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Karolina Strassmayer

Amid the mindless self-indulgence of the music industry there is that unique flickering moment, when one brushes up against a professional jazz musician, uncontaminated and untainted from the mainstream mayhem of music. One who sets aside the self centered, self-absorbed attitudes to go forth and just make music for the love of the act, not the rewards there in. Knowing full well that the path she has undertaken would be motivated solely on her effort, Karolina Strassmayer has in fact, made her mark, with her talent, by the attitude she projects.

Karolina just coming off of an extremely successful debut project identified as "Klaro", her unique talent as an alto/soprano saxophonist, as well as flute, has her admired globally. She also takes great pride in the act of educating young artists as she infects them with her passion and pure energy.

This intrigued me so, that I sat with Karolina, putting aside the stereotypical questions and accepted the quest to explore, the other side of Karo!

JAZZREVIEW: Karolina Strassmayer, describe her not just musically, but as an individual?

KAROLINA STRASSMAYER: That’s not a simple question. Who am I? I am somebody who really is searching for something. Every artist does that. I want to express something very personal with my music. I want to play music at a very high level but yet I want my music to be accessible and melodic. As a person, I guess it sort of parallels. I am very simple, very straightforward. I like to socialize, talk to people, and meet people. I like to connect, with my music and as a person.

JAZZREVIEW: As a freelance artist, how does one survive? Creatively and spiritually!

KAROLINA STRASSMAYER: I have found over the years certain things I need to do stay in a state of mind where I want to be creative, I want to write music, and want to practice my instrument. I try to stay healthy and fit, I do yoga, run, it’s a little like being an athlete, a musician. Not the part that is competitive about sports, but you have to treat yourself like an athlete. You have to be in a mental and physical state to be able to do this every day. To travel and be able to enjoy it, that’s the key to enjoy it every day. Also being in New York is a great inspiration. You can hear and play with great players. That keeps me going too.

JAZZREVIEW: Does playing with advanced players tend you to enhance your performance?

KAROLINA STRASSMAYER: Absolutely! [Laughing]

JAZZREVIEW: Is there one musician that stands out and brings the most out of you?

KAROLINA STRASSMAYER: One person in particular of late is Chico Hamilton; he has been a real inspiration as to a bandleader. Having a musical vision and being able to convey that to the band members without stifling them. The members of my group have also been a great inspiration. They are so creative and never play the same way twice.

JAZZREVIEW: As a freelancer there are those days where you just want to call it a day, hang it up, not get up. How do you get yourself out of that "funk"?

KAROLINA STRASSMAYER: I have learned over the years that you just have to expect that. I don’t mean to settle for it. It’s going to sound corny but be a little compassionate and understand that creativity is something that is very fleeting; it has to be nurtured and tended too. It’s moody and not available to you every day. In accepting that I have found out that you do go through cycles where you will be really creative and excited, other times it’s just harder to get into.

JAZZREVIEW: How do you approach your career? Being one that is in the so-called "Creative Class", as a business, what is the attitude?

KAROLINA STRASSMAYER: The business has changed so. If you look at how careers started in the 40’s through 60’s, most of those people came out of big bands or sideman gigs. Then became leaders in their own right. It was a natural path. You became the main soloist like Stan Getz with Woody Herman. Out of that interest, people signed with labels and recorded. Due to the current situation in the recording industry, there is nobody [labels & agencies] interested in new people. This really forces young artists to do it him or herself. Go out and make the calls, book the bands, do you own CD’s, becoming an independent artist. That is what I have done! I am very happy because I feel that I am in control. I don’t have to please anybody artistically; I can make my own decisions.

JAZZREVIEW: Percy Heath of the Modern Jazz Quartet once told me he never really wanted to be a leader; just liked doing what was asked of him. What is your reaction and feelings about being a leader?

KAROLINA STRASSMAYER: I really have the bug now. I want it. At first I was afraid of it and the responsibility but now I know that’s what I want to do. Being in New York I had so many opportunities to play different kinds of music. I would go from a classical jazz gig to an orchestra session to a big band All those things are great but I realized it took me away from what I wanted to do play my music. Plus play it with "my" band; which is a quartet. I have to focus on one thing and that’s my group at the same time focusing on being a leader. It’s been great!!

JAZZREVIEW: In the world of creativity one collides with barriers numerous times, often waving the white flag after repeated criticisms. Karolina Strassmayer is that shooting star that passes through the industry, not all too often, never waving a white flag. Continually reaching out further to augment this dynamic and radiant career.

