The piano is a extension of Markus Gottschlich’s personality as truly as the trumpet was a conduit for Dizzy Gillespie’s voice, and the guitar is another appendage that Eric Clapton was born with so natural in his hands. Nobody could imagine either Gillespie or Clapton without their instruments, which is something that both men have in common with Gottschlich. The piano became Gottschlich’s voice when he was a little boy and his connection with the piano continues to grow stronger through time. His debut album When The Day Is Done displays his passion for classic jazz and his active imagination to interpret and compose music from patterns that show progressive threading and a flare for being debonair while exercising skills of improvisation.
He shares, "I was a child of 5 or 6" when he began playing the piano. "I was playing the piano way before I knew it was the instrument for me. I believe it works the other way around - some things choose you. Believe it or not, I actually grew up in one of Beethoven's apartments in Vienna, where he composed ‘Fidelio.’ My room had the imprints on the floor of where the piano stood-... a fact that I appreciate much more in hindsight. It’s now part of a museum. "
Beethoven’s aura in the apartment where he grew up may have affected young Gottschlich to appreciate classic music, because he recalls, "As a teenager I bought a Petrucciani recording without even knowing what type of music would be on the CD. It must have been on sale somewhere. I remember being captivated and deeply moved by what I heard without being able to point out what exactly it was that spoke to me. This started a long and in-depth study of his music that taught me as much, if not more, than any formal music education I received."
He reflects about his formative years of playing, "My earliest memories are of a young teacher who asked me to musically mimic animals and other types of sounds. It was all about imagination and improvisation."
He remembers, "The most profound impact any teacher had was Mike Gerber who, I think, is not only a brilliant pianist, but also an amazing educator. Those two sides are rarely found in one person. As a teenager, I turned away from classical music due to the rigidity and lack of freedom of expression. Little did I know that these compositions, that are some hundreds of years old, were initially improvised and just written down at some point."
He examines, "The greatest composers were all improvisers as well. Now I see a great merit in playing classical music as it teaches discipline and technique. Only when you learn to play very controlled and restricted do you fully appreciate the freedom you have in jazz. However, I think if Beethoven was alive today, he would be playing jazz."
Though many classic jazz musicians graduate from prestigious colleges like Berklee College of Music or from elite music conservatories in Europe, Markus Gottschlich’s education is more humble, though his talent is massive. "I never attended Berklee, nor did I ever have the intentions on doing so. However, I have listened to many musicians come out of these ‘famous’ music schools, all sounding the same. They are highly educated, can tell you when to superimpose a mixolydian b9 b13 mode, but often sound generic and uninspired. In some of these schools, the first time you are supposed to improvise is in your senior year. To me, jazz is about passion and freedom and that’s hard to institutionalize."
He chronicles that he first left Austria to attend a university in America on a basketball scholarship. "I left Austria in ’98 to pursue athletics and have since lived in the US. I have been fortunate to travel much in my life and I feel equally at home in the States as in Austria. I have found that in sports, business and music, the US is much more open to new talent, ideas and competition. There’s a ‘can-do’ attitude; whereas in Austria there is a ‘who-are-you-to-think you-can-do’ attitude."
He made his way to Miami, Florida where he embarked on the life of being a local musician. "Upon finishing University, I wanted to start at a place that for once was not freezing. After Austria, New York and Connecticut, I felt it was time for a change of climate, literally. The mosaic of different cultures and influences there appealed to me."
He describes, "Miami is a South American city that managed to pass US immigration. The music is mostly Latin and language predominantly Spanish. I enjoyed being absolutely new somewhere and not knowing what’s going to happen next. Since it’s such a melting pot I had no trouble getting settled in."
