Imagine you’re hiking through the Himalayas. You come upon a clearing and find a lone shack, with a man practicing martial arts in the front yard. His style is immediately fluid, dynamic, instantaneous. You easily recognize half a dozen classic schools in his movements, mastered and applied with no effort. He could hold his own with anyone in the world. Yet here he is, in the middle of the Himalayas…
Danish drummer Anders Mogensen is one such badass. A bonafide jazz drumming badass. He’s a time maker, not merely a timekeeper. There is no daylight between the start and finish of his flow. It’s seamless and as masterful as anything you’ve ever heard from American jazz drumming legends. In the true tradition of master artists, he’s a humble one, who lets his sticks and feet do most of the talking, and intelligently so.
While not quite as metaphorically isolated as our hypothetical mystic, Anders may not be known to a lot of drummers outside of Europe. Regardless, with over two hundred and fifty albums to his credit and serving as Director of Jazz Studies at the Carl Nielsen Academy of Music in Odense, Denmark, Anders has kept his plate full for many years, serving up master chef versions of diverse drumming styles that he’s also fused into his own unique voice.
I was contacted by his publicist recently and was asked if I’d be interested in doing an interview about his upcoming release as a bandleader, titled The Jazz Gallery. Normally I like to peruse the Interweb on my own, find interesting drummers out there, and then write short pieces about them to give them unexpected press and attention. But lately, the urge to offer more in-depth information is replacing the shorter pieces, so yes, I definitely wanted to share some background on this very talented drummer/composer/bandleader, not only to promote his hard work and efforts, but to hopefully inspire fellow drummers who want to dip their toes into the composer/bandleader world and shape their own destiny.
So let’s get right to it. Here are 20 Questions submitted to Anders Mogensen, a very musical drummer I hope you will want to learn more about. He is indeed an endless student of his craft and is clearly someone whose playing reflects the integrity of jazz in the spirit of the learned masters upon whose shoulders he has built his broad encompassing musical embrace.
- When did you first get into drumming, and what was your overall training path in your younger years?
“I was sent to a private classical teacher at the local music school in Holstebro, Denmark, at the age of six. When I was eight, I joined the local marching band. Soon I was playing with marimba orchestras, wind symphony orchestras, symphonic bands and brass bands. Where I grew up, the local music school was very strong with great teachers. So, my formal training was very, very good. Full focus on sight reading and technique.
“At the age of ten, I started to get classical piano lessons as well. Meanwhile my big brother, who played trombone in the various bands mentioned above, listened to Weather Report, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw, VSOP etc., so I was very influenced from an early age about playing the drum set. At the age of 16, I started to gig professionally, playing in local variety/cabaret shows. That made it possible for me to enroll in Berklee at the age of 20. In Denmark, parents do not make a college savings for their kids, so I paid for that myself.
“At Berklee, I got my first real drum teaching. My teachers there were Ed Uribe, Joe Hunt, Ian Froman, and outside Berklee I took lessons from Bob Moses. When I returned to Denmark, I was fortunate to get a lot of work as a touring musicians, and I recorded with saxophonist Bob Berg and The Brecker Brothers.”
2. What tools do you use for composition? (home recording set-up and software)
“I use my piano. I studied classical composition and analysis, and I am still very interested in that. I use those tools to compose along my jazz composition background, mixed up with all the rhythmic knowledge I have. I use Sibelius for scores and lead sheets. If I need to compose a theme over a tricky bassline, I will use Sibelius as a sequencer.”
3. Who were some of your major influences as a drummer and as a band leader?
“Mainly Elvin Jones, Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette. But I studied the whole scope of drummers, current as well as the legacy. I am also very influenced by Alex Riel (Denmark), Anders Kjellberg (Sweden), Audun Kleive (Norway) and Jon Christensen (Norway). I have also studied various drummers from Brazil, Cuba and Africa, and with tabla players from India.”
4. When did you put together your first group? What was the configuration?
“My first group as a leader was a project that came out of my debut recording, Anders Mogensen – Taking Off (Storyville Records, 1995).
