By Taylor Van Arsdale
For a man who spends his evenings on stage engaging crowds of thousands, award-winning jazz recording artist Reinhold Schwarzwald is surprisingly shy when speaking about himself. It’s not at all what you’d expect from a man who opened for the legendary Ray Charles.
Alto Saxophonist Reinhold Schwarzwald’s easy-listening breezy jazz has been featured on international and US radio stations including KJazz Long Beach, Jazz FM Portland, Smooth Beach Radio, San Francisco and the trend setting KTWV The Wave, Los Angeles.
His new album Sunset is a collaboration of extraordinary musical talents from around the globe and features a “sophisticated blend of Soul, R&B, Jazz and swatches of Brazilian influences,” explains Schwarzwald.
His single, “Sunset” became a hit on the national charts including Smooth Jazz’s Top 50, Top 50 Indie Charts and has reached #14 on the the Groove Jazz Top 30. And in August of 2012 he played the Summer Jazz Series at LACMA where he shared the bill with Patrice Rushen and broke all previous attendance records.
“Reinhold brings a unique perspective to jazz by combining his European influences and experiences with the American language of jazz,” said Mitch Glickman, the director of music programs at LACMA. “It is a wonderful fresh, high energy sound along with some great songwriting.”
Though it’s a windy afternoon and coffee cups and napkins are flying off our table at Montana Avenue’s trendy Groundworks, Schwarzwald is pleasant and completely self-effacing. He looks serene in jeans and a tailored shirt as we sip our espressos. It was the lure of LA’s music scene that brought Schwarzwald to America—that is, by way of Paris.
“I love Paris, especially the food,” confesses Schwarzwald. “Paris is a piece of art. It’s a beautiful city with so much history. It’s almost impossible to walk away from it without getting a deeper sense of aesthetics in general.”
Travel, new locations and the experience of being in different places are part of what inspires Schwarzwald to write music, he said. Growing up he was fortunate to spend summer vacations with his parents in the South of France, a place he describes as having a “fantastic ambiance.”
His other inspiration comes from people, hence the high collaboration on his latest album. Schwarzwald said he enjoys working with a diverse array of musicians and draws from the energy that comes with such a group effort.
“Years ago there was a lot of music happening in the South of France in the summer,” he said. “Because of the ties that France has with Africa, there are a lot of excellent African musicians who come to Paris, and I got a chance to work with some of the best rhythm players in the world.”
Exposure to different types of music through his parents also had a direct influence on Schwarzwald’s musical taste. He counts Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Al Jarreau and Joe Satriani as some of his favorites.
Schwarzwald’s mother is Hungarian and his father is from Austria where Schwarzwald was raised as part of a musical family – and no, not like the Von Trapps as he’s fond to joke. His father is a guitarist and his mother plays keyboards, and they both sing. Schwarzwald started on the guitar, then later took up the piano and clarinet before transitioning to the sax when he was 16 years old.
He’s been in the United States for 15 years and decided to reside in the Palisades because he said it reminds him of Austria. Schwarzwald laughs heartily as he recounts a story about a performance back in his home country.
“Years ago, when I was playing with my parents we had a trio together. A lot of our repertoire was Brazilian music and we were supposed to play for a group of Americans who were coming to the convention center,” he said. “They were decision-makers who were discussing the possibility of bringing annual music festivals to the convention center. So my father said, ‘We need to learn one song for the Americans. We need to learn ‘Edelweiss.’”
“Edelweiss” is not an Austrian song. It’s a Rogers & Hammerstein show tune, created for the musical The Sound of Music. At the time, Schwarzwald had no interest in playing Austrian folk songs, let alone one he’d never heard.
“Sure enough, we learned the song and few songs into the set a gentleman walks up to us and says, ‘Beautiful music. Can you maybe play a song called Edelweiss?’ And of course we were prepared and played it and I couldn’t believe it—there were a hundred people in the audience singing along with the song. My father was right on target because that was the ice-breaker for the evening.”
It wasn’t until Schwarzwald came to America that he had a chance to see the film and hear the song from the movie, which he says, “Ironically sounds nothing like traditional Austrian folk music.”
His passion for performing left him wanting more live experience. He enjoys sharing his music with a wide range of fans playing at venues such as the Montreaux Jazz Festival, Europa Jazz Festival LeMans, Olympia Paris, House of Blues, the Redlands Bowl Summer Music Festival and of course the LACMA Summer Jazz Series.
“We have a lot of fun in my band,” he said. “For me there’s nothing like being on a live stage. It is something that happens right in the moment and it draws everything into that present moment. There’s no going back. You have to be there, and I think that’s something that people relate to.”
Music for Schwarzwald is the most direct language. For this fearless jazz master, there’s nothing more exciting than improvising on stage.
“As an artist you go through phases, but improvisation is about finding the door and the access to your own creativity” he said. “Every person is creative, but you need to find the key that opens the door to your own creativity, so that it can come out. That takes the most work, but once you find that key and open that door you can translate your feelings and emotions into playing and improvising.”
Indeed, Merle Kreibich, President of In-House Music and a Jazz producer for over 22 years said Schwarzwald’s playing is superb.
“His charismatic appeal and creative approach to the jazz medium always draws a full house whenever he’s performing,” Kreibich said.
For Schwarzwald, he simply hopes his music gets his audience out of their daily routine, that it brings them joy and inspires them to be creative in whatever they do. Ultimately, he said he wants to bring powerful uplifting music to people to promote peace, love and happiness.
“If I achieve a tiny little bit of that for even one person, that’s a good thing,” he said.
For more on Reinhold click here.