Tom van der Zaal 1

Zing went the strings of his heart

Lyrical alto saxophonist and canny jazz entrepreneur Tom van der Zaal thought big and cooked up an album with strings. “It’s taken three good years of my life. I wanted everything to be top-notch.”

Bright blue, yellow and red rays of light dart across a stage that almost resembles Madison Square Garden. Pools of sweat bring back memories of the last monsoon season. Crazy young fans dominate the clean scene. Van der Zaal shows pics of his performances at various Indonesian jazz stages. He grins excitedly. “I’m a bit jetlagged. It’s quite a trip and the difference between climates is enormous. But it was all worth it. It is like playing at a pop festival and the people keep you in high regard. Most of the fans over there are young and absolutely crazy. But not merely crazy in the sense of plain enthusiasm. Some of them knew all about my work and said that they had been waiting for my visit for years. It’s fantastic. The tour was cancelled a few times. But it finally came through with the support of the Erasmushuis.”

He hovers over an espresso at Jazz Coffee & Wines on the beautiful Noordeinde street in The Hague. Quite the opposite of Jakarta. A gusty wind comes down from the North Sea. Its residential grandeur warms your bones. The city that seats the national government is the home base of Van der Zaal, a well-groomed, vivacious fellow with a healthy blush on his cheeks. Bon vivant. Go-getter. Having arrived at the second phase of his career, not a young lion anymore, Van der Zaal is out there to compete and cook up new strategies. He’s serious about the definition of ‘new’ and gains traction after his well-received Time Will Tell album from 2019, which featured ace guitarist Peter Bernstein.

His next ‘phase’ involves Sketchbook Of Dreams, which adds a couple of rearrangements of compositions from Time Will Tell to new material that was specifically written for this inspired ‘with strings’ project. “A lot of ideas come up at night. It seems that creativity is inspired by darkness. When I get an idea at night, I get up out of bed and write it down or sing a melody in my phone, even if it’s only four bars. It may be a starting point for something to work on the coming day. They’re like sketches.”

An all-consuming affair. One doesn’t put together a string album overnight. Van der Zaal is much akin to a quarterback that takes up the extra tasks of coach, agent and personal trainer. “This kind of project usually involves a team of approximately eight people. I’ve almost done everything myself. Preparation, arranging, budgeting. I’m quite ambitious and don’t care whether it takes sixteen hours a day. It turned out to be a very good occupation for me during the pandemic. It kept me busy and in fine mental health. And I knew that I had some good thing going on once the restrictions were abandoned. At least, after all this work a good response is what I’m hoping for!”

“It basically comes down to an expansion of all kinds of capabilities. Both business-wise and artistically. Musically, it has been quite challenging. Writing charts and arranging is not something that you just do on the side. I really dug into the practice day and night. Obviously, I’m familiar with the great ‘with strings’ records of Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, Frank Sinatra. But I wanted to make my own kind of album. I listened a lot to the treatments of classical pieces by Bill Evans and threw myself into the string quartets of Ravel and Mahler. I am very much influenced by their movements and intervals.”

“Even still, I’ve got a lot to learn and look forward to work more often in this vein in the future. It really fits my style like a glove. I’m a lyrical saxophonist and match well with the warmth of strings. 50% of what I do is sound, so I really need to take care of it! That’s why I’m also a gear geek. I ordered one of those famous Ribbon microphones that amplified the tone of guys like Cannonball Adderley. But it got stuck at customs. I had to use another mic. It’s probably undiscernible but things like this keep bothering me. Still, it turned out beautifully.”

You oughta take Sketchbook Of Dreams to your second date. You won’t take no for an answer. Put it on. The flickering of candle flames heightens the intensity of melancholia. The streetlights wink languorously to the lamp post. The piano is tipsy, telling corny jokes. It’s a lush affair, to say the least. Bordeaux wine-red strings embrace the tender but punchy alto saxophone of Van der Zaal. The palette ranges from Coltrane-ish drama to sweet-tart balladry. The great Dutch pianist Rob van Bavel accompanies beautifully and embellishes the intriguing movements of Dance Of Hope And Prospect. Van der Zaal rebounds from his chair. “Rob is a giant. Every time I hear him play I keep thinking that Holland is blessed to have a guy like this in its ranks. We specifically wrote Dance Of Hope And Prospect for Rob.

