Saskia Laroo, a native of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, is known as one of the finest female trumpet players in the world. Her versatile style and ability to also play cello and guitar has led to collaborations with legends like Hans Dulfer and Teddy Edwards. She released her first CD, It’s Like Jazz, in 1994 under Laroo Records, her own label. Together with internationally-known pianist and vocalist Warren Byrd, Saskia Laroo creates a potent and charming sound with an eclectic influence of styles. After recently playing at the new Britain Museum of Art, Saskia granted us the following interview.
What about playing music makes you happy?
When I play music I feel very happy because I feel very free to express my emotions and to create a nice atmosphere with the audience. I like that very much. And of course, playing with other musicians! I like to play jazz music–funky jazz, regular jazz, all styles of jazz–because then you can improvise to express what you feel at that moment. Another thing about playing music that really makes me happy is how I get into a trance, like meditation sometimes, especially if I have a whole afternoon with the audience and everybody feels like they were somewhere else, outside their normal daily lives. It’s very nice to see all these different kinds of people in the audience, and you meet so many people and it’s nice to see what kind of effect your music has on them. How they perceive or experience your music, that’s also a lot of fun.
What other acts/musicians do you regularly play with?
Actually, I play mainly with the Saskia Laroo band and we are between 4 and 8 people. When we are with 8 people we also have rappers, African percussion, guitar, sometimes a DJ, sometimes beat boxer. Then I have Jazzkia, which is my pure jazz quartet. Sometimes I expand it with a guitar player or percussion player. I have the duo, Laroo Byrd, and that’s together with Warren Byrd, the piano player and vocalist. In that duo I sometimes play the bass. Those are the acts I regularly play with. I also play with other musicians sometimes if they hire me as a special guest.
What has been your favorite performance so far?
Wow that’s a very difficult question because it’s always the last performance that’s the favorite, like the one at the New Britain Museum of Art recently.
I really loved it very much because it was very nice audience, the musicians were great and we could play pure straight ahead jazz but also funky jazz, like a mixture of styles, so that was a lot of fun. But let’s say, last year in 2011 I had one very impressive performance with the Saskia Laroo band in Brazil. We played for 25,000 people and that was very impressive for me. Also, I toured in China in 2004 and 2007 and the audience there got very excited. They were all young people and they tried to pull me into the audience! They wanted me to stage dive but I had my trumpet and all kind of electronics around my waist, so that was a little dangerous. Fortunately, the rappers saved me. Those tours were impressive, but also in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, I have regular Sunday nights in the jazz club Alto. Most of the time that’s lots of fun because we play long hours there and have special guests. Over the course of the night, most of the time the show gets more and more exciting. But sometimes it’s very mellow and that’s lots of fun too. It’s hard to say which is my favorite because I love performing for a very big audience and a small intimate audience; it depends on the mood. The only thing I don’t like about a performance is if the music and the audience don’t match. So, I try to make that work always, of course.
Who are some of your favorite musicians?
The first one is trumpet player Miles Davis. And all the other jazz trumpet players of course: Clifford Brown, Freddy Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Louis Armstrong. And I very much love Billie Holiday, the great singer, Stevie Wonder, and Bob Marley. I also love the younger reggaeton rappers or dance hall rappers from Jamaica, but also the reggaeton from the Carribean and Spanish South America. I love Carribean music very much anyway, and African music too. Some more of my favorite musicians, well, you know I very much love Herbie Hancock, but it’s also huge honor for me to perform with Warren Byrd. He’s so great. John Coltrain and Charlie Parker are my favorite saxophone players. Bass player Ron Carter, oh, I love his playing too, very much. And Art Blakey on drums, wow. Yes, there are so many . These are my favorite jazz musicians but I also very much love DJs. In the Netherlands we have some great DJs and producers. In the Netherlands we have what they call the dirty Dutch sounds of dance music. They don’t mean classical dance, they mean house or club music. I love also to try to produce music myself on the computer. Oh, and I definitely love the work of Miles Davis. He went through all the styles–he started with bee bop and ended up with hip hop. He started with acoustic jazz, then he did fusion, and then it was electric or electronic jazz. I like to mix those styles very much too, so I’m very much influenced by him as a trumpet player. The music styles that he played–yes he’s definitely a very big hero of mine. Also, his style of playing was very emotional and I like that very much.
What is your favorite instrument to play?
That is very difficult because I actually love the trumpet very much, but I also love the upright bass and I recently sarted to pick up the saxophone again after putting it down for some years. So that’s also fun, but I must say I think the trumpet is my favorite because I can express the most emotions on it. I can express myself the best on the trumpet, so that’s why the trumpet is my favorite so far.
Please talk about your exploration with electronic trumpets. When and why did you start experimenting with the electronic effects?
Actually I was lucky to do a little of that at the museum show because normally they don’t have a sound system. But I brought some of our own equipment and I was lucky to be able to give a little bit of a show with it. I couldn’t completely manifest or show what I can do with electronics for that performance because we had a few little issues. But I hope at our next show on the 9th of March I can give a demonstration of it. So, the electric trumpet is something I started using in 1992. I started to become interested in hip hop and rap due to the Miles Davis album that was released after he had passed away. That was very sad, but the album was great and produced by some great DJs and producers. There are great emcees on the album and I wanted to start to perform with a hip hop crew. I was looking around and found some rappers and also a DJ who could spin records. Then i found these electronic effects and I think I’m still the only one who does is that way. I made it in such a way that I can wear the electronics around my belt, connected to a wireless system, and that I also do sometimes with DJs. I did it also in the museum with the DJ Digitalizer; I did a performance with him and there’s also pictures of that on Facebook and on the web. So I started around 1993 and I began to record my first album. It was called It’s Like Jazz because I thought hip hop was the new jazz with the way rappers freestyle. Well, they call it freestyling but they’re actually improvising, just like in jazz music. They’re improvising with words. They’re creating on the spot and for me jazz is improvisation, so i called the album It’s Like Jazz. So that was when I started experimenting with the effects and I developed that wireless system so I could walk around and play the trumpet with just one hand and, because I was wearing the effects on my belt, I could operate them with my other hand.
To learn more, visit Saskia’s website.