Guus Janssen + Wim Janssen (NL)

Guus Janssen (NL) is a Dutch composer of contemporary music, jazz music,  a piano and keyboard player in the widest sense and a educator. When Guus Janssen was 15 years old, he earned his first money as a  professional musician by playing the church organ. And of course, with  people in a church. But when he played, he often played some bass notes  longer than usual. And of course the people in the church got irritated. This effect later in his career became the typically “Janssen” characteristic. Not only the affirmative function of music interests  him, also its disruptive side. Janssen: “Then the best is, when it's mixed up together, like a very subtle game”.

In 1973 his career as a  composer officially started with his work for orchestra “Gieter” (watering can). Later on he worked with musicians and ensembles like John Zorn, Gidon Kremer, the Asko Schönberg Ensemble, the Mondriaan Quartet, Mark Feldman, the Kronos Quartet, George Lewis and Han Bennink.  So far Janssen composed four opera's, symphonic works, a string  quartet, piano music and various pieces written for the Janssen  ensembles. With his brother Wim Janssen (NL) he works now for more than 60 years, Wim is a drummer and painter.

Guus Janssen became the pianist of the very famous ICP (Instant Composers Pool), when Misha Mengelberg (1935-2017), who was the co-founder of this orchestra in 1967 in Amsterdam with Han Bennink and Willem Breuker, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and finally lost his fight against this disease. Mengelberg (pianist, composer, band leader, comedian, neo-dadaist and educator) combined ideas of Fluxus and free jazz with elements of improvised music and classical music. He was strongly inspired by Thelonious Monk, Herbie Nichols, Scarlatti and John Cage and he also worked with Dutch visual artist Wim T. Schippers.  

Mengelberg performed and recorded in his lifetime with Eric Dolphy, John Tchicai, Anthony Braxton, Sunny Murray, Yuri Honing, Ernst Reijseger,  Cecil Taylor, Roswell Rudd, Dudu Pukwana, Evan Parker, Jeanne Lee, Derek Bailey, Steve Lacy, Peter Brötzmann, Dave Douglas and of course “his”  ICP orchestra, featuring nowadays Han Bennink (drums), Ab Baars (clarinet + tenorsax), Tobias Delius (clarinet + tenorsax), Ernst Glerum  (double bass), Thomas Heberer (cornet + trumpet), Tristan Honsinger (cello), Guus Janssen (piano), Michael Moore (clarinet + altosax), Mary  Oliver (violin + viola) and Wolter Wierbos (trombone).  

Misha Mengelberg was one of the pioneers of the European free jazz scene and especially the Dutch wing, apart from Alexander von Schlippenbach's  Globe Unity Orchestra (GER) and Barry Guy's London Jazz Composer's  Orchestra (UK). With founding the longest existing European free jazz big band (ICP), he established avant-garde Dutch jazz performances and recordings, especially on his own label ICP.  Misha Mengelberg had a “scandalous sense of humour and an instinctive musicianship of a very high order” (Paristransatlantic). During a concert in Paris 1995, he managed to break the piano stool he was sitting on and then use what remained of it to attack the piano. Many more of these kind of stories about Misha exist.

Stichting Jazz in Groningen invited the Guus Janssen trio feat. Bert van Erk (double bass) and Wim Janssen (drums) with “A Tribute to Misha Mengelberg” on May 8th – 2019.  I had the big pleasure and honor to interview the brothers Guus and Wim Janssen after their concert at Brouwerij Martinus in Groningen, The Netherlands!  

With many thanks to Guus Janssen, Wim Janssen, Stichting Jazz in  Groningen, especially Mirjam Visser, Brouwerij Martinus, especially Albert-Jan Swierstra and Henriette Tuckers.

From left: Guus Janssen, Wim Janssen. Still Image by Bernd Ihno Eilts/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2019.
From left: Guus Janssen, Wim Janssen. Still Image by Bernd Ihno Eilts/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2019.

Cover picture: Still Image by Bernd Ihno Eilts/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2019.

Cover picture: Still Image by Bernd Ihno Eilts/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2019.

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