Karolina’s vision, attitudes, influences, and those entities that have fashioned her as an artist and a woman are touched upon more as we spoke.

JAZZREVIEW: Glimpsing into the future, what is the vision of Karo?

KAROLINA STRASSMAYER: My vision is for me to perform all over the world, playing my music with the musicians of my choice. To play with other leaders in their groups as a side person as well as recording my music, along with other peoples music, really just get up there and play.

JAZZREVIEW: Characterize the sounds you produce and compose?

KAROLINA STRASSMAYER: My music is jazz, its original. It does have complexity but yet I think it is still very melodic and accessible. In general I see a little bit of a problem with jazz that it’s become a cerebral at times. That I believe has turned many fans off! Or for that matter not pulled enough people into this music, creating enough interest. I admire people like Dizzy Gillespie, he was not only an unbelievable musician, innovator, and great composer but he was also a very funny man. He was an entertainer! I do not mean an entertainer in a cheap sense, I mean really connecting to the people, maybe at the same time educating them about the music you write. In other words really sharing something with the audience. That’s what I want to do. It’s not being done enough!

JAZZREVIEW: Is it more complex, as women, to get along in the music industry, to grow, and to get noticed for their talent/forte?

KAROLINA STRASSMAYER: I really don’t know. There are certain things that are harder. As musicians, there are situations where you are under scrutiny. They check out how you do, play, and as a female I think you are under more scrutiny. People think, "How did she get there?" "What kind of connections does she have?" there is part of this that is envy! I have often met many musicians, male musicians, who are very supportive and encouraging. They don’t have a problem with it. It’s more skepticism than anything. I do not take it personally. Jazz is still one of the very few places that are still a very macho world. To be honest though I do not like to dwell on it.

JAZZREVIEW: When I listen to you play and speak; I get a strong sense of effervescence. It’s what I call "Fire in the Belly". Who instilled that zeal in you?

KAROLINA STRASSMAYER: Yeah it’s there but I do not know where it comes from. The reason I got into the saxophone is when I heard Cannonball Adderley play. Talk about fire in the belly, he is, well let’s just say he really touched me when I heard him play. I never really had heard jazz before that. I was like wooooo what is that!! I was so drawn to it, which drove that, how you say, fire in the belly in me.

JAZZREVIEW: With all the change in your world, how do you welcome it?

KAROLINA STRASSMAYER: As a freelancer you play with different musicians all the time, different places as well. You have to in one way be very flexible but also stick with your guns. It is a life long challenge to find out what you are going to live with and what am I really going to put a fight up against. I really don’t have the answer to it. Over the years I have become much more willing to fight for what I want.

JAZZREVIEW: If you could redesign the music industry, how would you sculpt it?

KAROLINA STRASSMAYER: Wow, so many things! I would want to see more interest in jazz in general. This has to be created by the business, the industry. The interest has to be in younger people not just big names. Labels are so selective; few people are signed, young people. They should go back to building careers. Being a jazz instrumentalist, there is practically no interest; they [mainstream industry] only look at vocalists.

JAZZREVIEW: Next recording?

KAROLINA STRASSMAYER: We are going to record this year probably late summer. It will be with my quartet, along with a few guests. It will include allot of original material of mine along with a few standards.

JAZZREVIEW: When your biography is written, how do you think you will be remembered?

KAROLINA STRASSMAYER: A women, female, jazz instrumentalist who really was able to play at the highest level being completely accepted and respected by her peers and audience. I also want to be remembered as somebody who contributed to jazz. Everybody wants to do something special and in his or her own way, that’s how I would like to be thought of.

JAZZREVIEW: Karolina is an extremely eclectic individual and professional. From Yoga, reading, family and mountain climbing, yes I said mountain climbing; she reaches out with a thirst for new adventures. In her music and along life’s path she genuinely looks at every door with an inquisitive nature.

The other side of Karo was meant to introduce the robust and diverse nature of an independent talent on the rise. The trial and tribulations thrust upon such artists like Karolina, do not paint an optimistic picture of the industry they are part of. Yet the way Karolina approaches those demons with dignity, authority, and veracity, along with a passionate move toward, makes her a fine template to all independent musicians. The students that are educated by Karolina not only get superb musical balance but also at the same time a life tutorial in the world she so loves, music!

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Karolina Strassmayer
  • Interview Date: 5/1/2004
  • Subtitle: Between Sets
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