A subtle Latin feel is predominant throughout the album. “Our bassist Matthias Nicolaiewski is Brazilian. I keep asking him for new music, the things that almost nobody is familiar with out here in the West. That’s how we came up with Luiza from the legendary Antônio Jobim, one of his lesser-known tunes. It’s one of the most beautiful melodies ever and suits the range of the alto sax perfectly.”

Van der Zaal hired the Grammy Award-winning engineer Dave Darlington to look at the scores. He specifically wrote string introductions so that he may switch between performances with quintet or orchestra and tease audiences with radio edits on Spotify. He considers a vinyl release and is planning performances in Brazil, Indonesia, the illustrious Ronnie Scott’s in London. A man with a plan. “There’s an idea behind all aspects of the album. In general, I have reached the age that I don’t need to make miles any more like a youngster playing for a couple of bucks in bars. I do enjoy playing, of course, but I’m more conscious of what I’d like to achieve.”

He has come a long way from the boy that grew up in the home of a saxophone-playing father, who passed on his musical genes and business acumen. “I grew up with a strong sense of the tradition and listened to Benny Carter, Johnny Hodges, Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke. My father had a job but he played alto saxophone and clarinet. He has great ears and intuition. I have been lucky, because he took me to rehearsals and concerts when I was just a little kid. I studied with Simon Rigter and David Lukasz when I was 16. Around that time I went to my first afterparty at North Sea Jazz, taken by the sleeve by Wynton Marsalis, soaking everything up until 10 in the morning. That was when the jazz bug really got to me.”

North Sea Jazz has moved to Rotterdam. The jazz life of The Hague is close to his heart. For four years now, Van der Zaal and singer-songwriter Toine Scholten have organized the Jazz En Route festival, performances in various places along The Hague’s elegant avenues. “It’s mainstream but we look for a connection with postmodern stuff. We’re not aiming for a new North Sea Jazz. But I have noticed that there is a certain nostalgic feeling among musicians, certainly Americans. They miss that special vibe. Jesse Davis said that one of our places gave him that old North Sea feeling for the first time in twenty-five years. He was talking about our spot at the Indigo Hotel. You wander through a kind of speakeasy bar, then a cocktail bar, until you’re in a great jazz room. It’s a really cool experience.”

Van der Zaal washes away his last espresso with a small glass of water. He smiles, tired but fulfilled. “Once the sound of the last notes has died from the December festival, the organization for next year starts. It is a very time-consuming affair. It’s somewhat like Sketchbook Of Dreams. ‘All or nothing at all’, so to speak.”

Tom van der Zaal

Check out Tom’s website here.

The Ghost, The King And I We Got Rhythm (Sound Liaison 2023)


Fresh tribute to George Gershwin. Seemingly impossible but that ain’t necessarily so.

The Ghost, The King And I - We Got Rhythm


Rob van Bavel (piano), Vincent Koning (guitar), Frans van Geest (bass)


on March 19, 2023 at MCO in Hilversum


as Sound Liaison in 2023

Track listing

It Ain’t Necessarily So
I Loves You Porgy
‘S Wonderful
I Got Rhythm
First Prelude (The Man I Love)
Second Prelude (The Blues)
Third Prelude

Giving credit where credit is due, pianist Rob van Bavel emphasizes the trio interaction that is seamlessly developed with bassist Frans van Geest and guitarist Vincent Koning, hence The Ghost, The King And I. (pun intented) It is in existence since 2008 and has performed all over the world. We Got Rhythm, a celebration of the music of George Gershwin, is already the trio’s sixth release. A Gershwin tribute may seem a downtrodden path. Not in the hands of these Dutchmen, who recorded this album for a live audience in the studio in Hilversum.

Plenty originality. With a capital P. ‘S Wonderful is joyfully old-timey, wonderfulee one might add, a rendition that conjures up the ghost of Fats Waller, exceptionally executed and segueing into fluent swing. I Got Rhythm is a similar mix of pre-bop stylings and modernity, incorporating contrafact-king Charlie Parker in the lively process. While It Ain’t Necessarily So thrives on a funky beat, First Prelude (The Man I Love) presents a thoroughly enjoyable blend of classical devices and the blues. A sparkling introduction by Vincent Koning sets up the rhythmically upbeat, perennial favorite Summertime.