While living in Miami, Gottschlich played in local clubs and honed his skills playing the piano, composing original material and interpreting standards. It is an insecure lifestyle that has been depicted in such movies as The Fabulous Baker Boys, whose main character, Jack, is personified in the theme song "Jack’s Theme," written by Dave Grusin. Gottschlich composed an interpretation of this tune and features it in his debut album When The Day Is Done. He asserts, "It is not unusual for musicians to pick movie themes due to the double impact that music has in film. If you combine a melody with a great plot, it is almost impossible to hear the music without also having a visual and emotional cross-reference. The life of the ‘working musician’ is filled with bizarre stories that occur almost on a nightly basis. Some of that is portrayed well in this particular movie."
He expresses about his songwriting, "I am not overly inspired by fictional characters. If anything I see parallels to the ‘real world.’" He explains, "When The Day Is Done is sort of a musical summary playing these nightly gigs in Miami. The album is a total concept, meaning that there is a larger plot behind these songs or short stories. It’s a reflection of the moods and emotional colors I encountered. Like a musical bouquet, I assembled pieces that fit an overall mood I wanted to focus on. This idea of a total concept seems somewhat anachronistic as well, since people’s listening habits have changed tremendously over the past 10 to 20 years. People rarely listen to entire albums from the first song to the last, sometimes not even entire songs. Music has become a commodity that needs to be consumable instantly as if you looked at a painting. In this fast paced world of instant pleasure, my music is sort of a ‘pleasure delayer.’"
He professes, "As a jazz musician, you are also an instant composer and arranger. Inspirations can be found anywhere in people, nature, a simple gesture, anything that speaks to me. Duke Ellington advised to always do two things, never just one. There are balancing, synergistic effects if you have multiple passions. Since I am an instrumentalist, it is my job to let my voice, my instrument speak for me. The goal is to be completely in sync with the instrument and have every emotion that surfaces find its immediate musical expression on the keys. That’s exactly when I don’t even remember what I played or where it came from. When the piano becomes an extension of you, that’s when the real journey starts."
He discerns, "I think it’s most pianists ultimate goal to record solo. It’s just you and your instrument and whether or not you can communicate your messages. However, many players record their solo work much later in their career, when they were already established and at the height of their artistry. I realized though, that there will never be the ‘perfect’ time for it, as the study of the piano is a life-long pursuit."
Gottschlich recorded his CD When The Day Is Done in two days from March 15-16, 2008 at The Austrian Society of Music in Vienna, Austria using a Bosendorfer piano. He exposes, " I dedicated the album to Cäcilia (Gottschlich) It should be a twig of hope to cling on with a message carved in that life is still worth living and no good deed is done in vain like her organizing lessons and a piano for me 22 years ago."
He tells, "I haven’t quite moved back to Vienna, even though I felt it was the right at the time to leave Miami. They just closed the only real Jazz club they had there and that speaks volumes about how well the scene is doing there. Vienna is more a transitional stay for me that was utilized to record and prepare for my next move to wherever that may be. I’m sort of a sojourner. The art is to live at a constant state of departure, while always arriving. That way you don’t cling onto superficialities and focus on what really matters in life. "
He assesses, "Musically, there’s not much Vienna doesn’t offer. It’s been called the city of music for a reason. However, jazz is a state subsidized art form, meaning that the few Jazz venues are partly supported by the government. That makes it less competitive and commercial, but also less likely to find steady work. Plus, jazz is still a bit underground, especially compared to the classical music scene in Vienna."
Gottschlich's active imagination proved to be a double edged sword for him. On the one hand, his scores are unique and innovative, but on the other hand, he sees aspects of his compositions that he could have been done differently. He projects, "Already a week after recording the album, I wished I could have done it over, because I felt I could have done it even better then. I learned to look at any recording as a picture that shows where you were musically at that point of time. That you continue to grow as a musician at all times is just natural. Moreover, I wanted to play fairly well-known tunes and not hide behind my compositions that nobody knows yet."
