14. I used to go over to a schoolmate's house and we'd (try to) play the piano. We listened to Bird, Monk, Trane, and all those greats. We also got some of the early Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor records. I was always very interested in the drummers, with Art Blakey being an early favorite, and later the other greats as well – Philly Joe Jones, Elvin, Klook [Kenny Clarke], Shadow Wilson. I always felt that it's a drummer that makes a band sound good, which is why many European bands were hard to listen to. I attended the jazz classes that [reedman-composer] Theo Loevendie gave at the time. Rein de Graaff, a very good bebop pianist, is an old friend of mine. I have known him since 1963, when I was 15 and he was 19. In those years, we both frequented jam sessions and he showed me many things on the piano. Around that time, I also started playing with neighborhood friends, which must have sounded pretty terrible. Then in 1964, I heard Albert Ayler and Sunny Murray in Amsterdam. That did it.
In the 1960s, Sunny Murray was very important for me. Early on, I played that record with Taylor, Cecil Taylor at Café Montmartre (Debut/Fontana, 1962), over and over, partly of course because of the piano, but mostly because of the drumming. It was the same with the Ayler and Murray records. He really made those groups sound different. Of course, Murray himself was at his best when playing with strong leaders like Al and Cecil. I always liked those special drummer combinations, like Trane and Elvin, Monk and Blakey, Miles and Philly Joe. For me, the pairing of Ayler and Murray is in that league. I also liked the simplicity of the drumsets he used. When in Europe with Ayler, he sometimes had just a snare drum and one cymbal, not even a hi-hat or bass drum. Not many drummers would do that.
Could you discuss your work with [reedman] Willem Breuker, [tenor saxophonist] Hans Dulfer, and [multi-instrumentalist] Han Bennink? What was it about these musicians that first attracted you? How did you meet them?
I first met Willem at Free Jazz Inc., which was in a squatted building in the center of Amsterdam. This was basically [pianist] Piet Kuiters' place. I thought Piet was terrific; he could play Bud Powell like no one else, though at the time he was playing in a Cecilian mode. Willem was playing with Piet's group. We didn't talk much, but I sat down and listened. This was in 1965. In 1966, Willem began organizing his large orchestra and asked me to join. I think it was the bassist Arjen Gorter who recommended me. Rehearsals – involving up to 20-25 musicians – were in the small basement at Willem's parents' house. It was loud. Hans Dulfer was also in the band and after a while we started rehearsing with drummer Rob Kattenburg, who also played in Willem's orchestra. We did some gigs with a quintet, with Carl Schulze on vibes and trombone and bassist Tony van Hall.
For some reason, one journalist liked what I was doing with Dulfer's group at a concert at the Stedelijk Museum in early 1967, and headlined his newspaper review "Strong piano playing by Kees Hazevoet". People started asking "who is this guy?" and I was introduced to many of the more traditional musicians. I was very young and very lucky. I continued playing with Hans off and on until about 1974, sometimes he was playing for me and at other times I was playing for him. Han joined Willem's orchestra in early 1967 and starting there, Hans, Han and I played together in different combinations many times. For a while, I had a quintet with Hans, Peter Bennink, who was still playing tenor at the time, Arjen and Han, as well as in Peter's group (with different personnel). I continued playing with Han off and on thereafter including some duo gigs in 1969-1970 (I still have a tape of that).
Playing with Breuker's band was a lot of fun. It was always spectacular, with up to 30 musicians at times, singers, dancers, performers. It was really a mixed bunch, with guys from the classical world, guys who normally worked in the radio studios, as well as "real" jazz musicians, both from the free and more traditional spheres. But all of us loved it and we caused a sensation wherever we played. Of course, we also got a lot of criticism from people who thought we went too far, which was part of the fun. In those days, it was still easy to provoke people through sound. In 1968, Hans began organizing weekly concerts at the Paradiso and let everybody play, including visiting American musicians. Before, there was not much happening in Amsterdam as far as jazz music was concerned. In the early 1970s, we started the old Bimhuis, which was kind of our nightly home. We ran the place. Our wives and girlfriends sold tickets at the door. Those early, pioneering years were very nice and quite informal.
