Nicole Johänntgen is an artist of exceptional talent and energy that flow so effortlessly and genuinely when she plays, she transcends jazz and reaches all hearts within range of hearing her music. Born 1981 in Fischbach, Southern Germany, she has turned her skills on the saxophone into such passion that it is hard to list all her impressive achievements without asking more about the source of her creativity.
As a true leader, she is the founder of the pioneering project “SOFIA – Support Of Female Improvising Artists” (since 2013). SOFIA highlights and supports improvisational skills, along with marketing and promoting skills which are much needed tools for musicians. The project has supported the release of two CDs. (www.sofia-musicnetwork.com).
We spoke to Nicole about her latest solo CD which was recorded using the ambiance of a church, thus creating a prayer of healing.
Marie: Hello Nicole, thank you so much for taking the time for this interview! Let me first ask you, how did you start out as an artist - how and when did it begin?
Nicole: I was born in Saarland/South West of Germany. Music was very important in my family. My mother loves music. Likes to dance freely to it. My brother plays piano (main job electro engineer) and my father trombone, guitar and sings (main job locksmith master and retired). My first memory was the piano. I stood at the piano and was too small to see the keyboard. But what I heard when I pressed the keys I liked and it was fun. I think that was the start. Maybe I was three or four?
Marie: Fast forward to your new album, tell me, what was the recording process like, who produced/engineered it and if they have any other successes? What is the album inspired by and can you tell me the story behind it?
Nicole: My new CD is a solo CD. Very deep. I have produced more than ten CDs and this one I recorded and designed the cd by myself. I use Cubase from Steinberg, 2 overhead Neumann mics plus 1 Neumann TLM 170 microphone for my saxophone. I use a Tube amp as well, and RME Interface to connect microphone, Tube AMP and Cubase.
The CD packaging is made of thin cardboard and on the back is a heart. If you open the heart you get to the music. I recorded the recording in the Andreaskirche in Zurich. The church is a monolith. Very exciting building. I spent one afternoon there. I recorded five pieces. I turned to the ambient of the church sound and played with the room. It was a very deep experience. The CD was made in a phase when I was not feeling well and I slowly began to return to life with my saxophone. The music comes deeply from the heart.
Marie: What was the writing process of this CD like? Was it a stream of consciousness type writing or more planned and thought out?
Is there an underlining theme in your music?
Nicole: I had a concert in September 2018 in the Wasserkirche in Zurich. The church has a reverberation of 7 seconds. Very long. That was the beginning of my solo activity. Unconsciously. The concert was only 30 minutes and I had only small clues in mind. The theme was water-earth-fire-air. Listeners and spectators came to me afterwards and said that they had never heard anything like it before. After that I did not play solo anymore. For whatever reason. There are not always answers to questions you have. Only when I was in a traumatic experience at the end of December 2018, there was family, friends and acquaintances and especially my saxophone, which helped me to return to the surface of the earth. But I could only play alone. Only solo. And I played in reverberant rooms. I went back to the church and remembered my solo program in the Wasserkirche. That was the start of my solo CD. The album is about starry skies, fog dress, awakening, silence, Eternity and joy of life. These are exactly the names of the songs. Everybody may listen to it and everybody please do..
Marie: Where were the songs written? How does place and time influence you and your writing process?
Nicole: I wrote it in my head. No sheet, no paper, no prerecording.. Time affects everything. Because things happen in the moment. Beautiful, exciting. But also things you don't expect. Time is life and life is not just one piece of the puzzle. There are many pieces.
Marie: Were you listening or watching anything in particular quite a bit during the recording and writing process?
Nicole: No. The music came deeply from a place in my body, where I even do not know, the music comes from within.
Marie: Do you think there is a perfect time and place to listen to the single, does it lend itself to a particular listening experience?
Nicole: The music tells you once you can hear it.
Marie: If you could hope that your music inspires someone to do something, what would that be?
Nicole: I hope that I can inspire other human beings with my music, in the way of having joy, silence, satisfaction and maybe even, to play a saxophone?
Marie: Tell me more about your musical influences? Are you hoping to achieve a certain sound or theme on your new release?
