Interview: Pianist Peter Fulda on Musical Highlights Including Studying with Tabla Player Sajal Karmakar and Recording Three Albums with Drummer Bill Elgart

From 1988 to 1992, composer-pianist Peter Fulda studied jazz piano with Chris Beier at Hermann-Zilcher-Konservatorium Würzburg. Later, he completed a composition course at Cologne Musikhochschule. Fulda has also studied the tabla with Sajal Karmakar from 2000 to 2008. Peter Fulda has released albums under his own name as well as doing arrangements and compositions on albums by other artists including Benny Bailey, Jerry Bergonzi, Charlie Mariano, and Céline Rudolph.

Peter Fulda (photo from www.metropol-musik.de)
Peter Fulda (photo from http://www.metropol-musik.de)

Peter Fulda’s ten albums as a leader include three with drummer Bill Elgart and bassist Henning Sieverts released between 2002 and 2008. Fulda and Elgart also did an unreleased recording with Christopher Dell, Nils Wogram, and Michael Wollny, among others. Peter Fulda has appeared on half dozen albums as a sideman. When not performing or recording, Fulda is a lecturer for composition and arrangement at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Frankfurt.

Studied with Bill Elgart at the Würzburg Conservatory

Blue Note: How did you first meet Bill Elgart?

Peter Fulda: Bill Elgart joined the teaching staff of the Würzburg Conservatory, when I studied there in my second year (1990?). He introduced himself to the department by playing a concert with Leszek Zadlo, Chris Beier and Rainer Glas, and his way of playing the drums really blew my mind.

Leszek Zadlo, Rainer Glas, Chris Beier, and Bill Elgart from Zadlo's Breath (1989) Enja CD booklet back
Leszek Zadlo, Rainer Glas, Chris Beier, and Bill Elgart from Zadlo’s Breath (1989) Enja Records CD booklet

My secondary subject was drums, so Bill happened to become my teacher. Soon after that I discovered several recordings with Bill on drums, and especially the last three pieces of the album “Paul Bley with Gary Peacock” shaped my idea of how the drum set could sound in an intimate surrounding.

Peter Fulda Trio’s The Nightmind Album in 2000

BN: Did you first play together just before the recording of The Nightmind in 2000?

PF: I think, I started the Trio with Henning and Bill in 1998 or 1999 – we played a few gigs and did a broadcast recording for Bayerischer Rundfunk in 1999.

Peter Fulda Trio - The Nightmind (2002) JAZZ 'n' ARTS
Peter Fulda Trio – The Nightmind (2002) JAZZ ‘n’ ARTS RECORDS

BN: How did this first album originate?

PF: After a trio-concert in Mannheim, Thomas Siffling, the head of Jazz’n’Arts Records suggested making an album of our music for his label. In concerts,we conducted the concept of changing original compositions with standards and free improvisations.

For the album I composed the “Nightmind Suite” (I Echolot – II Engeltjes – III Libysches Glas) just a few days before the recording. As I had a pretty distinctive idea of the dark, intimate and mysterious sound “The Nightmind” should have, we renounced playing standards and focused on the compositions and free “Interludes” around them.

Peter Fulda Trio - The Nightmind (2002) JAZZ'n'ARTS RECORD CD booklet
Peter Fulda, Bill Elgart, and Henning Sieverts from  The Nightmind (2002) JAZZ’n’ARTS RECORDS CD booklet

BN: Any anecdotes you can share about the recording of this album with Bill and Henning at Tonstudio Bauer in Ludwigsburg?

PF: We spent only one day in the Bauer Studio. The piano – technically a good Steinway –  was in bad shape (it was supposed to be overhauled the day after our recording), so I had the feeling of driving a Rolls Royce with broken steering.

Also our recording was overwriting a tape that had been in use for a “Blaskapelle” (Bavarian brass band) and every time the sound engineer started running it, we heard a snippet of a monstrous fanfare. After a few quite distressful takes we decided to just let go and record a “concert” without interruptions. Most of the music on “The Nightmind” is from this “studio-concert.”

The Peter Fulda Trio’s live performance of “Schneeland,” a piece that does not appear on any of the group’s albums, features Bill Elgart on drums, Henning Sieverts on bass, and band leader Peter Fulda on piano:

Recording The Little Box of Sea-Wonders in 2002

BN: How did this project come about?

PF: The Trio had played several concerts with The Nightmind program and the Bayerischer Rundfunk wanted to do a second recording of it. We spent one day in the studio with a more playful approach, pursuing our concept of mixing original compositions with standards and free improvisations.

We were happy with the recording’s colorful variety of moods, so I released it as a second album with JAZZ’n’ARTS. At that time I was reading the delicately illustrated “little book of sea-wonders,” hence the maritime titles of the improvisations. The producer mistook the title for “little box of sea-wonders,” which I considered a suiting title.

Peter Fulda Trio – Little Box Of Sea-Wonders (2003) JAZZ ‘n’ ARTS RECORDS
Peter Fulda Trio – Little Box Of Sea-Wonders (2003) JAZZ ‘n’ ARTS RECORDS

A live performance of Peter Fulda’s “The Unhappy Harpy,” a composition found on both The Nightmind and Little Box of Sea-Wonders, is online.

Fulda comments on composing “The Unhappy Harpy” in the liner notes that accompany The Nightmind CD release:

I wrote The Unhappy Harpy at the end of a commercial engagement on the island of Borkum [in Germany]. Reminiscences of Frescobaldi’s harmonies give a somewhat unusual flavour to the simple blues-changes. The harpy is a figure of Greek mythology: an evil and unpredictable bird with an old hag’s head. I imagine the harpy crouching on a branch (at night, of course), shaking its feathers, shifting from one leg to the other and preparing for its repulsive mission.

The Peter Fulda Trio’s “The Unhappy Harpy,” live at the Subway in Cologne around 2001, and featuring Bill Elgart on drums, Henning Sieverts on bass, and band leader Peter Fulda on piano, is on YouTube:

Stay tuned for the second half of this exclusive interview with Peter Fulda. Highlights include a closer look at his 8 Rituals album made with drummer Bill Elgart, guitarist Dirk Mündelein, vibraphonist Roland Neffe, bassist Henning Sieverts, and pianist Fulda in 2008 as well several recent projects.

Peter Fulda – 8 Rituals (2008) Konnex Records
Peter Fulda – 8 Rituals (2008) Konnex Records

The interview also explores Peter Fulda’s music with Sajal Karmakar, a tabla player he studied with for six years as well as “Déneigement,” an unpublished project that showcases the likes of Christopher Dell, Bill Elgart, Nils Wogram, Michael Wollny, among others.

Sajal Karmakar (from www.sajalkarmakar.com)
Sajal Karmakar (from http://www.sajalkarmakar.com)

A pair of tracks featuring the collaboration between Peter Fulda and Sajal Karmakar are on Fulda’s SoundCloud page including “Tarana” and “Raga Mind.”

Sajal Karmakar’s “Tarana,” arranged by Peter Fulda, with Karmakar and Bettina Koziol on vocals, Dirk Mündelein on guitar, Balai Lal Saha on tabla, Henning Sieverts on bass, and Fulda on piano, is here:

Part Two of the Interview with Peter Fulda Will Follow Shortly

Author: Formosa Coweater

writer based in the Pacific Rim

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