By Prakruthi Chari
In the Alpine region of Allgäu in southern Germany, a seven year old boy began his first trumpet and piano lessons. Born into a musical family, Matthias Schriefl won the national German competition “Jugend Musiziert” at the age of eleven, and the age of fifteen was the youngest ever member of the German Young Jazz Orchestra. Furthering his journey, he studied at the music conservatory in Munich, at the Cologne Music College and also studied for a year in Amsterdam. He is primarily a trumpeter, but is also skilled in other instruments such as the tuba and flugelhorn.
He has received numerous awards as a soloist, composer and bandleader, the most recent of which is the 2019 International German Jazz-Prize in both soloist and bandleader categories. He has been performing in leading concert halls throughout the world—across Europe, Australia, West Africa, Egypt, Maroc, Qatar, Iran, South America, USA, Mexico, and India. He has played with the European Jazz Ensemble and worked with the WDR Big band and many other renowned orchestras as soloist and composer.
However, he mostly plays his own compositions, with his own bands, which are numerous as well as diverse. Some of these are: Six, Alps and Jazz (six wind instrument players from Germany and Austria), Shreefpunk (Jazz, Punk and sometimes even strings), Multiorchester (playing his compositions in parts based on Alpine and Alemannian folk music but also revealing elements of modern classic), AAAPUZ and Brazilian Motions.
Schriefl was introduced to the world of Indian music back in May 2007. He toured Southeast Asia with Indian stars R.A. Rama Mani and T.A.S. Mani as a substitute for world-famous jazz musician Charlie Mariano. “I didn’t understand one Muktayam back then, but I fell in love with classical Carnatic music and wanted to learn more about it,” he says.
Following this, he took basic lessons from the two artistes, and has since then honed his talents further in this field after years of intense studies. He is now on his sixth visit to India, performing and learning Carnatic music.
The Amithias Project is an Indo-Jazz band formed as the result of a friendship between Schriefl and Indian flautist Amith Nadig, and he is currently performing in India with Nadig as well as Vinod Shyaam and Sunaad Anoor.
According to Schriefl, interest in Indian music in Germany has increased since the seventies, when it was first introduced there. Now, it is catching the eye of a lot of jazz students and European classical composers. Some part of their audience is already used to Indian sounds. “The educated audience,” he adds, “is more and more understanding the complexity, beauty and richness of Indian ragas and talas.”
Personally, Schriefl says he loves the “very special ragas you have” that are not used in the Western world, and how they are approached with all the gamakas. He is especially fond of the South Indian rhythmical Muktayams. He adds that he also admires the “great interaction on stage and improvisational skills of the many genius artists here.”
He says that playing gliding notes on the trumpet is very difficult, but he has devoted a lot of time practicing it. However, he is still not satisfied with that part of his playing and says it will be better for him in some years because he has to find new ways to do it—it is technically very challenging to glide between different pitches on a trumpet.
He doesn’t usually use the trumpet while accompanying other soloists and Indian musicians, as it is a soprano instrument and thus too much in the same range like any other instrument. He switches instead to the tuba or flugelhorn to play the bass part. He says this is a completely different experience from playing melodies or solos, and he loves it— “I learn a lot for my own solo-playing because of this role switch from time to time.”
Accompanying other musician also teaches one a lot about interaction on stage. He adds that is a challenge to hold the accompaniment during Muktayams that you don’t understand, if it is running through like a talam.
He knows the raga system well, and adds variation as he sees fit while playing, sometimes sticking to a Carnatic classical raga, other times introducing one or two new notes and at other times improvising completely in a “jazzy or European way”.
Matthias Schriefl is an extremely skilled musician, who is also forever open to new experiences and learnings. He says that his most important teachers are the musicians he tours with—at the moment, his Indian colleagues from the Amithias Project—and concert tours are the greatest school, and considers it an unpayable experience to be on tour with great musicians whom he sees as equally colleagues, friends and teachers.