• Felix Jaehn: The DJ & Producer.

    Felix Jaehn.

    “I don’t take anything for granted.”

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Felix Jaehn: The DJ & producer.

Felix Jaehn has taken the international music scene by storm. With his extraordinary feel for melody, the DJ and producer has released a string of hits that have topped the charts around the world. With many gold and platinum records to his name, he is setting new standards in the industry.

Taking inspiration from his experiences touring the world, Jaehn has created a signature sound that runs through all his tracks and live sets. He has struck a chord with a multi-generational community of music fans who avidly follow him on social media and music channels. Jaehn’s skills are largely self-taught, but built on his classical violin training and his studies at the Point Black Music School.

Felix Jaehn: The DJ & Producer.
Felix Jaehn: The DJ & Producer.

Phenomenal live performances.

Today, the brand ambassador for Mercedes-Benz thrills audiences around the world with his phenomenal live performances. After travelling and touring, the multi-talented musician seeks relaxation at his home on the Baltic coast. Here he finds the peace and quiet he needs to work on new material.

Felix Jaehn embodies the spirit of a new generation of young DJs and musicians who are meeting the radical changes in the music industry with intelligence and insight. “You only have a chance if you fight for your dreams.”

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  • Amy Macdonald.

    Amy Macdonald on Inspiration.

    The Moment of inspiration is impossible to describe, says the Scottish singer. There’s no such thing as creativity on demand.

    Protocol: Nadine Wenzlick | Illustration: Jörn Kaspuhl

How does inspiration feel?

It’s as if someone flips on a light switch. All at once that little bulb above my head comes on and I get this overwhelming urge to reach for my guitar. It can happen anytime, anywhere. Not so long ago I was playing a concert in Colmar, France. The show was near-perfect, and the atmosphere in the audience was brilliant. At that moment I suddenly felt totally happy and deeply inspired by everything and everyone around me. The Ancient Greeks believed inspiration came from the muses or the gods. And according to Christianity it is a gift from the Holy Spirit. In my own case I feel it’s something that comes from my subconscious. What I do know is that being a musician, and therefore always looking for inspiration, I’m a lot more observant of my environment than I otherwise would be. The world has become so fast-moving that for many people life is just one long, mad rush, with no time to sit back and think. Yet there are so many great stories if only you look more closely.

Amy Macdonald.
Amy Macdonald.

Inspiration comes from everyday things.

A lot of my inspiration comes from ordinary, everyday things – maybe something I saw on the news or that happened to my friends or family. I’ve written songs about my grandmother, or about football or the San José mine disaster. My new album is like that, too, with lots of different themes. One song is about how it feels to lose someone you love. There’s another one I wrote for my best friend who moved to New York last year and was terribly homesick. I visited her there a few times. It was amazing – New York in winter is totally different from New York on a scorching summer’s day. I enjoyed leaving Glasgow for a while and absorbing all those new impressions. But though travel can be inspiring, I’m not someone who has to travel to find inspiration.

You never know when to expect it.

The best ideas come to me when I’m walking my dog, driving around in my sports car or watching a Rangers match. Familiar themes mean people can identify more with my songs than if I wrote about distant, exotic places many of us have never been to. Also, I can be much more precise in the songs if they’re about things we can all relate to. Nothing is ever too small or unimportant for me to make a song about it. That moment of inspiration is impossible to describe. It’s as if everything suddenly starts happening of its own accord. My mind just takes off on a journey. Unfortunately you never know when to expect it. Something happens and it just triggers a feeling inside me – it may be positive or negative.

This can happen four times in one week or just once a month. And sometimes the inspiration just dries up altogether. My colleagues always say that’s one of their biggest fears. I try not to let it get to me. Good ideas take time.

Amy Macdonald.
Amy Macdonald.

No idea where I got my creativity from.

Try to control or force it and you won’t create anything worthwhile. If you don’t believe in something yourself, who else is going to do so? It’s funny – I can’t really explain where I get my creative streak from. Nobody in my family is artistic in any way. Maybe that’s why I didn’t start writing songs till I was 14. Music means a lot to me, but at times I do wonder whether this job really serves a useful purpose. I only have to think of my sister who’s a doctor and works really hard. Nobody thanks her: they just expect her to be there, helping people and saving lives. It’s crazy how celebrities get idolised, yet someone like my sister, who’s doing great and valuable work, doesn’t get any attention. Her job’s much more important than mine. I’m not clever enough to be a doctor – I only wish I was!

