Showcase Interview: Responsibility divided by five – Daumants Kalniņš Quintet
Like every Summer, Rigas Ritmi Festival takes place in the capital of Latvia the first week of July. This year the festival takes place from 1st to 5th of July and celebrates its 15th anniversary with a vast concert programme, including the Showcase programme, where Latvian performers will present themselves to foreign music experts and guests of the festival. This program will take place at the New Auditorium of Riga Congress Centre on 2nd and 3rd July at 14.00 p.m. The handsome and elegant Daumants Kalniņš Quintet is part of the Showcase programme and will also give a performance at the open-air leisure park “Egle” at 20.00 p.m. in the evening of the same day. We sat down with the leader and vocalist of the band – Daumants Kalniņš.
You and your band will participate in the Showcase program of Rigas Ritmi Festival, where you will try to present yourself to both foreign experts and local audiences. What can we expect from “Daumants Kalniņš 5tet”?
Showcase is a great opportunity for all musicians to show what exactly they are doing, because when you are asked “What do you sing?” the answer can be very broad. We work and perform different orders, but Showcase is that moment when we can present your our own creations. It’s possible that someone enjoys our unconstrained thing. Therefore, most probably we will perform original compositions – many people will not have heard them before.
You say “we”. It means that “Daumants Kalniņš 5tet” really is a band and not your solo project?
At least in this context I really do not perform as a soloist. I kind of am in the front as the vocalist and leader, however, at the same time, the individual work of every involved musician is very noticeable. The instrumental side is just as important as the vocals.
Is the project’s music composed by each of you or is there a main author?
The process of creation starts with me beginning a song. I am always urging my colleagues to bring their ideas too. Last year, pianist Kristaps Vanadziņš brought some new trends. Also guitarist Mārcis Auziņš is trying to bring something new to the table. I understood that the music is very diverse right now and we have to think how to combine all of this, since everyone has its own way of seeing things. Everyone is creating composition, using the range of their own instrument as the starting point. I, as the singer, consider the melody issued as primary, the guitarist is concerned about the guitar passages, and the pianist is usually thinking about the harmonic solutions. We try to find common ground.
How would you describe the music style you play?
I don’t know. It is some kind of synthesis – I wouldn’t call it jazz. Distinguishing between styles of music becomes even more complicated in general - academic music and pop music, etc. We can increasingly feel this effect of synthesis in the different styles of music. It depends on what everyone brings to rehearsals. Everyone has their own influences. Someone may be inclined towards pop music, but someone is more jazz-rooted.
Showcase gives you approximately half an hour – time for five or six compositions. Will you try to show your diversity or will it be a uniform concert programme?
It’s an open question right now. Since we do not meet every week for rehearsals and we have the material what we have created already, most probably, we will make a selection of this work. I have expressed the idea that we should create at least one new composition by July.
You are a vocalist, so you sing songs. Does this mean that you write your own lyrics?
This is the curse of the singer – we struggle with lyrics. I have sometimes asked someone to write lyrics, but even then I edit them to make it more suitable for singing. Singer is the one who feels phonetics the best.
Do you sing in English or in Latvian?
Now I sing in English, but I have thought of singing in Latvian at some point. What’s wrong with lyrics in Latvian? I should better say “poetry” not “lyrics”. Then I should go deeper, because I will certainly not write poetry. Actually, this might be a good place for an ad – I am looking for someone who could do that! We have poets around us, but the problem is to achieve successful cooperation. It’s easy to notice that those who find the right chemistry get on their own path quickly and easily. Actually, I should attend some underground venues of poetry readings and slams, and look for suitable writers. However, I’ve heard that most of them write some gloomy stuff.
Can you play a full program consisting of your songs only?
During concerts, we still cannot get away without standards. Usually, I try to add someone else’s material to the concert programme.
Because you like it or because the audiences perceive them better?
I wouldn’t say that all jazz standards are very recognizable. If you want to establish a contact with the public, you use some well-known song, and, of course, we have done it, because audiences can be very different. For example, I had the opportunity to go to Turkey, and I had no other thoughts than performing my own music only. Someone may like it and someone may hate it, but it was a presentation of me, like in the case of Showcase programme. It was not a corporative gig, a banquet, where only fun and, preferably, popular songs are welcome.
Are you in the process of recording?
Yes. I have committed myself to pay more attention to it. In the end of the last year, we arranged two Christmas songs. We got together and recorded them. At the same session, we recorded some more songs, but those recordings have not been published yet.
Do you as an artist feel that a debut album is still important these days?
The importance of a debut album lies in the fact that it is like a business card. Nobody is recording albums with the hope of selling millions of copies anymore. At least, not in jazz. So a debut album primarily functions as a good business card, I am asked once in a while if I have an album, and I have to say that I am making one right now.
How long have you all played together as a quintet?
The band members have changed, but the current band exists for about three years now.
Briefly, what was your journey to the big stage?