Over the years, 58-years-old Van Bavel has developed into a man of many trades. A veteran of Woody Shaw and Johnny Griffin outfits and the exciting Jarmo Hoogendijk/Ben van den Dungen Quintet, he has been part of the hard-bopping Eric Ineke JazzXPress for years now. At the same time, he also rearranges classical pieces with his son Sebastiaan, also an acclaimed pianist. In the business, Van Bavel is known as that rare tickler of the eighty-eighty keys that, regardless of the condition of the piano, always tears it apart unfazed.

Studio 2 harbors a fine piano and Van Bavel relishes the occasion. His lines are crystal clear, oozing with exceptional technique that is never demonstrated for virtuosity’s sake. Hearing all that stuff, his melodic construction work of simple riffs, bluesy trillers, beautiful baroque harmonies, locked hands-playing, bass commentary on the right hand-phrasing, all this leading to a perfectly logical climax, is an awesome experience. In fact, always an elation. Like watching the marvelous outpouring of lava from the Etna.

Both features of the prelude – its origins in improvisation as well as latter-day formality – are explored by The Ghost, The King And I. Third Prelude is simply sublime. An eleven-minute-long marriage of swing and rhapsodies, with Koning sounding somewhat like the great René Thomas, Van Geest typically driving the band with a warm tone and great feeling and Van Bavel indulging in high classical drama.The fluency they share between them is demonstrated like it’s nothing.

Gershwin would’ve undoubtedly admired the imaginative We Got Rhythm by The Ghost, The King And I, the cream of the European crop.

The Ghost, The King And I

Find We Got Rhythm here.

Rob van Bavel & Joris Teepe Dutch Connection (The Uploaders 2023)


Middle age fails to slow down two Dutch jazz heavyweights.

Rob van Bavel & Joris Teepe - Dutch Connection


Rob van Bavel (piano), Joris Teepe (bass)


on December 28, 2021 in Roelofarendsveen


as Sena in 2023

Track listing

A Summer’s Day
The Left Side
In April
Con Edison
I’m Old Fashioned
Malcolm’s Minuet
Remember The Time
Steepian Faith
Take The A-Train
Little Felix
Star Eyes

Dutchmen Rob van Bavel and Joris Teepe have been frequent collaborators since the late 1980’s and are as prolific as ever. To-go-to pianist Van Bavel was a member of the sterling Jarmo Hoogendijk/Ben van den Dungen Quintet and played with Woody Shaw and Randy Brecker. He divides time between solo projects, hard bop group Eric Ineke Xpress and duets with his piano-playing son Sebastiaan. Without a doubt, Teepe is the most successful musician from The Netherlands in New York City and has been bassist-of-choice for Benny Golson, Billy Hart, Dave Liebman, Bill Evans and Rashied Ali. A strong presence in the New York scene since the early 1990’s, Teepe regularly brings American players to Groningen in his role as head of jazz studies at the conservatory.

A logical extension of their live stream performances during the lockdown in 2020, Dutch Connection is part of a great tradition of piano and bass records. Duke/Ray Brown, Kenny Drew/NHOP and Rein de Graaff/Koos Serierse come to mind. Van Bavel and Teepe convincingly hold their own and engage in sympathetic interaction. They remind of dolphins that jump from the water in unison – when one has drifted away from the other they have perfect knowledge of each other’s location and sublimely sense how to reach it.

Their set of original compositions from the Teepe and Van Bavel book and standards as Star Eyes, I’m Old Fashioned and Take The A-Train (more like a Carribean local train) is thoroughly enjoyable. You’ll savor the strong and warm bass sound of Teepe, who during his smooth accompaniment permits himself myriad harmonic twists and turns, the kind of freedom in confinement that comes with age and experience. There’s plenty to dig solo-wise, not least Teepe’s moody storytelling of his ballad The Left Side. It also is rather striking how he eagerly shifts from subtle underscores to the leading role of Van Bavel’s Angel Eyes-ish In April.

Teepe’s Joriscope offers Van Bavel the opportunity to kick into fourth gear. His firm and richly layered chords are like green mountain hills, his bundles of single notes are like gulf streams and waterfalls and geysers. Like pioneering giant McCoy Tyner, he maintains his equilibrium throughout, speaking of which, let’s not hesitate to conclude that in McCoy’s tradition in Europe, Van Bavel is without peer. On the other end of the spectrum, Malcolm’s Minuet is a lovely reflection of Van Bavel’s baroque-infused style.