In Arjen Gorter's loft, with Willem Breuker and Lonnie Hoebeke, 1966
Could you talk more about some of your early groups?
Around 1968-69, I also co-led a group with baritone saxophone player Henk van Es. In 1968, Henk had a big band for a while, in which Dulfer and I also played. In those years, Hans and Henk (and Arjen and Rob Kattenburg) did "inside" as well as "outside" gigs. Sometimes, I did an "inside" gig with them as well, but usually it then became a bit more "outside" than intended for the occasion (usually a dance or a party). But I liked having a chance to play the standards and so forth.
What were the circumstances of recording Pleasure (Peace, 1970) and how did you arrive at the impulse towards an artist-produced recording and detailed artwork?
Pleasure came about through the good services of the late Tony Schreuder, a bass player who was in the illegal record business (he had made quite bit of money with releases of "white" [bootleg] Beatles and Dylan records) and wanted to do something different. So he gave us carte blanche and I arranged for a private recording session at the auditorium of Amsterdam's Stedelijk Musem on a Sunday afternoon in September, 1970. I began playing with the saxophonist Kris Wanders, who lived in Antwerp in Belgium, earlier that year. At the time I was also rehearsing with my quartet with violinist Joost Belinfante, Arjen Gorter and drummer Eugène Broekhoven. Broekhoven had played in an early Willem Breuker group; he was then making his living working strip joints and died very young a few years later. This was a good quartet and Eugène and I had very good rapport. Then we did a gig with Kris and Eugène and that went very well. Kris then did a gig with Eugène in Germany (without me) and it apparently went all wrong, after which Kris refused to play with him any more, so I asked Louis Moholo, who happened to be in town, to do the recording with us. As for the "artist produced" part, this was just because no one else would let us make a record, so we did it ourselves. A friend of mine printed (silk screened) the sleeves by hand at no costs and we distributed the discs ourselves. To my surprise, we got some good write ups and hence some gigs for the group.
The artwork of your LPs and various "private labels" (KGB, Snipe) is unique and captivating.
It's all do-it-yourself stuff. If I hadn't been so lazy, I could have made many more. To call them "labels" is a bit too much. I just gave the imprint a different name each time, no big deal.
You've mentioned some memorable lineups and performances that you recorded. It's also interesting that most of this activity occurred outside of the European free-music marketplace, labels like BVHaast, ICP or FMP, which would seemingly be a logical places one could find your work.
I don't know, they didn't ask me and I didn't ask them. If I'd asked often enough, they'd probably have given me a date, I guess. At the same time, I played with many of the guys associated with those organizations, but not under their umbrella. In the early 1970s, I even did some duo gigs with Willem Breuker, which I think were pretty good. I made a large group (10 musicians, with Wanders, Dulfer, Paul Rutherford, Gorter, Moholo, Martin van Duynhoven) recording for Dutch radio. In 1975, I had a septet with Evan Parker, Mongezi Feza, Peter Bennink, Maarten van Regteren Altena, Donald Garrett, Moholo – I've still got a tape of that. I also have a recording of a piano trio (literally – three pianos), Misha [Mengelberg], [Leo] Cuypers and me together.
L to R: Hazevoet, Maarten Altena, Jean van den Plas, Bert Koppelaar, Louis Moholo, Peter Bennink, Jan Winter 1974
It seems like the festival community was very good to musicians who didn't record in the studio as much. Could you describe your experience with the European festival environment?
During the 1970s, we played all the major festivals in the Netherlands and Belgium, but there was nothing special about that. They were just gigs and I didn't give it much thought.
We often get the idea that Dutch Jazz – if it is to be characterized by certain impulses – contains a fair amount of theatrics or "humor." The later music of ICP, as well as Breuker and Cuypers, certainly displays these approaches. However, clearly that's only a small part of the picture. Other than yourself, people like Theo Loevendie, Hans Dulfer and Nedly Elstak come to mind as distinctive, "affect-less" voices within a Dutch creative music tradition. What's your take on this environment?
