Siffling has carved out a niche for himself by extending his sound on the trumpet with the use of electronic devices. He is one of a small group of pioneers who borrows freely elements of pop and other genres to fuse into a new kind of contemporary jazz.
Classically trained in the German tradition he may be, but Thomas Siffling never really saw himself as fitting into the brass section of an orchestra. One reason, he says, speaking after performing at the 2016 Festival International de Jazz de Port-au-Prince, in Haiti, was because trumpet players don’t tend to get all that many opportunities to play in the typical orchestral repertoire. Another reason was that by then he’d already discovered jazz and knew which path he wanted to follow. In fact, even before embracing jazz, Thomas’s first love was heavy metal, and as a teenager he dreamed of playing the electric bass – loudly!
Born in Karlsruhe, in Germany in 1972, Thomas’s first contact with the trumpet came via his father, who returned from a business trip with a trumpet (Thomas is not sure why exactly!). Deciding that he liked the sound it produced, he started to take formal lessons in Mannheim, and then Stuttgart. During his seven years of learning the instrument, he also took part in an exchange to New York, where he says he was inspired by the American way of playing jazz.
Lucky to have good teachers
Regarded now as an innovator and with a worldwide reputation on the jazz scene, Thomas is quick to point out that he was lucky to have a good teacher when he first started learning to play: “It’s so important that when you begin to learn an instrument that you have a good teacher. I was lucky with my first teacher when I joined a brass band, and also with my second teacher, who taught classical trumpet.” While still enjoying heavy metal music, his appreciation of jazz continued to grow. His brother played piano and together they started to experiment with jazz.
Thomas released his first CD in 1999, Soft Wind, by the Thomas Siffling Quartet. Another CD followed in 2001 – Stories – this time from the Thomas Siffling Group. Three years later, in 2004, the Thomas Siffling Trio recorded their first CD, Change, with a distinctive sound that combined new electronic and acoustic groove music. More recordings followed, and by now Thomas was being described as one of the most important representatives of a new breed of young German jazz musicians. His reputation was made in the heart of Europe. In 2011, the Thomas Siffling Trio were touring to places such as Romania, Moldova, and Siberia, and even further afield, to India, Sri Lanka and Canada.
Loves to gig in London
So, how well known is he in the UK, and has he played any gigs there?
“I’ve played some recent gigs, in Club 606 (in Chelsea) and elsewhere, including Pizza Express. Four years ago I was also lucky enough to play at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club – it was a real honour. I love London, and we always have a really good time playing here,” says Thomas.
Asked how his brand of jazz was received in London, Thomas was a bit more circumspect. “It’s like a lot of places in Europe. In the small packed clubs the audience are more enthusiastic, while at the bigger venues, people still enjoy it but in a more polite way.”
Audiences in Europe in general are, “A little bit spoiled when it comes to jazz”, says Thomas, “in terms of choice as well as the number of places where they can go to listen to jazz.” For him, the “best connection” with audiences has come in places like India, Sri Lanka, and Russia – big countries where they aren’t used to as much live music.
“In India, the trio played in venues where we had audiences of 1,000 people and it was fantastic. Also in Sri Lanka, and Russia, where we toured for two weeks. We played to young audiences and you could see that people there just wanted to have it.”
Asked where he gets his inspiration from, Thomas – who composes a lot of his own music – says he finds it everywhere: “It can come from anywhere. For example, when I was in St Lucia on holiday, I was in a good mood and relaxed, and composed some easy-going melodies. But also when I’m driving, if I’m not listening to music, I’ll start humming or singing and when I find a melody, I’ll record it on my iPhone and then later at home on the piano.”
Advice for young musicians
Does he have any advice for young musicians who are thinking of making a career in music? “It’s getting more and more difficult to become a musician, but one of the things that’s important to understand – and something that’s not always taught at music academies, is the business side of things. You need the education and practice, but you also need to know how to use social media – you have to learn this side of the business.”
Thomas says that apart from daily practice (he still practises the trumpet for one to three hours every day), it’s also important for young musicians to try and build their own brand, to create “unique music”. “Don’t simply try to sound like someone else”, he advises, “I want to listen to someone who is authentic, not someone who sounds like Miles Davis. If I want that, I’ll listen to Miles Davis!”