Why writing original music and why the hell on a ukulele – Bernd Holzhausen

As I started as a musician I picked up the bass guitar. Not because it was easy, because I felt that bass is an essential part of the band. I was 18 years and had my listening experience like most of us: Beatles, Iron Maiden, David Lee Roth, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Peter Gabriel.  Then one day a friend dropped in and gave me a recording of Dollar Brand. So I put it on the player and listened. A total different experience showed up. He was telling stories based on simple melodies and somehow the bass took the whole thing to a grooving experience. I was bouncing between the piano, the bass and what happened in the silent parts. Wow. More jazz came up. More piano, more bass and I practiced bass. Then this Jaco Pastorious showed up and I put the bass in the corner because I started to study design.

But that didn’t mean I stopped educating myself in music. No. I turned to be a listener more than a dancer or just putting music as a background thing so I listened to all the music that was available. Frank Sinatra came along the road, Elvis Presley, Tom Waits. Wait a minute. I collected all of his LPs because he was unique. He was different. I tried Bob Dylan, but he never was grabbing my ear telling me a feeling. On the real side o flive I had to learn drawing, painting, calligraphy, writing, sketching, being an illustrator, a painter, a writer. Well aside that while I was trying to paint something or to focus on scribbling I listened to a wide variety of music. And I always played that game: What’s the next note. How he will finish this line, what chord is next. And as you listen you learn. I finished my design exam with a good note and went out to explore the world as a graphic design artist. Until the world became too digital and the pen wasn’t that important anymore.

One evening a friend said: Let´s start a cover band. So I got myself a bass again and we started playing. But something had changed. Sure I was able to play, rhythm wasn’t a big deal, remembering songs neither but I didn’t want to do it. So I focused more on jazz and bass and got a fretless bass guitar. Hell as I grabbed that thing my heart said: there you go. So I learned again. New. There is more on a bass without frets than just playing notes. There is pronunciation, you can speak, bend note play quarter notes and more. Wow. That was my world. So I practiced daily and started writing instrumentals. Mostly in a groovy matter telling stories on live.

Then I founded a duo with another bass player who played the bass more or less like a guitar and we started a show called mellow night grooves in a local pub. We played weekly. More and more. jazz players showed up and improvised with us. Over a year that was my living room. I just walked on stage and started with telling a nice story and then played instrumental bass music. Aside that my work as a designer died and I became ore or less an advisor. So I focused on music and writing instrumentals. One day I was playing an instrumental and another jazz bassist came and asked me: Do you know what you do? I mean it is a nice peace of music and nothing is wrong but I feel that you just play by ear. I was confused but as a designer you learn how to adopt being flexible in any situation and how to finish a good design so that all are happy, So I was honestly looking at him and said. No. I really do everything by ear. I don t know a lot about theory. He smiled and said. 6 weeks and you’ve learned what you need So I took his course and learned. Everything about notes, distances, scales and whatever you learn on a bass guitar. I stopped playing music for a year and started listening again. While that I wondered why everybody was copying songs and styles of other musicians. Do you know this lick? And people always tried to be the perfect studio recording version of this or that song.

I talked with a friend and he said listen to the recordings of Jaco in New York. listen to the early jazz guys 20s up to the 40s. Listen and understand what they do. So Jaco was playing shit on stage, no groove, a lot of errors, but the atmosphere was cool. The musicians in the 20s well they mostly played by ear. Others were writing down the chords. Aha. But why and when did it die. Who took the gun and shot this come lets play some music without thinking of playing Let it be by the Beatles? When that really went along the road and people stopped being creative?
The superstar thing stepped in the door. Become famous, earn a shitload if money, get all the girls you want and don’t want. Be a star. Well but a star not necessarily writes his own music. Some of them can barely sing. Well. Okay. But that changed music. A lot of the jazz players ended up broke in bad conditions. They were focused on music not money. Got that. I don’t care. There are songs to be written. Good ones, bad ones and they have to be played. They have to be tested. So back to be an authentic human being. Writing your own music. Why on the ukulele? Well that´s easy.
The ukulele is an unexpected instrument. It has no superstar aura, even if there are superstars on the ukulele. It still is a simple take it play it instrument. You can fun around with it and you can play fingerstyle Spanish things on it or Jewish traditional scales. Sounds great on a ukulele. And it is in perfect range to the voice of a singer. Singer here. Ukulele there. Stomping the foot on another place, a bass goes around. Well that is unique. That is new. And the same time it is more traditional than anything else. And it offers a door to write your own music cause there is no Add to dictionary of that song. Yeah nicely sung. It´s perfect when things happen like I wrote a German song about luck nd another day I played it on the street to test it and a person said. So bad that I don t understand German I liked his voice and the song. For me that is perfect reason to stay with the ukulele and to just play.

Sorry guys for the long road of letters I took you down the way to think of listening, supporting original music writers. For me personally it leaded back to a regular sketchbook like I had them starting being a designer. Good craftsmanship is essential but spontaneous writing down an experience to put it in form later or to change some words and then taking the uke to play a melody search for chords, interludes and soloing possibilities and then you are an authentic musician. Who cares if you are on hit list number one. As long as you sell CDs after the show as long as you meet people have good conversations and as long as you inspire other people to write original music everything is fine.

Be a gift to the ears of the world. Write original music.


One Response to Why writing original music and why the hell on a ukulele – Bernd Holzhausen

  1. Alan Thornton 19th June 2017 at 1:27 pm #


    Listening becomes playing. Listening is filled with tools. Learning is fluid. It comes from the World. Formalism is its own thing. You can study that way and become beautifully proficient. You can use that as a launching pad and fly freely.

    Or, you can learn by stumbleing and falling in the same way you learned to walk and then run and then dance.

    Thank you, Bernd

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