Nicole: Especially in the past few weeks I am going back to my roots. When I played big band I was clearly a fan of Cannonball Adderly. And I still am today. This is 25 years later. Soul, jazz and power in sound! This is inspiring. But I didn't take up the saxophone because of him but because of the Dutch saxophonist Candy Dulfer. Her music was airy and full of joy. That inspired me at the age of 13 and gave me a goal. I also wanted to play the saxophone. Then and now. My solo CD has no previous sources. I have several bands and there you can probably hear more of the origins of my sources of inspiration. For example Henry. My third Henry CD will be released in 2021, so I am really looking forward to that! Then even our first beer will be released. Henry III beer.
Marie: What are your successes as an artist?
Nicole: Thanks for your interest in me. But I'd rather invite you to listen to my music and to come to my concert. My motto is play, play, play and everything else is up to others.
Marie: What are your other activities/efforts in the music industry? What are the issues you feel need facing?
Nicole: I am organising every two years the SOFIA music-business conference in Zurich. We support women in jazz and improvisation. We support them to learn the tricks in the music business. Next edition will take place in March 2020. We want to empower women to make themselves visible. To get courage, to believe in themselves and to show them some ways of the music business.
It is always a fountain of motivation and great music.
Marie: What are your hobbies/interests outside of music? Anything else I should know about you?
Nicole: Listening to the birds and watching them. Hiking. Reading. Dreaming.
Nicole Johänntgen (born 1981 in Fischbach, Southern Germany) is a German jazz musician (alto and soprano saxophone) and composer. Her musical career started at age six when she learned to play the piano; however, it only took a couple of years for her to discover her true passion – the saxophone.
Dave Liebman: “Nicole has something very special in her playing – a big and generous heart. She plays like her life depends on it and draws anyone within range into the center of her music. An exceptional energy!”
Cutting her teeth in her father’s ensemble the “Joe Fuchs Band” aged thirteen, she continued to enchant audiences as a member of several Jazz-Combos, including the “Saarländisches Jugendorchester”.
With the founding of her quartet “NICOLE JO” in 1998 she established herself as a contender on the European Jazz Circuit. “NICOLE JO” has subsequently released seven CDs, the last of which is titled “20” (Nov. 2017).
Nicole’s formal training was honed in Mannheim where she studied jazz-saxophone, composition and arrangement – with influential mentors such as Dave Liebman and Guest Lecturer Phil Woods – achieving a Master’s degree in 2006.
Nicole made Zürich (Switzerland) her base in 2005, continuing as a band leader, composer, teacher and musical ambassador in Sweden, Norway, Iceland, China, Thailand, Indonesia and the U.S.A.
Never one to rest on her laurels, Nicole’s entrepreneurial spirit led her to found the pioneering project “SOFIA – Support Of Female Improvising Artists” in 2013. SOFIA highlights and supports improvisational skills, along with marketing and promoting skills which are much needed tools for musicians. The project has supported the release of two CDs. (www.sofia-musicnetwork.com)
In 2010 she lead a Masterclass at Washington University in Saint Louis (USA), as well as tutoring during the “woman’s music week” in Hessen, Germany. Additionally, from 2011 to 2013 she had her own radio show “Die rote Sieben” at Radio LoRa in Zürich.
Currently she is on a CD-release tour with her Swiss Band “Nicole Johänntgen Quartet”, which was founded in 2014. The new album is called “Moncaup”, which is a village in southern France where her family roots hail from. “Moncaup” is a crossover between jazz, blues, and rock. Just like Nicole, the music is lively, emotional, and energetic.
Lew Soloff (trumpet/Blood Sweet & Tears): “Nicole is a truly spirited and vibrant player who has a true and pure artistic integrity. Obviously music means everything to her and this translates to me and surely to many more people.”
International Association for Schools of Jazz (IASJ, USA)
Sisters in Jazz (IAJE, USA)
European Swinging Youth Jazz Orchestra (DK/D/IT)
Rembrandt Frerichs Quartet (NL)
Malcolm Braff’s African Roots
Respect feat. Nils Landgren
Support-Act for Bill Evans
Jazz Gunung Jazzfestival Indonesien
Reykjavik Jazzfestival Island
China Tour IOIC
JTI Trier Jazz Award
European Yamaha Sax Contest, Berlin, 1st place
Concours de jeunes soliste de jazz, Fribourg (Switzerland), 1st place
Concours International de Solistes de Jazz, Monaco, 1st place