In short, flawless and highly recommended.

Rob van Bavel & Joris Teepe

Find Dutch Connection here.

Check out Rob & Joris at the following venues:

Feb 18: Theater Mascini, Amsterdam
Feb 19: Porgy & Bess, Terneuzen
Feb 20: Jazz In De Kamer, Leiden
May 18: Jazzy Huiskamers, Den Bosch
May 27: KCA, Aalsmeer
Nov 26: Plofhuis 7, Weesp

In The Spirit Of Joris Teepe


Things are pretty much always happening for Joris Teepe, sought-after Dutch bassist. No less than three albums have been issued lately: The Don Braden/Joris Teepe Quartet’s In The Spirit Of Herbie Hancock, the reissue of Teepe’s 1998 record Seven Days A Week featuring Randy Brecker and Chris Potter and Stream’s Yellowbird, Teepe’s cooperation with trombonist Christophe Schweizer and legendary drummer Billy Hart.

Diverse stuff from the bassist, composer, arranger and big band leader who has been dividing his time between New York City and his home country since the early ‘90s, the only one of his generation that made a definite mark in the competitive jazz world of The Big Apple. A quick interactive mind, harmonic daring and fluent support are some of the talents of Teepe, who has been working in both mainstream tradition and free jazz settings. Teepe worked with Benny Golson, Charles McPherson, Eric Alexander, Tom Harrell, Jarmo Hoogendijk, Slide Hampton, Mulgrew Miller, Kenny Werner, John Abercrombie, Peter Bernstein and many others.

I remember Teepe saying something along the lines that, in fact, free jazz has become a valid tradition in itself, a well that contemporary musicians can dig for the things that they appreciate as a starting point to their creative endeavors. True enough. Teepe himself has taken the bull by the horns and, among other things, worked with drummer Rashied Ali, who pushed the envelope ever since his high-profile career start in the final band of John Coltrane. Teepe was the long-time rhythm companion of Ali from 2000 until Ali’s passing in 2009, in the words of the bassist, “a transformative experience.” In 2018, Teepe released the highly acclaimed CD/audio book In The Spirit Of Rashied Ali. Wonder whose spirits Teepe will choose to arouse in the future.

Besides Teepe, live performance In The Spirit Of Herbie Hancock features saxophonist Don Braden, pianist Rob van Bavel and drummer Owen Hart Jr. Longtime musical buddy of Teepe, lively Mr. Braden flexes his muscles, there’s his deep sound with the sandpaper edge and his pleasantly slightly ‘lazy’ beat. Teepe is glue, harmonically astute. The synthesis of Van Bavel’s layered bass chords and patterns and dazzling waterfalls on the upper keys is complete. Buoyant and eloquent, the European modern piano giant is in fine form. Sheer joy! The program of Hancock classics as Maiden Voyage, Speak Like A Child, early ‘70s jazz funk of Actual Proof and Butterfly, finds highlights in the twisted rhythm of the gutsy Watermelon Man and thudding swing of Teepe’s blues-based Role Model, both reflecting Hancock but somehow also reminiscent of the exciting Mingus/Ervin/Byard/Richmond configuration. High-level post bop in The Hague, about 30 miles from Flophouse Headquarters, where the hell was I?!

Another high-quality affair: Seven Days A Week. In the ‘90s, Teepe was at the right place at the right time in NYC, mesmerizing mix of the acclaimed and the new breed like James Carter, Chris Potter, Cyrus Chestnut and Joshua Redman. Crackerjack Randy Brecker and rising star Chris Potter are featured on Teepe’s fourth album as a leader. Intriguing, stripped versions of Seven Steps To Heaven and Cherokee alternate with the roaring Some Skunk Funk – Brecker reference. Highlight Joriscope, re-imagination of mid-sixties Blue Note avant, completes the excellent Seven Days A Week, reissued on Via Records.

Stream, brainchild of German trombonist Christophe Schweizer, released Yellowbird. It features saxophonist Sebastian Gille, pianist Pablo Hell and the very responsive rhythm section of Teepe and Billy Hart. Elusive music centered round the distinctive sound of trombone and tenor/soprano sax. Complex, at times symphonic, at times light as a feather, always with the subtle undercurrents of Billy Hart, whose Africa-tinged backdrop of Motion is remarkable. You have to let it work on you, as the compositional approach is equally important as improv. Tersely swinging though is Teepe’s Peter’s Power, featuring a killer bass solo. Stream’s alienating Body & Soul, including expertly done slower-than-slow tempo, is the must-hear finish to a record that was released in May 2020 on the long-standing and collectable Enja label.

