Interview with Christine Lutz
by Hadrien Caron, JHF Affiliate
Christine Lutz studied piano, solfege and harp (with Edwige Motte) then harmony at the Roubaix conservatory. Once she obtained her diplomas, she went to perfect her harp technique in superior studies (with Paul Woestin) and harmony (with Christian Bellegarde) at Lille's Conservatoire National de Région (CNR).
At the same time, she followed jazz lessons at the CNR as a bass player (with Yves Torchinsky) and started to study classical bass. She also followed musicology class at Lille's university and obtained her diploma in 1991.
She played during 3 years in jazz clubs around Lille as a bass player, especially at the Caveau de La Treille with Harry Rajaobelison, Jean Christophe Tant, Andry and Bara Ravaloson, and got the chance to meet and play there with Clark Terry, Laurent Cugny, Jeannot Rabeson, and others.
In 1998, she went back to Paris and perfected her teaching skills at the Debussy conservatory.
As a bass player in various bands (Massilia big band, GBLP, various trios and quartets), she played with, amongst others, Michel Barrot, Philippe Petrucciani, Didier Lockwood, Vincent Lafont, Benoit Paillard, Sebastien Germain, Boris Pokora, and Monique Zuppardi.
Her passion for harp still intact, Christine decided in 2004 to go toward jazz harp and included harp in two trios where she was bass player.
She joined Harpiswing in 2006 with Michel Altier (bass) Vittorio Silvestri (guitar) and Julien Vandyck (rhythm guitar) and recorded her first album with this band, La danse des écureuils, in October 2006.
How did you discover Jazz? What did you like about it?
A: I discovered jazz at the age of 22 when I was following musicology studies in Lille: there was a jazz workshop. I first liked the 'coolness' of the musicians and the teacher, Harry Rajaobelison. Harry ran a jazz club in Lille, which allowed me to play quickly in front of an audience and very often (two to seven times a week with concerts and jam sessions). I fell very quickly in love with that music that I didn't know at all because of the exchanges between musicians, the improvisation lead by the team spirit and the 'freedom of speech' in a jazz band.
At that time I was rebelling against the classical milieu, the appearance, the bourgeois aspect of the harp, ... So the jazz universe seemed even more appealing to me.
What musicians inspired you and why?
The musicians who were inspiring me changed as time passed. First I was very fond of Art Blakey and the Giants of Jazz, than Monk, than Wes Montgomery, because of their sense of swing, ...Stan Getz, Coltrane for their melody, and these recent years I feel close to Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans, Bobo Stenson, Enrico Pieranuzzi and so many others... But I still love the first ones !!! Anytime music gets to me, gives me shivers, I look into it.
Listening to others will obviously influence me in my improvisations, the themes and styles I choose to play.
Why did you start to play the harp?
In my family, we had to start playing piano at 5, and when we reached the age of 8 or 9, we could choose another instrument. I chose the harp because of David (from the Bible), my father being a Pastor.
Why did you start to play the bass?
I started bass guitar, then double bass when I discovered jazz. I first tried jazz through piano but couldn't do it (harp seemed impossible). I was too influenced by classical music in these instruments, I couldn't make an unwritten sound that I liked. On Harry's (whom I mentioned earlier) advice, I started bass guitar and got very passionate about the instrument and it's role in jazz.
You first learned jazz through bass, what made you want to adapt it to the harp ?
It started 5 years ago, I had a concert at a jazz festival with my band. The concert was scheduled 10 months earlier, so I thought I could include some harp in it even though I would still be the bassist.
That concert was a great success and I discovered that with all the knowledge that I got being a professional bassist for 10 years, playing jazz on the harp wasn't that impossible after all (but still pretty hard).
What advantages do you see in playing the harp instead of the bass?
The credit that I get in the places where we get hired is far greater!!
My role is completely different for I am more of a solist now than a sidekick. I like that too, even though I still love the bass as much (that's also why I have a duo with bass).
The public's curiosity is also very enjoyable. People are always very positively suprised to see that aspect of the harp and most of them have never seen a harp before.
Do you see any disadvantage in it?