He views that the nature of jazz inherently makes whatever blemishes exist in a piece into marks of beauty. "How do you define a mistake?" He prompts. "Miles Davis coined the phrase that ‘there are no mistakes.’ Since improvisation is the very core of jazz, this ‘creation in the moment’ can be either more or less desired by the player, but it would be completely counter-productive to think in terms of mistakes, which will just make you avoid taking any type of risks. You will miss 100% of the shots you don’t take."
He admits, "I sometimes don’t know how to start a piece and rarely where it will end up. It’s like life - not knowing what the future brings makes it so eventful. Nevertheless, I believe it is possible to be a perfectionist. Not in the classical sense where if you play the right note with the wrong finger the total result equals an error. To be a perfectionist in jazz, it means that you work diligently on a circumflexing technique that enables you to express your imagination. Since jazz is an aural tradition, listening is of tremendous importance. It’s not a bad idea to approach it as if one was learning a language and it’s a long road from speaking the first couple of words to an impromptu speech in front of a crowd. The hardest part is surrendering to whatever wants to be played in the moment and not forcing the flow in any direction."
He says about becoming a solo artist, "It’s a choice that developed over the years of playing solo. I am very comfortable alone and have found my own voice, which is harder to accomplish in a group setting. When you go down this path there is very little room for ambiguity and you pursue it because you can’t help it. I never minded the many, many hours a day that go into practicing, because it never felt like work."
He claims, "Being a solo artist means having the unique opportunity to compellingly convey emotions to an audience and to create experiences that are uniting instead of dividing. While every listener might feel slightly differently about the emotional content of the music they hear, a great deal of non-verbal communication takes place that goes beyond any race or religion. This fact alone makes it worth pursuing a career in music."
He deduces, "Many young players don’t want the burden of playing a well-known standard, because what could they say that a Bill Evans or Oscar Peterson hasn’t said already? I believe it was Miles Davis who said that ‘you can’t play anything on a horn that Louis Armstrong hasn’t played.’ It’s challenging to attempt to shine a new light on ‘old’ music, but also a player’s duty to confront Jazz history and deal with what has been played in the past."
"To be honest with you," he intones, "I pay close attention to the developments in music and jazz especially. Some of the so called ‘young lions’ of jazz that carry the ‘torch of hope’ for the future of the genre, are of the opinion that covering a Britney Spears song might be a novelty or worthwhile cause. As if the pool of great music to choose from was not big enough. If that’s the future of jazz, I think we have bigger problems than we realized."
He notes, "Unwittingly, almost all of the people I listen to are already dead. There is something about the music of the 30’s and 40’s that is hardly found in later periods. In times of war, strife and uncertainty of the future, many composers found vectors to escape this harsh reality. When you listen to Gershwin, Ellington, Porter, Berlin, Mercer, Arlen etc. and you also pay attention to the masterfully crafted lyrics, you have songs that are just as powerful 70 or 80 years later as they must have been back in the day. Could you say that about popular music that is played today?"
His own aspiration for his music is to compose songs that will last through time like the works of Gershwin, Ellington, Porter, etc. He emphasizes, "I would want to be able to continue to make music that conveys emotions to the listener. I think there is a market for a lyrical, emotionally colorful music. The difference between the listener of good jazz and someone who only listens to whatever the pop-stations play on the radio, is on a psychological and even socio-economic plain. The Jazz listener does not need to ride the wave of pre-fabricated emotions that you find in pop in order to feel ‘one’ with the rest of the audience, or have you ever seen lighters go up in a Jazz club?"
Markus Gottschlich would not mind seeing lighters going up during his concerts. It is a sign that the audience feels moved by the songs and Gottschlich’s album When The Day Is Done was made for audiences to rejoice about those moments in life that cause one to celebrate and lament. Gottschlich plays out these short stories with the understanding of a sage and the creativity of a conceptual painter. It is a talent that only comes along when a Dizzy Gillespie, an Eric Clapton or a William Shakespeare appears and does what comes natural to them, just like composing songs on the piano does for Gottschlich.