“It featured two Miles Davis alumni on Saxophone, Rick Margitza and Gary Thomas; Ron McClure – Bass, and Niels Lan Doky – piano. Niels produced the album. With this release, I toured Northern Europe with a band with Rick Margitza, Ron McClure, and Swedish piano wizard Lars Jansson. That was my first project.
“My first real band was Anders Mogensen External Experience. We made two albums:
5. What was your first record date? How many do you estimate you have to your credit?
“My first record date was with Bob Berg, Niels Lan Doky, and bassman Jesper Lundgaard. Unfortunately, it was never released, but it led to my record deal with Storyville Records and Taking Off.
“I appear on approximately two hundred and fifty recordings. I am proud of all of the recordings but worth mentioning is Jerry Bergonzi Quintet – 7 Rays (Savant), Doky Brothers (along with The Brecker Brothers) (Blue Note) and lately The Modern Jazz Trio with Jerry Bergonzi – Standard Gonz
6. What were some of the biggest challenges for your first recording as a band leader?
“I was fortunate to have a producer, so when it came to the selection of music, we had great communication about that. I do not think I would have been that confident if I did not have a producer. It was recorded in New York City, so I also had to travel – which I love.”
7. Are you involved with the engineering aspect of your recordings, or do you leave that more to the main engineer?
“I do not know anything about that at all. But I am very keen about how it sounds, and I have my favorite engineers that I like to work with. It is very important to trust your engineer, and it takes time to find the right one. Both for the actual sound and the actual personal behavior.”
8. What are some of the production issues challenges you’ve learned about with respect to recording your own drums to produce your own exact sound?
“It is very important that the engineer knows that he is dealing with a jazz drum sound. Generally that means approximately 80% overhead and 20% support from the closed mounted microphones. If the engineer is good, he or she knows how to get my sound on track. If they are not capable of that, I will find another engineer.”
9. Does your live playing technique differ much from your recording studio technique? If so, can you characterize the differences?
“There is a bit of a difference. Live, I have to adjust to the acoustic volume in the band and the room. In the studio, I will also think about dynamics, but generally I can play louder.”
10. Do you have a regular practice routine any sort of physical conditioning to keep you in shape behind the drum set?
“When I am on the road, I have a practice routine on my practice pad for approximately 1 hour – that is usually as much as I would have time for. I will do rudimental exercises and maybe focus on certain weaknesses I might have. To challenge myself, I often do rudiments in quintuplets or septuplets.
“When I am not on the road, I will do a practice routine of about six hours. Here I will dig into Brazilian stuff, Afro-Cuban stuff, jazz coordination, technique and drum transcription. I will schedule my practice so that each topic will be on for forty-five minutes and then move on. I will always start with a serious warm up. Usually with rudiments played very slow.”
11. In addition to being head of the jazz department at Carl Nielsen Academy of Music, what courses do you teach at the university, and how did you become affiliated with them?
“At Carl Nielsen Academy of Music, I teach drums, ensemble and a rhythm class (for all jazz students). I have been an associate professor since 1999 and Head of the jazz Department from 2004. I had kids when I was only 25, so I needed a steady income, but I have always been interested in teaching.
“I was recruited for this position, which I was and am very honored about. Being able to teach on the highest level of music keeps me in the loop for developing myself! My students are very good at practicing, so I need to practice as well to stay on the top of the beat!”
12. What sort of on-line training content do you offer, and how did you develop it?
“Since 2006, I have been doing DVDs and streaming masterclasses. I have made material for all levels, but within the jazz idiom. Latest I have made Weekly Drum Diary, available on Facebook:
“Every week I present a new 4-5 minute video with a corresponding pdf with the actual exercise in. I enjoy doing this format. I recently did two live masterclasses, which is also a great format. Interested drummers can sign up for Weekly Drum Diary here: https://bit.ly/weeklydrumdiary“
13. What sets your latest recording (The Jazz Gallery) apart from your previous projects in terms of your own performances?
