Pernille Bevort: Cowboys and Girls
“ I would like to show young females that it is possible to play instruments at a high level and that it is possible to tell your stories and to trust and believe in themselves... ”
Since making her recording debut in the mid '90s, saxophonist/composer/arranger/vocalist Pernille Bevort has established herself as one of the leading lights on the Danish jazz scene, with half a dozen recordings as leader under her belt. Playground + 1 (Calibrated, 2007) provides ample proof of her outstanding musicianship, whether on tenor or soprano saxophone, as well as underlining her noteworthy compositional skills.
In her native Copenhagen, Bevort brings her energy to duo, quartet, quintet, sextet and larger ensembles, and is a member of the Ernie Wilkins = 11362 Almost Big Band for which she also composes and arranges. All About Jazz took the opportunity to talk with Pernille Bevort about Playground + 1 (the excellent quintet recording alongside pianist Marie-Louise Schmidt), the state of Danish jazz, and the efforts of some to promote a more active participation of women in jazz.
All About Jazz: The playing on Playground + 1 is very tight and intuitive-sounding; how long has this line-up been together?
Pernille Bevort: We started out as a quartet in 2004; the pianist and I had been playing once in a while in different kind of set-ups and we liked playing with each other and liked playing each other's tunes, so we put a quartet together. We released a CD called Playground, (Calibrated, 2005) which was our first CD with that ensemble.
AAJ: On this album you've added saxophonist Jan Harbeck, and he's listed as a guest, but to my mind his contribution is pretty fundamental to the success of the album; do you prefer working with two horns in the same line-up?
PB: I very much like this set-up with an added horn player. I find it very inspiring with two horn players in front, and since I like working as a composer and arranger I really like writing lines and figuring out how to get a nice sound together. I'm inspired by two soloists on the same kind of instrument but with a slightly different sound and different approach. When we play live there's a lot of energy and a lot of conversation going on.
AAJ: That's what I hear on Playground + 1a lot of energy and conversational playing. When you play live do you usually play with two horns?
PB: As much as we can. It's a matter of economics (laughs) as so many other matters in life. It depends how much money we can get from the different clubs and how far we have to travel but I prefer being five. The compositions were meant to be for two hornsthe way they are thought and the way they are arranged. I hear those two lines all the time and I really miss that if we play as a quartet, and we also need to consider what tunes we can play in my opinion.
AAJ: I think if I came to see your group, I'd want to hear two horns, I'd be excited to hear two horns.
PB: The horn player, Jan Harbeck, I've played with in other ensembles. I play quite a lot in bigger ensembles such as the Ernie Wilkins Almost Big Band, and trombonist Erling Kroner has a big band, the New Music Orchestra he calls it, and we know each other from there. I picked him up for this recording because I figured that would be a nice sound.
AAJ: I can very easily imagine these compositions in a big band context; is that something that was at the back of your mind, or is it a possibility that you might do that?
PB: It's funny you should ask that as I'm working on that right now, writing for a bigger ensemble. I've studied both line writing and Duke (Ellington) writing, some principals that (trumpeter) Herb Pomeroy has been teaching at Berklee, and the trombone player that I play with, Erling Kroner, he has taught me those principals for arranging. These principals are very useful especially when arranging for four horns/reeds or more. I also have a radio group, the Radio Bevort group where I have four horns so there I can use these principals for arranging. Right now I've been writing two new pieces for the Ernie Wilkins Almost Big Band, and there we are nine horn players with four saxophones, two trombones and three trumpets
AAJ: I know Ernie Wilkins died in '99, were you in his big band while he was still alive?
PB: No, although I've been with the band for quite a few years now. The baritone saxophonist Per Goldschmit gathered the orchestra together again at the end of 1999. Through Ernie Wilkin's Danish wife, who had a lot of those old scores, he talked to her, and now we are the orchestra playing Ernie Wilkins arrangements.
AAJ: I wanted to ask your opinion of Ernie Wilkins as a composer/arranger as he was a very influential arranger with big bands from Dizzy Gillespie and Clark Terry to Harry James and above all Count Basie yet he's maybe an unsung figure in jazz.
PB: I like very much playing his arrangements, some of them are quite funny actually, and he switches between very strong passages with a lot of things going on and then a lot of open spaces where you as a soloist can really interpret his arrangements in a very personal way. You can play in a very modern style in his arrangements and put your own personality into those arrangementsthere is a lot of space for that too.
We're also performing quite a few concerts with singers, and also there he leaves a lot of space for the singer, and he uses the ensemble in a way I like.