Julie Kelly at Catalina's Bar and Grill

Julie Kelly at Catalina's Bar and Grill

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Frits Landesbergen: Jazz Vibraphonist, Drummer & Percussionist


The above video may serve as an introduction for some to the music of Frits Landesbergen, one of the premier players on the Dutch Jazz scene as well as a professional studio musician and teacher in Holland.

Here are a portion of Mike Hennessey’s insert notes from Frits Dynavibes CD which is still available on Mons [MR 874-794]. Joining Frits on the album are Larry Fuller, piano, Lynn Seaton, bass and Jeff Hamilton on drums.

© -Mike Hennessey, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“When 14-year-old Frits Landesbergen was taken by his father to a concert by the Monty Alexander Trio (with John Clayton Jr. on bass and Jeff Hamilton on drums) in their native Holland back in I97S, he had already decided that his mission in life was to become a professional drummer. So his interest during the concert was primarily focused on the work of Jeff Hamilton. And young Frits was distinctly impressed by what he saw and heard.

From that point on, he followed Hamilton's career quite assiduously - but, of course, since he was also a drum­mer, it never occurred to him that one day he and Jeff might get to play and record together. But, as it hap­pened, when Landesbergen enrolled at the Amsterdam Conservatory several years later, he was required to take up an additional instrument. He chose the vibraphone - though for the first couple of years did not entertain serious expectations of achieving a high level of accomplishment on the instrument. He says, "At first I didn't like the vibraphone at all because you have to develop your technique and that takes some time. But, in the end, I decided to try to make something out of it, worked hard at it and eventually got it together."

Born in Yoorschoten in 1961, Frits, whose father is an amateur guitarist and bassist, became interested in jazz around the age of 12 and, at 14, decided to become a professional musician. He studied at Amsterdam Conservatory, graduated in I98S, having studied tympani, classical snare drum, vibraphone and marimba, and began working extensively in Holland both as a drummer and vibraphonist. He also developed his skills as a composer and arranger.

Says Frits. "I enjoy having the possibility to work both as a drummer and as a vibraphonist because in the one case you are primarily an accompanist, giving support to the soloists and helping to keep things swinging and in the other case you are a soloist and have the opportunity to express your musical ideas and personality."

His musical associates over the years have included Rita Keys, Pirn Jacobs, the Rosenberg Trio, Madeline Bell and Louis van Dijk. He has also performed with Georgie Fame, Milt Jackson, Toots Thielemans, Eddie Daniels, Scott Hamilton, Barney Kessel, Joe Pass and Buddy de Franco, among others, and has appeared with the London Symphony Orchestra, the WDR Big Band and the Metropole Orchestra.
His performance with Milt Jackson was for a television show, and Frits recalls: "It was very exciting to be able to play and talk with Milt for three days in a row. That's a memory I'll treasure."

Including this latest CD, Frits has made six albums under his own name in the last ten years and has appeared on some 80 other recordings as a sideman. His accomplishments as a versatile and dedicated musician were recognized by the award of the Wessel llcken Prize in 1986, the Pall Mall Export Prize in 1987 and the AYRO Television Award in 1988.

Frits cites as the players he most admires on vibes Milt Jackson, Lionel Hampton and Gary Burton. And he also has a very high regard for the late Victor Feldman. He says: "Victor was a great, all-round musician who played piano, vibes and drums and he was also a fine composer and arranger. I think his vibraphone playing was more harmonically advanced than most other players."

Among his favorite drummers, in addition to Jeff Hamilton, are Buddy Rich and Mel Lewis - predilections which he has in common with Hamilton. In addition to a busy schedule as a working musician, Frits also teaches vibraphone and drums at The Hague Conservatory. Two years ago he invited Jeff Hamilton to do a drum clinic at the Conservatory. Says Jeff, "At this time I heard him play vibraphone and I was very impressed. I could hear his love for Milt Jackson and Monty Alexander in the way he improvised." We spoke then about doing some concerts together and I said I would be happy to play with him.

"Later he picked up a pair of drumsticks and began warming up on the drums - and he played superbly. I reco­gnized then how multi-talented he was and I decided I couldn't afford to let him near the drums too often! He really takes his music very seriously - he's a most gifted musician. We finally did some concerts together, which I very much enjoyed - and then last year I got a call from Thilo Berg asking me to do a record date with Frits. I was more than happy to oblige."

This album, then, is the realization of an ambition which Frits had nursed for a couple of years. And you can hear that it is an album which brings together musicians with very similar ideas when it comes to swing and a feeling for the music.

Says Jeff Hamilton: "The feeling was good right from the start. We had played a couple of concerts together before the session and when we got into the studio everything fitted into place. So much so that we did the whole album in five and a half hours." And Frits adds. "We started at 11 a.m. and had to wrap it up by late afternoon because I had a concert that night. But having that time constraint is a positive element because it concentrates the mind, produces a certain tension - and that's stimulating. We had some basic arrangement sketches with chord sequences and we did just two takes of most of the pieces - and it worked out fine."

Certainly Frits could not have wished for a more sympathetic, more powerfully swinging rhythm section. Jeff Hamilton, leader of the trio, is a brilliant all-round drummer who has paid his dues with Lionel Hampton, Woody Herman and the LA. Four as well as the Monty Alexander Trio. And bassist Lynn Seaton and pianist Larry Fuller have an infallible flair for establishing an infectious groove. Says their boss: "Larry has the same kind of feel time as Monty Alexander and, like Monty, he is not afraid to swing. And Lynn is a superb walker on bass. It is great to watch both these fine musicians grow."

Benny Golson's greatest hit, "Killer Joe", long one of Frits's favorite themes, opens the program and the rap­port among the four musicians is immediately apparent. …

A highly respected figure in the jazz community of his own country, Frits Landesbergen deserves to achieve more recognition beyond the Dutch borders. As Jeff Hamilton says. "Maybe this CD will help." I think there is little doubt that it will.”

- Mike Hennessey