  • Gregory Porter.

    Hats off, Mister Porter.

    Jazz singer Gregory Porter was a latecomer on the music scene and now performs in the world’s great music halls to capacity crowds who are attracted by more than just his unique voice. He talked with us about the power of jazz, racism in the USA, and his trademark baker boy cap.

    Interview: Manuela Imre | Photos: Jürgen Frank

Gregory Porter oozes breeding, style, and a pleasantly easy manner.

Suddenly there he is – no hype, no entourage, just that smile. He’s visibly embarrassed about arriving 15 minutes late, the norm in the permanently gridlocked New York traffic. Gregory Porter oozes breeding, style, and a pleasantly easy manner. First, he marvels at the panoramic view of the Manhattan skyline from the famous Rainbow Room on the 65th floor of the Rockefeller Center, adjusts the salmon pink breast-pocket handkerchief in his snazzy three-piece suit, then lets the photographer take charge. The broad-shouldered jazz singer’s voice and posture make it quite clear he is not a man to be rushed. The former American football player seems to fill the room. His trademark black baker boy cap, on the other hand, diminishes his presence somewhat, concealing as it does a large proportion of his face. This man has taken the world of music by storm and made jazz cool again. The 44-year-old, who now lives back in California with his wife and son after their spell in New York, seems to find it hard to comprehend his rapid rise to fame himself. His last album earned him a Grammy, while his new release “Take Me to The Alley” looks set to continue in the same vein.

New York.
Gregory Porter.

There was no time for such pipe dreams.

Mr. Porter, where exactly is the alley you take us to in your current album?

In Bakersfield, California, where I grew up and where my mother worked as a preacher. I learned a great deal about life on that street.

In what way?

My mother often went round the local neighbourhood helping others. Man, it really wasn’t a good part of town. I’ve sung on the street for drug addicts and prostitutes. That taught me compassion. And gratitude.

Did you have dreams of becoming a musician even back then?

I knew that I liked singing, that I loved music and that there was always something playing in my head. At church, everyone enjoyed listening to me sing. But make a career of it? There was no time for such pipe dreams.

So instead you devoted yourself to sport.

Which was no easy option either. Just one percent of US college athletes make it as a professional. For me it was the chance to get a college education. I had the prospect of a football scholarship and my goal was in sight.

“Don’t forget the music.”

Until you injured your shoulder just before finishing high school, which with hindsight must seem like a stroke of good fortune now.

Something like that. But first my world came crashing down around me. It was a long time before I found my way back to my first love, music.

What was the decisive factor in the end?

My mother. I was in my twenties when she fell seriously ill. We had many conversations before she died. One day she said, “Don’t forget the music.” I had a huge amount of respect for my mother. She brought up eight kids on her own. When she died, I fell into a hole. It was music that got me out again.

You released your debut album at the age of 38 – that’s pretty late to be launching a music career.

When you look at other musicians, yes, it is late. For me, on the other hand, it was a process that took time. As a genre, jazz talks about age and experiences, about highs and lows. You have to have lived life before you can sing about it.

What experiences have marked you?

Above all the lifelong void my father left behind. I hardly knew him. Our rare encounters did not bring us closer in any way. You would think I’d have put all that behind me now that I’m a grown man, but it’s not that easy. Since I started to write about these and other feelings, my music has been more rounded. Songs like “Hey Laura” or “Be Good” are about things that really happened. I don’t have to make anything up.

Gregory Porter.

It’s just my thing.

That must be a liberating feeling.

Oh yes. You could say that writing songs is my personal therapy – a good thing. Unfortunately, it puts me in the tricky situation of having to perform in public. I’m very shy; it was a nightmare at the start.

Is that why you hide under that huge cap?

Maybe (he says laughing). I know everyone’s curious and would like to know what the story behind it is. The simple answer is that it’s just my thing. Many people think I wear the cap to get attention, but I don’t care. No one gave me a record deal just because I wear a modified flat cap.

Your very first album was a hit, and it was followed by a Grammy and other awards. You’re seen as the man who has rejuvenated jazz.