I started my journey in music quite academically. I was six years old when I went to Riga Dome Choir School, which led to Riga Dome Cathedral Boys Choir. I was singing there for about five years, and I had to perform as a soloist quite often. In the result, as a boy, I had opportunities to participate in several shows at the Latvian National Opera. I gained my first stage and theatre experience there. By the way, when I was a boy, I had my debut album released! It is a completely official solo album, called “Klausies, spulgacīt” (Listen, sparkly eyes). I can give it to Showcase programme experts, as I still have some 400 copies at home, but approximately 500 copies were sold. I had a particularly good success in Japan, but after I went through puberty and my voice lowered, I changed my direction and went to the jazz department of the same school to test my strengths.
You successfully made it at the moment when jazz education was essentially reborn in Latvia.
Yes, the second wave. We were the second year that graduated. I studied vocals and played oboe in the same time, and I still play it once in a while. After Dome Choir School, I began participating in jazz competitions. I successfully debuted in “Jazz Voices” in Klaipeda, where I won the 1st place. Then I participated also in “Nomme Jazz” in Tallinn, where I received the “Grand Prix”. Also projects in theatres continued and I have learnt a lot from those projects as a singer. I obtained stage experience and became more free and open.
Sounds like you enjoy participating in theatre shows.
Yes, I really like them. There are different stories which you can live through. The opera shows of my childhood – “The Magic Flute”, “Tosca” and “Alcina” were followed by two musicals in the Ķīpsala show hall. I was 16 then and got to jump in that train with all my heart. I remember being quite stiff then as I didn’t have to move much in the boys choir, so I had to become much active in the musical. My first show was “West Side Story”, with Alberts Kivlenieks as a very demanding coach. It was a real breakout from the frame when I understood that I have to act in a much more artistic manner on stage. Then I participated in the musical “Les Misérables”. I did not have the main parts in the musicals, but I still managed to learn plenty. Then I participated in the projects of “Cabaret”, which thought me different things. Then there was the great challenge of “Notre Dame de Paris” in the National Theatre of Latvia (part of Quasimodo and award of the Latvian Annual Theatre Awards “Spēlmaņu nakts” for best debut). I related to that part very closely, because I remember being about seven years old and hearing the ads for the original Latvian “Notre Dame de Paris” opera on TV non-stop. I was hearing the title in my head for a very long time.
I suppose, after such experience it might be very difficult to stand still on the stage – the art is in your bones now.
I have to contain myself, learn how to stand still. I can’t give out that burst of energy all the time.
Now we understand what you have gained from being on stage. What was the benefit of winning competitions? You also just won the Grand Prix of “Riga Jazz Stage 2015”!
“Riga Jazz Stage” is a special story. The difference is that the competition took place right here, in Riga. When you go somewhere else, then you go on stage and present yourself. Here, I felt more pressure. Many acquaintances were around me and I felt like I had to prove something. The feeling was as if they were saying “Well, what is he going to show us?”
Were you surprised by the victory?
It is always a surprise, because winners of a competition cannot be predicted. It is a subjective matter. Everything depends on whether you managed to “catch their eye” and show your strengths.
What are they?
It’s hard to tell, the strengths are not the only thing that matters. I tried to create an overall interesting programme that would excite audiences throughout, which is very important in competitions. Singing a song beautifully is not enough, you have to think about how it will be to step on the stage as, for example, the seventh of 15 contestants. Then I added one of my original compositions into the program and this separated me from my competitors and worked in my favour.
Which of your compositions did you choose?
“Moment for the East”. It is a dedication to another experience of mine - going on a tour with the show “Cabaret” to India. I composed this piece before going on tour – looking forward to the trip. I thought about the craziness that I will experience there. In the end, I needed only two weeks of being there to get completely used to India, had no problems. Actually, it’s more peaceful there than here.
What were the other compositions in the competition?
I chose “Resolution” by John Coltrane and “Bling Bling” by Gregory Porter. I put the emphasis on expression, but still, in the first part, I tried to sing “Resolution” in stable manner and to improvise convincingly without unnecessary outbursts. I saved it for the performance of “Bling Bling”.
Sounds like a great formula – stable performance without unnecessary energy, then your own original piece and composition, where you can show all of your abilities and vocal range in the end.
Well, there is no such formula. The main thing in competitions is to perform something that you have tried and tested instead of something completely new. I did not have such a wide choice of pieces for the competition. It was clear to me, what I should choose. Still, I decided to choose “Bling Bling” at the last moment and I hadn’t sung it much.
You can also use a similar approach for the Showcase programme – there will not be much time, just like in competitions, and the desire to show yourself to experienced audience that, most probably, has not heard much about you and your musical material.
Yes, such comparison can be made too. In the case of Showcase, I would prefer sharing the responsibility amongst the five of us – we are a quintet, a band after all. I would be happy if the audience would feel that the performance is not based on one person, who stands in front of the band.