“The Jazz Gallery is with Ben Kraef (Tenor Saxophone), Andreas Lang (Double Bass) and me. Both Ben and Andreas are based in Berlin. Andreas is originally from Denmark and went to Carl Nielsen Academy of Music. During this pandemic, I started to think about what possibilities we have on the European Jazz scene. I contacted Ben and Andreas, since we have had plans for years, but we were never able to make some kind of gathering happen. We booked a Berlin studio and went in and recorded originals along with Billy Strayhorn’s immortal UMMG (Upper Manhattan Medical Group). We are all very much inspired by the American jazz scene, and both Ben and I have lived in the US. So, it is interesting for me to hear how we, in Europe, play jazz with this kind of sound and approach.
“It is also interesting for me to travel around and see where we have common ground, to create this kind of music. We all three love this setting (sax-bass-drums), and hopefully, it will remind the listener about Sonny Rollins trio or various bands around Elvin Jones. As a drummer, playing without chords gives one a vacant room where the chords from a piano or guitar would be. In other words, there is much more space for my snare drum and bass drum. Saxophone trios are always fun to play in!”
14. What do you enjoy most about playing with this particular piano-less configuration, and how do accomplish more with less in this case?
“Since this is a chord-less setting, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for the drummer. It is very important that the drummer is on top with the form of the tunes to build up tension and release. I have been listening to so many sax trios that I feel very comfortable to record with this kind of instrumentation.”
15. Can you please comment on highlights of the individual tracks that stick out to you?
“‘Three for Elvin’ (Kraef) is a 3/4 swinging blues type of tune. It combines Elvin Jones’ world of triplets with a forward motion significant with the walking bass.
“‘Fredensgade’ (Lang) is a melancholic piece of music. Here showcased with the brushes. It reminds me of a black/white movie from the Fifties.
“‘At Stake’ (Mogensen) is a paraphrase/counterfact on Benny Golson’s ‘Stablemates.’ I love to play ‘Stablemates,’ and I have practiced it for years on the piano. The melody comes out of my improvisation on the tune, along with using traditional counterpoint for the bass line in the A sections.
“‘Aswan’ (Mogensen) is inspired by African music. I read a book about Africans who came to the U.S. way before Columbus! A part of history that I did not learn about in school. But at least I am aware about this now. The groove could remind the listener of drummer Ed Blackwell and his mallet works.
“‘Tit er jeg glad’ (Nielsen arr. Mogensen) is one of my favorite psalms by the Danish composer Carl Nielsen. I chose to change the chords into a more Nordic sounding piece of music and the time signature into 3/4 meter. The groove is definitely inspired by the Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen.
“‘Forever’ (Kraef) is Ben’s beautiful ballad. You can hear Ben’s love for American music but with his personal take on it.
“‘The News’ (Lang) Dark is groove and mysticism. I love this! I do not think the news for that day was too promising.
“‘Freshman’ (Mogensen) is an original of mine. It is a tribute to my son, Tobias, for when he started grammar school. New school, new friends, and it reminded of my own years when you entered new school and got new friends. I recorded it several years ago with Søren Bebe Trio feat. Marc Johnson on an album called Eva. I think this chord-less take is very nice.
“‘UMMG’ (Strayhorn) is a medium tune. I do not understand why this tune is not being played more. It is a great composition – as everything Ellington and Strayhorn did together.
“Generally, the music on this recording is very strong! It is right down my alley! I hope the listener will appreciate it as much as I do!”
16. Will current Covid gathering and travel restrictions in Europe allow you to tour with the group? Do you perform remotely using Zoom or other technology to offer virtual performances? If so, how has it been adjusting to the new performance reality?
“As soon as we can get out of this pandemic, we will be going out! I certainly hope that we will be able to travel anywhere. I love this trio!
“I have made several recordings where I have recorded drums and then different other musicians has added their music to my grooves. I have been part of Michele Brangwen’s Dance Company in New York City. I recorded the drums in Odense and sent the tracks to trumpeter Tim Hagans, who composed music over it, or Tim had some grooves he wanted me to record to work further on. After finishing the music, Michele would make choreography for her dancers! That has been an amazing project to be part of.