I never was enthusiast about the "nationalist" fervor displayed by some of the humorists. First, I am not a nationalist and second, I really liked American jazz music in all its forms, from King Oliver to Albert Ayler, that's what inspired me, not Europe. Nevertheless, when I did duo gigs with Willem, things became so hilarious that we sometimes had to stop to catch our breath.
Harry Piller, an excellent bebop drummer, was a good friend of mine and we played a lot during the 1970s. We did a lot of crazy things; he was always lots of fun. Once we played somewhere and the guy said he'd pay us double if we promised not to play anymore after the break. Another time, Harry and I were going to play somewhere (with his group) and we arrived early, and the place was empty so we went out to have a drink. When we came back, girls were selling tickets at the door. They said we had to pay to get in. So we bought a ticket and sat among the people. More people were coming in now. After an hour or so, someone asked the guy who apparently was the organizer why we didn't start playing. "We're waiting for them, they're late", the organizer said (he apparently didn't know us). So the other guys said "but they're sitting over there!" The organizer came over to us and said "okay guys, enough of the fun," as if he was in on it the whole time. That was the kind of practical joke Harry liked.
I learned a lot from being around American musicians like Dexter, Don Byas, and Paul Gonsalves. Paul stayed in Amsterdam for a while. This was just before Duke died and before he himself died prematurely. He cooked Creole Meatballs for us, but never ate, only drank. He was so lonely without the Ellington band. In 1967, Alan Shorter was in town and I gave him a gig with my quintet (with Dulfer, the Benninks, and Gorter). He was kind of a sad character – wanted to play "Stella by Starlight" all the time – which I did, but after a few times I got fed up with it and took off.
Could you talk more about the relationship you had with Han Bennink, how it might have evolved, and what – if anything different – you were trying to do in this duo context?
Han and I always were good friends. We both had a love of the outdoors, which was part of our bond. We always told each other which birds we'd seen lately. In the late 1970s we really became close friends, not only musically, but also socially, with family visits and our respective wives at the time getting along as well.
Hazevoet and Bennink, 1977
Was this duo also the basis for Unlawful Noise (KGB, 1976, with Moholo, both Benninks, Johnny Dyani and Peter Brötzmann), or was that a different working band?
Yes, I guess it was built around it. We did some 10 concerts together as Haazz and Company. But I continued playing with Moholo throughout the 1970s as well, with Han often part of the group. I was also in a trio with Han and Brötzmann which played quite a few gigs for a few years. In 1978, I toured the DDR with Brötzmann, Conny Bauer and Baby Sommer, and we did 10 concerts all over the place. That was interesting, and gave me a good inside look into how things worked in those countries, where the state attempted to control people's lives to a ridiculous extent.
I get the feeling from listening to your duo work with Bennink that a significant interest in non-Western music lies behind these recordings. How much is that the case?
That's correct. I had a huge collection of music from all over the world at the time and listened to it a lot. This was the same for Han. As for Calling down the Flevo Spirit (Snipe, 1978), I wanted it to sound "primitive," which I think it does indeed. We spent a day playing and recording in a reed field in a then recently-reclaimed part of the Netherlands called Flevoland, but in the end only one track was used for the record. I used to play a lot outdoors on my own. I have lots of tapes of that, with birds, the sea, wind, and so forth, parts of which I hope can be released someday.
How did you become interested in biology? Did your work as a musician/improviser feed into your scientific career to any degree? Do you still consider yourself a musician or play music?
