Karl Jenkins interview (2008)

Karl Jenkins

After a sell out premiere for Stabat Mater, Karl Jenkins discuses how he breaks away from traditional classical boundaries.

Last updated: 28 January 2009

From a young age you had your training in the classical discipline. Would you ever like to go back to jazz?

I've been a musical tourist all my life. I was thoroughly classically trained at Cardiff University and the Royal Academy of Music and then went into different cultures which included jazz for a while.

What I'm doing now is classically-based but heavily influenced by different cultures, particularly the use of ethnic drums and percussion and sometimes in texts as well. I've been using texts from outside western Europe.

If you could choose between genres would you prefer jazz, classical or any other?

I don't have a favourite. I don't really put music in boxes and I think far too many people do. I transcend that and work in different areas and styles of music.

As long as what you do is done with conviction and integrity that's a value in itself. I don't think about styles either. Not many people do listen to different kinds of music but I like to think I do.

What's your greatest memory from the Nucleus and Soft Machine days?

There's lots of bad ones, like losing money!

Any anecdotes you'd like to share?

The audience attacked the stage when we played in Naples and tried to steal our instruments. That was the Free Music brigade who thought music should be free for everyone. They thought they had ownership of what we had so they tried to steal instruments. It was insane.

We had money going missing on tours. Our tour manager was once at a bank in Italy and put money in an envelope. He turned his back and it went walking.

But the good parts were playing lots of concerts, mainly in Europe. The highest points were winning the first prize at the Montreux Jazz Festival and playing at the Newport Jazz Festival in America.

With Soft Machine we similarly toured a lot and worked in Europe and the USA. It was just a continuous process of recording and concerts really. But not anything stood out in particular.

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