Syberen van Munster
Syberen van Munster Biography
Both my parents are classical musicians by trade, flutists to be specific, so picking up the electric guitar seemed like a logical step. Unfortunately they made me go through 11 years of playing the violin and viola before they finally succumbed to my repeated requests, and bought an electric guitar for my 15th birthday. I started doing what I had never done on previous instruments: practicing. Because I had a musical training already, I managed to pick it up pretty quickly and three years later I was actually playing at the North Sea Jazz Festival. That same year I got admitted to the young talent program at the Prince Claus Conservatoire in Groningen.
As I turned 20 I felt the urge to move back to my birthplace, so I auditioned for the Conservatory of Amsterdam and continued my studies in jazz guitar there. In 2009 I moved to New York to get my Master’s Degree at the Aaron Copland School of Music and to immerse myself in this mecca for musicophiles.
I’ve been living there ever since, and I’m working with my own trio as well as groups led by Jacob Teichroew, Sandi Kuhn, Fleurine, Jared Dubin and various others. I still touch base with the Netherlands by writing a monthly column about my experiences in NYC for Dutch guitar magazine “gitarist”.
The Best of Syberen van Munster
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Interview with Syberen van Munster
Earlier this week, Festival Archive was able to touch base with one of our all-time favourite jazz guitarist, Syberen van Munster. Here’s what he had to say…
If somebody has never heard your music before, how would you describe it to them in one sentence?
People tell me I play tasteful, melodic, and clear. That’s what I try to go for!
Who were your main musical inspirations growing up?
It has varied a lot; When I first started learning the guitar I taught myself how to play songs by Incubus, Weezer, and Sum 41, but not much later I got into fusion and jazz. John Scofield and Wes Montgomery were my biggest influences then. When I got to college I was mainly interested in straight-ahead jazz from the ’40s till the ’60s: Jim Hall, Hank Mobley, Miles Davis, and later on John Coltrane were the people I used to listen to the most. I was, and still am, very interested in classical music, especially music from the 20th century, Stravinsky being my favorite. When I moved to New York I started to listen to a wider variety of music; Hip-Hop, R&B, Electronic, Singer/Songwriter. I still listen to a lot of different things. I really like Brazilian music too, especially Elis Regina and Ivan Lins, I’ll listen to that stuff for weeks at a time.
What made you decide to become a musician and are any of your close family musically talented?
I’m kind of ashamed to admit it, but listening to Bon Jovi in elementary school made me want to play the electric guitar. I loved Richie Sambora’s wailing guitar solos. My classroom teacher played in a cover band and once every so often would let me play the electric guitar and drums during school breaks, it really fascinated me. I kept bugging my parents about getting an electric guitar but I took quite a while before they budged. By the time they did I had actually gotten into hip-hop music actually, so I wasn’t that much into guitars anymore, but that turned around again soon after I got one.
On a weekly basis, about how much time do you spend practising?
I used to practice a lot in college, I even made 11 hours one time when a rare tropical storm had hit Amsterdam and it was impossible to leave the building. I’d just lock myself in the practice room and play for hours at a time, then attend a jam session in the evening. Nowadays I practice around 2 hours a day, it’s difficult to keep up a steady routine when you get to the “working life”.
Do you attend sessions, if so, what do you think makes a good session?
I severely dislike public jam sessions, there’s only a few that I will attend occasionally. Playing with just a few great musicians at someone’s apartment though is what I love to do! A great session is when all the musicians are constantly focussed on making the whole group sound good, I’d say.
Do you have a fixed preparation regime before going out on stage? How do you cope with nerves?
Not at all. All you can do is be sure you know the music really well, and that’s what I usually try to do. Beyond that you just have to let it go, and if you make a mistake, so be it. I used to get so nervous that it severely impaired my abilities, but nowadays I don’t get nervous at all, it just came with time and experience. Not drinking coffee before you play is a good idea, and that’s hard for me since I love coffee.
How do you handle mistakes during a performance?
I have a pretty good ear, so if something goes wrong and lose track I’ll get back in to it pretty easily. Having confidence in your abilities will allow you to take greater risks.
What has been your most memorable gig?
Getting to play a few shows with Brad Mehldau was definitely a highlight for me. He has been one of my favorite musicians ever since I was 16, so when I finally got to play with him my initial reaction was “I know this piano player from my records!”
Which is the one place where you’ve always wanted to perform?
The Village Vanguard. It’s a great club and has such a history of legends performing there.
If we were to walk into your studio, what equipment are we likely to find?
My Guild X150D guitar and effects pedals like the Maxon OD808, Fulltone Fulldrive II, Boss DD-20, Ernie Ball Volume Pedal and a bunch of others.
Which famous present day musicians do you admire the most and why?
As for guitarists, my favorites are: John Scofield, he is incredibly expressive and has a lot of “depth” in his playing, whatever than might mean. Bill Frisell achieves so much with so little, he’s been quite an influence on me too. Kurt Rosenwinkel is an incredible composer in addition to a very innovative guitar player. Of the “younger” generation Gilad Hekselman is my very favorite, his bag of ideas seems to be bottomless.
What’s it like being a professional musician, playing gigs, releasing CDs, etc.? Do you feel you’ve reached your goals?
No, I’m only starting! A while ago I started setting some more serious goals, one of which is recording an album this summer. To be honest, it’s a constant struggle to be your own boss and keep pushing yourself. I definitely don’t regret making the choice to become a professional musician and I do really like it, but I would never recommend it to anyone, the urge really has to come from within yourself.
How do you balance your music with other obligations? – Besides music, what else are you into?
I don’t have that many obligations -yet- fortunately. I enjoy cooking and like roasting, brewing and drinking coffee.
What are you goals and aspirations for the future?
It is about time to record my debut album, so that’s on the to-do list, beyond that I just hope I can have an enjoyable and fruitful life working as a musician!
What advise would you give any aspiring musicians wanting to make a name for themselves?
Don’t get into it unless you want to totally go for it!
Who are your top all time favourite jazz musicians?
Wayne Shorter and John Coltrane.
Please tell us a little more about any singles or albums you are currently working on…
Currently I’m writing music for my debut album, I’m planning to go into the studio in June. It will be in quintet format featuring accordion and alto sax!
We would like to thank Syberen for taking the time to talk with us, we hope you have enjoyed learning a little more about this talented musician. Remember to check out Syberen’ website for further details on upcoming gigs, album releases etc.
Thank you Syberen and best of luck with your future endeavors.
The Festival Archive team
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