Remco Keijzer: ‘The Hook Turn Orchestra is more than just a jazz rhythm section and a classical string section’

Here is the recipe to create a modern orchestra, with a big, bold sound that seamlessly blends elements from the jazz and classical music world, transcending genres and engaging audiences: you take a master saxoponist, someone with experience in European, American and Australian jazz – someone like Remco Keijzer. You add a well-versed classical violinist, with a flair for improvisation – someone like Roger Young. Incorporate vocals from a jazz-and-musical-theatre goddess like Alinta Chidzey. Mix with a dream team of seasoned musicians. Place the mixture into a bowl made out of beloved cinematic tunes and voila! You get the Hook Turn Orchestra and their debut album, Jazz and the Silver Screen. As they set off for a tour around Victoria, the band’s co-leader and saxophonist shares the orchestra’s backstory.

What is the Hook Turn Orchestra?

Hook Turn Orchestra is a nine piece ensemble that blurs the lines between Classical, Music Theatre and Jazz. We write our own arrangements using ingredients from all three genres featuring the rich musical experience and skills of our members.

Who initiated it?

Roger Young, violinist with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, met Alinta Chidzey on a tour of West Side Story in 2003. But it was during her regular gig with the Jazz Emperors, led by me, that Roger suggested we join forces and create a new sound by blending the worlds of classical and jazz.

Why Hook Turn?

As we are a homegrown Melbourne orchestra, we were looking for a band name that captured our Melbourne sound and what better way to express that by using Melbourne’s own famous traffic manoeuvre, unique but also different.

How did you develop your sound?

The Hook Turn sound is a lush string driven ensemble that explores different styles of music with its main focus on jazz and improvisation.

Before Hook Turn Orchestra became Hook Turn Orchestra, we were two different projects. The Roger Young Collective and sometimes Alinta and the Jazz Emperors XL. Our concept was already there, but we used different repertoire and had a more generic way of writing for rhythm section plus string quartet. By changing the focus to the individual qualities of our musicians, we now have a more personal sound. Even though our repertoire for our debut cd is soundtracks and movie melodies, the emphasis is still on jazz and improvisation.

It seems to me that you’re not going for a ‘safe’ approach when it comes to arrangement – there is an edge in how the string section and the ‘jazz’ section interact. What is the greatest challenge in blending these two traditions, jazz and classical?

Yes, that is correct. We strive to explore different styles of music and finding ways to make them our own. When we write arrangements, we focus on using the high level of musicianship of our players. Our string section is much more than just a lush carpet of sound. They interact and improvise with the rhythm section and combine melodic structures with our vocalist and saxophonist. The greatest challenge for me was to learn the classical language in writing and rehearsing. I can’t apply writing techniques for horns and hope they sound the way I hear them in my head. The way string instruments create sound and the way they start and stop is very different from horn instruments. Roger and I arrange together and he has taught me a lot about composing for strings. Harmonically, there is a lot they can add to the rhythm section and this is a very powerful element in our arrangements.

If you could choose any artist to join Hook Turn Orchestra for one gig, who would that be?

There are some great saxophone players I’d love to hear in this context, like Seamus Blake or Ben Wendel and I also would love to have Vince Mendoza (arranger and composer for the Metropole Orchestra and Joni Mitchell), but it would be a dream to have Esperanza Spalding on board too. So many great artists out there at the moment.

How did you choose the tracks for your album?

We started out picking music that we all love and when we decided to record an album we chose a theme. The theme ‘Jazz And The Silver Screen’ captures most of these songs. So many great pieces of music are used in films and that made it pretty easy to fill this recording with nine tracks. Since our audience is made up of jazz, theatre and classical music lovers, we were looking for a way to connect with all these elements and Jazz And The Silver Screen does just that.

What is your favourite movie soundtrack of all time?

For me personally that would be the soundtrack of a Dutch cult movie from the 70s, Turks Fruit. The track is called ‘Dat Mistige Rooie Beest’ (‘The Misty Red Beast’) and is a typical Dutch jazz/funk track . It’s originally performed by the great Toots Thielemans and our version features Sam Keevers on the Fender Rhodes.

What is your main aspiration with this project?

We aim to engage and unite different types of audiences by introducing them to our style of playing jazz. Lots of people say they don’t like jazz but then they hear our music and say they love it and are surprised it’s actually jazz. We’re touring through the big theatres around Victoria [this year] and are trying to get concerts at festivals going. [Later on] we’ll start working on original music with the Hook Turn Orchestra sound.

How does Hook Turn Orchestra fit in with the Melbourne Jazz ecosystem?

There are a few bands out there that use strings in their sound, but to my knowledge none are full time. We’re working to get to a stage where people see us as a complete orchestra and not just a jazz rhythm section and a classical string section.

Having experienced the jazz scene in Amsterdam and New York, what is your insight on the Melbourne Jazz scene?

I grew up in the Dutch Jazz scene studying at the Amsterdam Conservatory. Holland has an amazing scene of top jazz players on all instruments. I’d say Australia has a similar level but the quantity is much lower. Australians often think jazz is more accepted in Europe, but especially in Amsterdam there are way fewer venues to perform. Melbourne has a great scene with lots of venues and possibilities for musicians to perform. New York is a different ball game all together. I studied at the Manhattan School Of Music in 2003. The level there is amazing. Everybody that studies there can play and the amount of musicians in the city is crazy, but the biggest difference I’d found is the level of rhythm section players and the sheer amount of them. You can play a jam session everyday with amazing players and that is unique for NYC.

How did you end up in Melbourne?

I moved here because my wife, Alinta, who is the vocalist for Hook Turn Orchestra is Melbourne based. We originally met in Amsterdam and after 2.5 years of long distance we decided to live together. Alinta first came to Holland for one year and half. After her contract in Holland finished, we decided to come to Melbourne. Even though it took me a while to get into the scene, I love living here and being part of the Australian jazz scene.

How did you get into jazz?

I started playing classical saxophone at the age of 9, but by the time I turned 16 I was losing interest in classical music. I had to make a decision to either quit or get into another style of music. A friend of mine played jazz and got me inspired. After a year of studying jazz, I totally got obsessed and never stopped playing and studying music. To me jazz is a state of mind and a way of living. Try to create something with the people around you, band and audience. Enjoy the moment and jazz allows you to be whatever you want to be. You have to think on your feet and be in the moment and when it all comes together, there is no such other pleasure in life.

Which tune best describes your current state of mind?

‘Pure Imagination’, from the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It is on our debut album

See The Hook Turn Orchestra playing at the Paris Cat on 15 February. Find the full tour schedule here.

Jazz And The Silver Screen is available from the Hook Turn Orchestra website and CDbaby.