Music is constantly evolving, but the genre’s basis always stays the same. Jazz has its roots in gospel, the blues, and spirituals. Lyrics and melodies can put a contemporary slant on it, but, even 60 years on from the Civil Rights Movement, jazz continues to be a cultural and political mouthpiece.

The same issues persist too, with cases of police violence against blacks in Ferguson and Baltimore.

Regrettably. We’re essentially still fighting for the same things as back then: equality, respect, and freedom. But it isn’t just black people that are faced with this struggle; it also affects women, Muslims, immigrants, and gays. The list is long. Ferguson and Baltimore served as a reminder to the world of the existence of racism in the USA, but it never actually went away.

Have you personally experienced any hostility because of the color of your skin?

If I have, then it’s been expressed more subtly, for instance through looks. In my childhood and youth, all sorts of things happened, including the burning of crosses and the use of words I would rather not say here. If any good at all has come of these recent events, it’s that they have now brought things out into the open so that we can finally bring about a lasting change. I’m proud to be an American. But we have to talk openly, and that dialog has to include talking about the past. You can’t simply wipe away or gloss over your own history.

Gregory Porter.

Jazz was and still is the freest of all forms of musical expression.

What role can music play in this sort of debate?

Jazz was and still is the freest of all forms of musical expression. Abbey Lincoln, John Coltrane, Max Roach – for all of them jazz was a catalyst. Jazz does not isolate itself, either musically or ideologically speaking. The spiritual element in the lyrics seeks to touch people’s hearts, rouse them, and call on them to protest.

On your current album you do precisely that with “Fan The Flames”.

That’s right, “stand up in your seat with your dirty feet” is a call to think and act. You have a right to protest. Your feet are dirty because you have walked through the filth and bullshit that politicians have left in their wake. But later in the song it says: “Raise your fist in the air. Protest. But be sweet!” Nonviolent resistance is imperative for peace. What I want to see is fair protest and mutual respect.

My music is flexible and its boundaries are expandable.

Is giving people a wake-up call the main aim of your music?

That’s one of my aims. There are many reasons why I make music: some emotional, some political. And I want to entertain people and get them into jazz. It’s no secret that the genre has lost fans over the years. I want to change that. When I’m writing my songs, I often think of the 20-year-old who believes jazz has nothing to say to him because it’s a musical style for older people. Or the 35-year-old who’s listened to hip-hop for most of his life and fails to see a link between the genres.

Is that why your more recent albums have been increasingly mainstream in nature?

I see everything I do as being jazz first and foremost. But my music is flexible and its boundaries are expandable. I don’t want it to be static and stuck in one genre. It has to live. If collaborations with other musicians produce a new sound with mainstream appeal, I can’t see anything wrong with that. Hip-hop, soul, classic or pop crossovers are a musical enhancement. I know, some critics dismiss that as sucking up or selling out. But I believe in jazz – I love it. And I want people to realize what this music has to offer. If I can make it more accessible to them with the help of pop or hip-hop, then so much the better!

By doing so, you’ve really struck a chord, especially in Europe. How do you explain this massive success, while America is only now starting to jump on the Gregory Porter bandwagon?

If only I knew – perhaps because you don’t recognize the importance of something when it’s right under your nose? As we all know, we see things more clearly from a distance. Apart from that, audiences in Europe are more open-minded and curious. In the UK and Germany in particular, people still really love to get into new things. I have never experienced that as intensely anywhere else, and that’s definitely not just down to me and my music. History shows it was the same story with the blues, with rock ’n’ roll and with soul. There’s simply an amazing appetite for music there.

Gregory Porter.
Gregory Porter.

I’m not giving up hope.

And the USA has simply had enough?

In a way, yes. Above all though, it’s hard to make an impression here in the face of the music industry’s power. I talk about this in songs like “Liquid Spirit”: “Un-re-route the rivers. Let the dammed water be.” You can apply that to music – just let it take its course. Instead of that, the industry decides what’s “in” for us. And if jazz isn’t on the list, it’s not played on the radio either. But I’m not giving up hope. This year I’m touring more in the USA and Canada, so something’s happening.

You’re just so calm and laid back…

If life has taught me anything, it’s that the sledgehammer approach causes nothing but pain. I prefer to proceed with caution. And if an opportunity arises, I seize it.

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