Again, I will talk about the pedals. When I improvise, the foot is often a little late because it doesn't know what I am about to do and it is slower than the fingers. Chromatics are difficult. And there is some sort of momentum in the harp (the way you pick the strings, the way it resonates) which makes it hard to make it swing. It will be a work of many years.
Did playing the bass help you to play harp (in jazz)?
Yes, of course. I learned the meaning of structures, played many standards that I know now 'in my head and my ears' and which will be easier to play later. I learned to improvise on the bass, and the basics are the same. I also learned to listen to what was going on around me in order to interact with it, and on the harp, I do the same.
Another advantage was that I had the chance to play in many jam sessions which would have been impossible with the harp because of the difficulty to transport it and the PA. I got to play with Michel Petrucciani, Didier Lockwood, Clark Terry, Alain Jean Marie, …. and many others.
These musical encounters really opened my ears to what was going on around me and to react instantly to it.
How is your music on the harp influenced by the bass?
Mainly in the way I react with the bassist that I am playing with. And also maybe in the way I handle the low notes in bossa novas etc...
What advantage do you see in playing two instruments?
I do not play bass professionally anymore. I do not have time to work both instruments, and my hands are not able technically to handle both of them. I think I will play again but on an easy bass, and when I have enough time. For now, I belong only to the harp.
Did you have trouble to find your place in a jazz band with the harp?
No, because it was the band that came to me and made me want to accomplish all that work. And in that band, we tried to find the harp's right place. I must admit that sometimes the guitar « eats the harp's sound », especially electric guitar (in the harpi swing formation). That's also why I am very happy to have a bass duo on the side.
What do you think about when you improvise?
About the music around me, ... actually I don't think, I listen ... what is happening around me and the feelings that I have inside me.
Who do you think about when you improvise?
Normally nobody. But sometimes an anecdote will come up to my mind and it is very hard to stay focused. Unconsciously, I also think about the audience because it is to them that the music is dedicated they are the ones that make it happen by their presence.
What does improvisation give you that written music doesn't?
When you play, to what extent is it for the audience, and to what extent is it for your own ears?
When I play, the music goes through my ears and on to the audience. My ears are a bridge between me and the audience.
How do you handle playing what you like while playing for others?
There is no paradox because I play what I like. Some enjoy it, some others don't, but I do not seek to be liked by everyone. I just want to be who I am. A positive response from the audience is a great joy for me, because it means they liked who I am. I want to be liked, of course, but not at the expense of my personality.
How do you practice?
hum... I have no rule, I do whatever I feel like at the moment. Sometimes I would improvise 3 hours on the same chords. Sometimes I would focus on the speed, or on the phrasing. I work the technical side depending on what I am aiming to do at the time, sometimes I don't think and just play (biggest part of my work).
New ideas come to me when I am working.
What are you trying to improve these days?
Everything. The sound, phrasing, musical ideas, the way I interact with other musicians...
When do you feel you just did a good solo?
When I feel deep down inside that emotion went through.
How were you able to do these solos?
For a big part: work, and the rest depends on what was around me when I was playing (musicians and audience).
Who writes the themes that you play?
I often play jazz standards, and also compositions that my bass player writes (Michel Altier). And I can assure you that he doesn't care if it is playable on a harp, he writes whatever he hears and I practise. Sometimes it leads to very brutal pedal action, but I don't mind it that much. If the theme is pretty...
What is necessary to write good themes that are playable on the harp?
That I don't know, I never looked into it.
What advice could you give to people who are starting jazz on the harp?
First to listen to it, and enjoy it ... I feel like starting jazz on another instrument is great ... There are many ways to start : the standard aproach where you learn melodies and standards and play with them; or playing on a invented chord progression. You either learn the standards or play everything by ear. Both ways have their advantages.
Do not write down the pedal actions and do not always use the same pedaling on the same piece so that you can really play what you want. You don't want to 'put the pedal', you want to hear the note first (in your head) and then only the foot should move (yes, sometimes it is too late, but it's ok because it is the music that should be moving our feet around and not the contrary!!)
I like Aebersold books (where you can improvise on a rythmic section).
Anyway the RYTHM, the pulse is the very important. There is a lot of work to do on it. I work a lot with the metronome...
After all that ... you will also need to enjoy practising because the number of hours per day is intimidating!