Susanne Alt
Susanne Alt

Jazzism interview 16-04-2024



The first time she saw Roy Hargrove (1969-2018) was during a concert at a festival in Germany, where Alt grew up. "I didn't know him or his band, but when I saw Hargrove with his band, I was instantly hooked. Afterwards, the band members went for a drink at the jam session. They saw me standing there with my saxophone case and asked me to join them. Since then we stayed friends."

A Hundred Sketches

The agenda of Susanne Alt is always full. She's a popular guest and session musician, running her own label since her first album in 2004 and often plays as a festival closing act with Venus Tunes Live. She was one of the first musicians to play alongside dj's. And still she's dj'ing, with or without saxophone, in clubs and events. For a long time it were more than 100 gigs a year, no wonder that it felt really strange when Covid hit. "For a short while I thought: great, weekend! But shortly it drove me mad. I seriously asked myself if this was the ending of live shows. For me and other musicians it was a sad and worrying time." 

Alt needed a little push from her boyfriend to keep going. he said: "Just keep doing what you are good at". "So I practiced saxophone and flute, thought of a new project what I really wanted to do. Apparently it was back to my first love: acoustic jazz. After all that dance maybe surprising for the ones who thought 'she only likes to be a dj and party'. I got back into writing, melodies, ideas with some chords. then I started to finish the ideas and they became the compositions on this album."

Army bigband

Susanne Alt (1978) was born in Würzburg, Germany. She started to play saxophone after having seen an US Army bigband in her village. "American soldiers were stationed in Germany, performing with a bigband. A female alto saxophonist played a solo. Great, that's what I wanted. My mother was enthusiastic right away. My father was classical piano player and found saxophone rather noisy". She started a study classical saxophone but soon found out that she preferred to play jazz. When she turned 18 she went to the Conservatory in Hilversum (now Amsterdam) and continued her studies at the UdK in Berlin where she graduated cum laude.

Alt stayed in the Netherlands. "Back then, there was a big and flourishing live music scene. Everywhere jam sessions, live concerts. Unfortunately a lot of funds were cut and it all became regulated. The Netherlands were really important in the jazz world. And I was touring a lot.

Legendary jam sessions

She kept running into Roy Hargrove, for example at the North Sea Jazz festival, still in the Hague. There was this bar at Hotel Bel Air, where during the festivals all the musicians were jamming together. She even named a tune after it. Until the break of dawn and sometimes longer, jazz and latin musicians would jam together. "It was quite open and inviting. I could join in. fantastic, so you can play with your idols. Everywhere Hargrove traveled, he looked for a jam session after his own concert and jammed with the local musicians. he gave compliments and was encouraging. Of course people were impressed when he walked into a place. Everybody just sat a bit more straight up. When you played with him you immediately felt: this is for real, it's about something. As a musician you put your soul in every note and connect deeply with each other. So, cut the crap and listen and tell a story within your playing". 

One of the most important aspects in the playing of Hargrove is his expressiveness. "Of course he was really great in playing fast bebop. But what I found truly phenomenal was the way he played ballads, very lyrically, where he could say a lot with very few words. In her hommage to Hargrove she recorded his composition Roy Allan, a hommage to his own father, and one of Hargrove's favorite ballads "The Nearness of You".

Of course she investigated what attracted her as a saxophonist so much in the work of the trompettist. "Were it the saxophonists he played with, who were really good? I found out that I really fell for the tunes where he played flugelhorn on, very warm and lyrical. Somehow that's close to my own playing on alto sax." Alt is often praised for her dark and warm sound, her soulful way of playing. "I find it important to touch people with my playing. For me it works out better with more simple melodies in stead of fast playing and complicated chord changes. People can groove a long. I might loose some puritans here and there but I don't mind. When soloing you still can go for more complex material." 

Alt likes the gospel elements in American jazz. "Hargrove saw himself more of a messenger, he was linking music to god. Personally I haven't been raised religiously but on a musical level I understand the spiritual aspect very well. When you make music, you want to connect with the audience. It is beyond persons, no ego there. Which is quite a contrast with the process of preparing the release of an album including all aspects like make up and which dress to wear."

Universal language

Alt, following in Hargrove's footsteps, has embraced the many session visits. “Incredibly educational and above all very fun to do. The special thing about music is that it is a universal language you can use anywhere in the world. Almost always, it results in a great evening, and in the worst case, it still gets you a free drink at the bar.” Additionally, she has built a huge network from it. “Sometimes deep friendships form, and I wanted to take advantage of that now.” On the album, recorded at the Eastside Sound studios in New York, bassist Gerald Cannon and drummer Willie Jones III, both of whom worked with Roy Hargrove for many years, are featured. James Hurt, on Fender Rhodes and piano, is known in (free) jazz but has also made his mark in hip hop and electronic music.

“Recording in New York was really a kind of girlhood dream. That impressive city where American jazz is rooted, the melting pot with influences from soul, blues, and gospel. That’s also what attracts me to Hargrove’s music. Very different from the European tradition, which comes more from a classical approach.”

At the Royalty for Real concerts in the Netherlands and neighboring countries – the album presentation was last February at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam – Alt plays with Dutch colleagues who are close to her heart and ‘understand the music similarly’. “Yoran Vroon is one of the best drummers in the Netherlands. He brings a rich tradition of Surinamese music with him and combines it with very sparkling jazz. Keyboardist Timothy Banchet, bassist Thomas Pol, and percussionist Danique Kos are also people with whom I share that musical taste.”

Stand up for each other

The title Royalty for Real is open to multiple interpretations. “There is, of course, that royal element, with Roy as the real king. But someone pointed out the reference to royalties, and since I advocate for fair payments within the performing arts, that’s also fitting.” Besides her work as a musician, Alt is active as a board member in various cultural sector interest groups. She emphasizes the need for a good network at her album presentation at the Bimhuis: “We have to stand up for each other.”

The shock of Roy Hargrove’s death in 2018 still resonates with Alt. “Of course, everyone immediately talked about drugs; perhaps that played a role. But it was mainly a kidney disease he had been suffering from for a long time. Ultimately, his body gave out, and he died of a heart condition at the age of 49. Very sad, he probably could have been helped with good medical care. Typical of a musician who didn’t manage his affairs well. I think he didn’t want to deal with it. He just wanted to make music.”


on 17/05/2024


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