Listen to In The Spirit Of Herbie Hancock on Spotify below.

Joris Teepe

The Don Braden/Joris Teepe Quartet, In The Spirit Of Herbie Hancock (O.P.A. Records, 2020); Find here.
Joris Teepe, Seven Days A Week (Via Records, 1998/2020); Find here.
Stream, Yellowbird (Enja 2020); Find here.

Go to the website of Joris Teepe here.

Tom van der Zaal Time Will Tell (Self-Released 2019)


Not-quite-so-young lion alert: Tom van der Zaal’s hard bop gem Time Will Tell.

Tom van der Zaal - Time Will Tell


Tom van der Zaal (alto saxophone), Floriaan Wempe (tenor saxophone), Rob van Bavel (piano), Peter Bernstein (guitar), Matheus Nicolaiewsky (bass), Joost van Schaik (drums)


in 2019 at Fattoria Musica, Osnabrück


in 2019

Track listing

A Not So Beautiful Friendship
Favela Chic
Time Will Tell
The Ballpark Fence
The Gospel Song

The Netherlands is solid as regards to young reed and brass players that recreate the classic mainstream jazz aesthetic in their own image. Among a bunch that includes tenor saxophonists Florian Wempe and Gideon Tazelaar and trumpeters Gidon Nunez Vas and Ian Cleaver, Tom van der Zaal is one of the to-go-to alto saxophonists, a product of the rich heritage of (hard) bop city #1, The Hague.

The manner in which now and then some young birds bring appetizing goodies to the family is heartening. Time Will Tell is such produce, a contemporary take on the classic 50’s/60’s style that was epitomized on the Blue Note, Prestige and Impulse labels. Van der Zaal is assisted by the brilliant Dutch veteran pianist Rob van Bavel, bassist Matheus Nicolaieswky and drummer Joost van Schaik. Floriaan Wempe performs on two tracks. Also present, on four compositions, rabbit in the hat and one of the greatest guitarists in mainstream jazz: Peter Bernstein. Bernstein oozes taste, as clear as plain day light once again on Time Will Tell, his umpteenth performance the last decade and part of an immense discography.

Van der Zaal’s gift of conjuring up fresh rhythmic variations and catchy songs reveals itself in Latin-inspired swingers Favela Chic and Enrichment, which live in the realm of vintage Carribean-tinged beauties like Joe Henderson’s Mamacita or Kenny Dorham’s Afrodisia. The fluent pulse of Dilemma is bookended by an elegiac part that hints at both Black Is The Color and the lengthy psalmodic intro’s of the John Coltrane Quartet. The ballad Time Will Tell runs along a particularly intriguing harmonic route. And what about the snappy, uptempo The Ballpark Fence? Considering the band’s firm push on the throttle, it is appropriate and perhaps not coincidental that the cover shows Van der Zaal kneeling beside a classy monster oldsmobile. To switch to baseball terms: the band hits it right out of the ballpark!

Tom van der Zaal is a lean leopard, light-legged, makes snappily phrased twists and turns and loves his quotes, as is the jazz leopard’s wont. Including the occasional unfeigned whoop or wail, his balanced playing goes to the heart of the melody. Van der Zaal and Wempe rip and roar through the friendly battle of fours and simultaneous improv of Favela Chic, which follow up the vibrant waterfalls and drops from the fountain that Rob van Bavel charms from the piano, supported by his trademark firm and obliquely voiced chords and wonderfully astute bass lines. Time Will Tell is right up the alley of Van Bavel, European class act who is a versatile seeker of new vistas but has remained rooted in hard bop ever since he’s been part of the spectacular Ben van den Dungen/Jarmo Hoogendijk Quintet in the late 80’s/early 90’s. Nowadays Van Bavel is pianist of the premier Dutch hard bop outfit The Eric Ineke JazzXPress.

Bernstein’s intro to Charlie Chaplin’s Smile is plainly gorgeous. Smile is the album’s surprising and swinging cover song and definitely appropriate. Because the energy and palpable enthusiasm of Van der Zaal & Co. on Time Will Tell ignite a broad smile from crown to chin.

Check out the website of Tom van der Zaal here.