One of the rising stars of the European jazz scene makes a welcome return to the UK, this month, with a date in Leeds that is a must for jazz lovers. Multi-award winning pianist and composer Kathrine Windfeld has been described as one of the names of the future by the likes of The Guardian. She is in the UK as part of London’s annual celebration of contemporary Danish music Sounds of Denmark and also has a date at the Sunday Jazz Cafe at Inkwell, Leeds.
“I was in the UK last year, with my Big Band,” Kathrine told me from her home in Denmark, “so it will be lovely to be back, this time with my sextet, We had a great reception over there and it was a really nice experience. It was a big thing for me to play in the UK for the first time, and also my first time in the UK, so I hope the band will feel comfortable, although I think we did a good job last year.”
So did the press who gave her glowing reviews. “It has been very overwhelming,” she admits. “The press reviews have been very good but I’m always afraid that I would disappoint the audience. It’s all about listening and having a good time on stage. We really trust each other, so don’t be afraid of playing what you feel like.”
The 35-year old explored a variety of creative media, including painting and choral singing, during her formative years before returning to her first love of the piano in her late teens. She studied at The Department of Musicology in Copenhagen taking classes in music theory and analysis, arranging for big band, and a master’s degree in choir and ensemble leading. Kathrine also developed her sense of writing and navigating in complex rhythmical landscapes with the experimental progressive quintet Gespenst.
“I began playing when I was around 9 or 10 and then had a break, singing, painting and creative stuff. The I went back to the piano and chose that as my primary creative thing. I’ve always expressed myself creatively in many ways but I figured out I have to pick one thing in order to be good enough and to get into the depths of the instrument. So piano and composition has been my main path for several years now.
“I went to a classical teacher for some years and it was very inspiring, technically, for the vocabulary of the harmonics of the modern classical composers. Technically and harmonically and composition-wise the classical world has been a great inspiration. I sang in a classical choir for three years. I was not a fantastic choir singer but standing and singing with lots of other voices and hearing the layers of the music and the textures, that had a huge influence on my writing. When I write polyphonic stuff for my Big Band I hear the ancient voices in my head, so it has become a natural thing for me to hear lots of layers in music.
“My early influences from the jazz world were The Bad Plus and Cannonball Adderley, jazz icons with lots of power and output were the first to impress me. Before I went into jazz in a more traditional way I was listening to a lot of world music, polyrhythms and lots of funny rhythmic patterns in the harmonics. Swing jazz didn’t really speak to me until later when I began listening to great records by Cannonball Adderley and Kurt Rosenwinkel from the more modern era. These are my primary influences today, artists like Kurt Rosenwinkel, Aaron Parkes and Kenny Wheeler.”
She formed the Kathrine Windfeld Sextet in 2011 and the Kathrine Windfeld Big Band (KWBB) the following year, releasing the KWBB debut album Aircraft in 2015 and the follow-up Latency in 2017. Kathrine‘s original compositions and explosive arrangements are a rare combination of delicacy and strength. Putting together a big band project must surely have been a massive undertaking for a young musician.
“Yes,” she laughs. “It has been a huge challenge but also very, very rewarding so I’m very happy that I did it. I love to play with my sextet and I hope to do much more of that but I am still only releasing records with the Big Band and we have a new record next year. We are recording it in the spring, so the Big Band is still my main project.
“I will record with a full size big band. My Big Band is a15-piece but I want to expand, just for the recording, to a 17-piece. There will be an extra trombone and an extra trumpet because it gives a little extra possibility to express myself and to write in a way that I can get totally satisfied. It’s hard, sometimes, to only have three trombones and three trumpets. I have also been playing with other big bands and they are full size with 17-pieces. I have arrangements for that size and I’ve realised that my music sounds even greater with a 17-piece because there are even more details and things can happen.”
At home Kathrine has scooped a host of awards on the Danish jazz scene including New Jazz Artist Of The Year, Danish Jazz Album Of The Year and the Carl Prisen Talent of the Year award. “I’ve been so lucky but I’ve also worked extremely hard,” she laughs again, “so I have to be thankful that I have that support and it’s because of that that I’m still doing well and everything is growing which is very positive.
“I will never go back to singing or painting. Piano and writing and composing is absolutely my best thing in life!”
The Kathrine Windfeld Sextext is appearing at Inkwell, Leeds, on Sunday 20 October at 1.30pm. For more information please contact Inkwell on 0113 307 0108.