My parents were nature-oriented, so my interest in biology came naturally and goes back to my childhood. We spent a lot of time roaming nature and it never left me. In the early 1980s, after I had stopped playing, I went to Africa (Mauritania, Senegal, and Guinea). I always wanted to go there and I loved it. I stayed in villages in Guinea and saw and heard some incredible dancing and drumming. At the same time, I was after the birds and other beasts. After that, every time I came back to northern Europe, I banged my head and said "what am I doing here?" In 1986, I first came to Cape Verde and I liked it. I figured out a way to do some research there and took it to the Zoological Museum of the University of Amsterdam. They gave me a desk and from 1988 to 1995 I spent half the time in Cape Verde and the other half in Holland. In 1996, I received a PhD for my work in Cape Verde. As you know, I've been coming back ever since. I really feel at home there. In January 1998, I moved to Lisbon, Portugal, which is more relaxed than northern Europe and also closer to Cape Verde, which is a former Portuguese colony. As for biology – I think of it as a strictly historical endeavor. I'm interested in deep time and patterns of diversification in conjunction with geology. I'm not an ecologist, which to me is a kind of soft science like sociology and psychology – to me, ecology only has meaning when seen in a phylogenetic context.
Paul Gonsalves was of Capeverdean descent. Funny that, without knowing it at the time, my life would become so much entangled with those islands. It really is the place I feel home most now. Another old favorite of mine, Horace Silver – whose real name is Horacio Silva – also hails from there, or at least his parents did. He is a modest celebrity in Cape Verde. I've been hearing "Song for My Father" on the radio there every now and then for 25 years. Last spring, there was a "Creole Jazz Festival" in the capital Praia, dedicated to Horace. I haven't been there – I'm on São Vicente (another island and the coolest one). I haven't been up to northern Europe for many years now.
Hazevoet and friends, 1992
Today I don't consider myself a musician and I don't play. I just had enough of it. But I still listen to Bird, Monk, Bud and Trane, never get tired of them. I still listen with "musician's ears," I suppose. In fact, I recently compiled the discographies of Don Byas' American and European recordings (available online at http://tinyurl.com/pmcobq and http://tinyurl.com/qskn6t). I didn't think that the (European) jazz and improvised music world offered much of an intellectual challenge in the long run, and by the 1970s American jazz seemed to reach a stand still. I always had a kind of scientific mind and approach towards music, like exploring the world of sound and different methods of creating and organizing it. Having to spend the rest of my life travelling to all these places and doing my act on demand just didn't appeal to me. I would have preferred to stay home, play (alone as well as with others), tape it and that's it – sort of like Sun Ra did in Chicago for many years. Perhaps a well organized and prepared concert a few times a year. Of course, I hadn't felt like that all along, but towards the late 1970s I certainly did. Moreover, I didn't want to depend on subsidies for the rest of my life. You may think that it's wonderful that music and arts are heavily subsidized in Europe (at least they were at the time), but it also means you have to befriend people you wouldn't otherwise, something I'm not so inclined to do. My close friend drummer Harry Piller did the same as I did, by stepping out to become a mathematician (he's now retired).
Another important reason I stopped was that I didn't want to stay in the Netherlands, or even in northern Europe for that matter – I just didn't like it. I found places that I like better. I'm not idealizing anywhere, because one always finds reasons to complain about something. It's just that the lifestyle here suits me better. In São Vicente, I know "everybody", especially the street people, some of whom have been my close friends for many years. I have a beautiful daughter there. I'm fluent in Krioulo, the local vernacular, much more than Portuguese.
But I definitely wouldn't have wanted to miss those years in music. Apart from the playing it was a great time, being associated with many excellent people and having all kinds of crazy adventures and lots of fun. I can hardly believe I heard so many of the great jazz musicians, like Monk, Coltrane, Hawkins, and Ayler perform in person. It all enriched my life tremendously.
Discography: Willem Breuker – Litany for the 14th of June 1966 (Relax/Wergo, 1966) ; Hans Dulfer – Candy Clouds (Catfish, 1970) ; Kees Hazevoet – Pleasure (Peace, 1970) reissued on CD by Atavistic ; Haazz and Company – Unlawful Noise (KGB, 1976) reissued on CD by Atavistic ; Kees Hazevoet and Han Bennink – Calling down the Flevo Spirit (Snipe, 1978) reissued on CD by Atavistic. See also other interviews of related interest with Misha Mengelberg and Sunny Murray.