“Lately I have been working on a recording with saxman Walt Weiskopf (member of Steely Dan). We recorded piano and drums in Copenhagen, Andreas Lang recorded his bass in Berlin, and Walt is finishing the recording in Virginia where he lives now. Very interesting to do things like this, but it is a bit lonesome!”
17. Is there any particular aspect of drum set study you wish you’d devoted more time to in your early years or through your career?
“This is a great question. There is no doubt that I wish I had studied harder in my youth (mid 20’s). When I came to Copenhagen after Berklee, I became the talk of the town. I played with everybody. If I could change anything, I would have loved to go back to the United States to finish up my degree at Berklee or take a Master’s at New England Conservatory. I do not regret anything, but when the question comes up, this is my answer: as I mentioned earlier, I had kids around the age of 25. I have four of them, and I love them above anything else. I have traveled and played jazz music all over the globe, so I cannot and will not complain, but when the question occurs, I would have loved to have worked deeper into the music.”
18. What do you feel are some of the most important pieces of advice you can offer young drummers who want to become bandleaders?
“First of all, practice, practice, practice. Read all the biographies you can lay your hands on – not only on drummers or musicians but general knowledge about all people who you admire. The drummers you admire the most, figure out where they came from. And study them.
“Then check out the business side of music. It is a very diverse music world we live in. Be consistent. Believe in what you do. And do it 100%. Read and study business books – not only from a music perspective but from businesses in general. I know there is a lot of criticism of how nobody can sell CD’s now a days. But with all the streaming services, you can get your music out to a very broad spectrum of the world and reach your audience in a whole new way!
“When you do have music to release, do yourself the service and play the recorded music for people you admire and respect. And tell them that you would like an honest answer on how the music is. I was fortunate to have a producer when I was young. That is not a possibility now a days. But you need somebody to judge your music before it is out there, because once it is out there, it will not go away! It stays there forever! You need somebody to be tough on you!”
19. What advice can you offer drummers in terms of developing a critical listening ear to, a) lock in step with the bass player, and b) contribute to the song as a whole?
“You need to record yourself constantly. To make sure that you develop the sound you have inside your head! I usually tell my students to record themself. Then buy a book with empty pages. On the left page, you write the negative critique, and on the right page, you write the positive critique. You do that with all the recordings you do. It is important to have negative critique, but it is also important with positive critique. After you do this many times, hopefully you will have less notes on your left page and more notes on the right page. You do not need an advanced recording device, just your cell phone or Zoom.
“Concerning a) and b): that depends on your level and the level of who you play with. As a drummer, it is always important to lock up with the bass player – you are the fundament of the music, the groove, the part of the music that makes people want to dance. When that is in place, you start to listen to the music as a whole piece. Not only a theme, a sax solo, a bass solo etc. It is a very good exercise to listen to music that way as well.
“Listen to a full track, for example, John Coltrane’s Quartet many times. Maybe twenty. Then try to feel how bass and drums build around McCoy Tyner and John Coltrane, and how it all connects. That is just one band you should do this with. You can do it with all music that you enjoy. Listen, analyze and imitate.”
20. What’s the best performance advice a seasoned musician has ever given you?
“That is very interesting, but I never really got any – directly. In jazz there is a lot unsaid going on that you need to decode! That takes years to figure out. I always take it as a good sign, when you can keep going on the road with an established musician. If they were dissatisfied, they would probably say no to the offer to go on the road. So, I never really got any performance advice.”
It really is true that jazz knows no borders, so if you want to hear what mastery from shores not native to the origin of this classic improv art form, give Anders a good, long listen on Jazz Gallery and check out his YouTube channel. There are lessons to be learned from his subtle and true voice, one that is a sure to inspire and educate the player who wants to refine their understanding of the art of minimal. You won’t need a parka and snowshoes to find him, but if you did, it would certainly be worth the hike and the listen.
Jazz Gallery is available on AMM records, findable with this link: https://jazzgallery.lnk.to/Album