More and more jazz lovers find the road to the conceptual jazz city of Dutch pianist Harald Walkate, whose band The New York Second delivered its fourth album After The Hours, The Minutes this Spring. A trio record that explores the various trademarks of the phenomenon of time and includes a classy booklet and thought-provoking liner notes. “I’d like for people to lose themselves for a while in the story that I’m presenting them. Of course, there will be those that have no desire for a concept and just want to listen to some music. That’s fine by me as well.”He has some time to spare this week. Good for us. Next week the pianist is in London on a business trip. Part of a rare Dutch species that seems to have sprung up with bop legend Rein de Graaff, who combined piano playing with electro ware wholesale, Walkate follows a two-fold strategy. The 52-year-old citizen of Amsterdam, based in the upper-class Plan Zuid neighborhood, is in financial services. Married and father of three children, to boot. Challenging life style. “It’s a matter of efficiency and doing the things that are important to you. Inevitably, this leads to the exclusion of other occupancies. For instance, I love to swim but don’t engage in time-consuming team sports. I play piano in my basement late in the evening. That’s relaxation for me. I’m not much for tv. Music and finance are totally different worlds. The creative, playful element of music is important to me. Contrary to adults, children are natural explorers, whereas we as adults have basically become of an exploitative nature. Playful exploration is a quality that is typical for jazz. It’s like being able to forget yourself and just see where the road will take you.”
It seems that the meticulousness and hands-on mentality of business have pervaded Walkate’s creative output. A genial personality that is lovingly described to yours truly as The Good Guy by trumpeter Teus Nobel, Walkate is a man with a plan. All records of his group The New York Second (the band name evolved from his mid-90’s group The New York Minute, which was inspired by Herbie Hancock’s version of the famed Eagles song, which was about “how big changes can happen in short periods of time – in a New York Minute, anything can change – an appropriate name for an improvisation-based band … Fast forward to 2014. The New York Minute had disbanded long ago, but again I felt I had a lot of compositions that were worth exploring. The name for this group could only be The New York Second”) use a theme as a springboard for songs and improvisation. Literature, philosophy and traveling experiences are constants in his line of work, which resulted in Bay Of Poets, Emergo, and Music At Night. Academic as his preoccupations may seem, Walkate’s musical palette is anything but affected by stilted snobbery and ranges from thoughtful to funky.
His latest, After The Hours, The Minutes, reflects on the phenomenon of time, inspired by the essay collection Over Het Verstrijken Van De Tijd by Dutch thinker Paul van Tongeren. Finally, eschewing the contributions of great group companions as Nobel and saxophonists Frank Paavo and Jesse Schilderink, Walkate focuses on trio interaction with ace bassist Lorenzo Buffa and young drum talent Max Sergeant. A collection of songs that benefit from the power of simplicity and delicate interplay and invites comparisons with the diverse likes of Ethan Iverson and Steely Dan.
FM: How did you come up with the idea of theme-inspired records?
HW: “Actually, I didn’t have preconceived goals at all. I started a group because I had a load of compositions that I thought would be nice to work out. I was honored to have some top-rate musicians contribute to my work. Then somebody said, why not make a CD. This was an incentive to make a serious effort, so I decided to put a lot of work in it and link the music to the story that was laid out in the booklet. This became Bay Of Poets. So, years later, here I am with the fourth New York Second album. It’s inspiring to work with a plan. Moreover, I think it appeals to a story-hungry audience. Sliding down in your seat, being in another world for a while… That’s the idea. I received a lot of uplifting comments on my Aldous Huxley-inspired Music At Night album. It’s not to say that albums of standards aren’t worthwhile, on the contrary, but I’m positive that jazz musicians are able to garner more attention with preconceived ideas.”
FM: How did you get into jazz?
HW: “My father and brother played piano. My father was a big fan of the Broadway repertoire. He regularly was in the United States for his work and came back with copies of the Real Book. We had two piano’s in the house and played together. I saw pictures of the great jazz men in these books and thought, hey, they play the American Songbook as well. I played in soul and funk groups. Slowly, I became aware of the influence of jazz on pop music. I found out that many jazz greats were session musicians. The Motown records, Wayne Shorter with Steely Dan, etcetera… It wasn’t until my early/mid 20s that I started to explore the history of jazz and improvisation. I made my first serious moves when I studied in Madrid. That’s where I met Josh Edelman, a great teacher. He really taught me a lot.”
FM: Yours is a relatively soft-hued approach, consisting of a light toucher and elegant construction.
HW: “I studied and played bebop when I lived in Chicago. There was Bloom School of Jazz, founded by David Bloom, a great old-school guy. But there isn’t much of bebop left in my piano playing. If you look at someone like Bill Evans, you notice that the thing that makes his playing swing is not so much syncopation but the melodic element. His timing is relatively straight. I like to explore this melodic aspect of jazz.
FM: How did the idea of After The Hours, The Minutes come about?
HW: “Contrary to Music At Night, which was written after my discovery of Huxley’s essay, all my pieces were more or less finished. I had a general idea of what the songs were about, but things really fell into place when I found a little book by Paul van Tongeren about the passage of time. It was fascinating because he wrote about things that I had been thinking about for quite a while. Seeing that he is much better at expressing these thoughts than me, I decided to use his quotes in the liner notes with his permission.”
FM: Time is self-evident but mysterious at the same… time.
HW: “The subjective experience of time is a totally different thing than absolute time measurement. Especially in jazz, you have that thing of being in the moment. It’s contradictory and ironic, because you know that is where you want to be but it’s quite impossible to seek it consciously, let alone find it. It’s a matter of coincidence.”
The New York Second, Bay Of Poets (2017)
Hadrian’s Wall, The Big Hotel (2018)
The New York Second, Emergo (2019)
The New York Second, Music At Night (2021)
The New York Second, After The Hours, The Minutes (2023)
Check out Harald’s website here.