Belgium is known the world around for it's truly extraordinary chocolates, it's stunning architecture within it's medieval cities and of course, their musical native son, Jacques Stotzem. Okay, so I made the last one up but just try to find a ticket when he's playing Dolce Vita in Belgium. He may not be a household name in the United States but in European circles, Jacques has been making some beautiful music for those in the know, for the better part of the last decade.
There are many fingerstyle guitarists here in the States that you not be familiar with (yet). Just think about what we never get to listen to from over in the UK, Europe, Russia, Japan and beyond. Jacques Stotzem is a true treasure. This mild-mannered Belgian can rip it up with the best of them. I've seen him share the stage with many of the finest acoustic guitarists known to the industry and he truly shines.
Shortly after the release of his seventh CD, Sur Vesdre on Acoustic Music Records, Jacques shares with Guitar.com his thoughts on his bluesy roots, his passion for electric jazz and why he never played in rock bands as a kid.
Guitar.com: Hi Jacques, how are things in Belguim?
Jacques Stotzem: I'm fine, things are well. I've been very busy the last few weeks.
Guitar.com: Yes, I saw that on your website. That's great to hear. What about in Belgium? I know that Belgium is a small country but is there a music scene there?
Jacques Stotzem: Well not exactly in Belgium. It's better to talk of all of Europe because as you said, Belgium is very small. We don't have what one would call a music scene.
Guitar.com: There's only one or two places to play?
Jacques Stotzem: Yes, yes. If you are a professional musician you can't play enough just in Belgium. There just isn't enough work in Belgium to provide a living, so you really need to constantly moving and making contacts abroad.
Guitar.com: You've got a great number of solo performances and workshops slated for the rest of this year.
Jacques Stotzem: I think the more you play, the more contacts you make for new festivals, workshops, concerts and clubs. I'm always concerned about that when I go abroad because when you begin to break into a new country, it takes time to develop. It doesn't happen the very first time you play there.
Guitar.com: Sure, that would make sense.
Jacques Stotzem: So that's part of what I do.
Guitar.com: Are you playing any new countries in the coming year?
Jacques Stotzem: Not exactly a new country but last fall I went to Taiwan for the first time and I head back there in December. The concerts in Taiwan were fantastic because the audience - there were so many people at all the concerts and I think the reason why is related to the distribution of my CD's. The distribution of my CD's in Taiwan began two years ago. They had great promotion of my music there and they have made great preparations for me, prior to my concers. When I went there for the first time, it was really just a beautiful tour. Many people knew my pieces and the workshops were well attended.
Guitar.com: That's great to hear. You're still recording with Acoustic Music Records, yes?
Jacques Stotzem: Yes, of course but there is new distribution in places, as I said, like in Taiwan. They've released much of the recordings on Acoustic Music Records, including my latest one, Sur Vesdre.
Guitar.com: I see that you're also doing some dates with Thierry (Crommen) (Thierry and Jacques played a series of dates on the West Coast back in 1998 during the Winter NAMM show. Thierry Crommen is a world-class harmonica player and together they make a wonderful jazz duo)
Jacques Stotzem: Yes, I'm still doing some gigs with him but not a lot. Most of the time, I've been keeping busy with solo concerts. I think it's because the more you play, the more requests I receive for solo concerts. With Thierry, we are just busy here in Belgium. We don't have really have a lot of gigs booked.
Guitar.com: You had done a recording with him some time back.
Jacques Stotzem: Yes, but it's considered old already (1997 -Different Ways on Acoustic Music Records). We want to do a new one because we have a tour together in Japan next spring. So we're thinking about releasing a new one.
Guitar.com: Oh that would be great.
Jacques Stotzem: We have two compositions completed but we need to work a little bit more together. But most of the time, I'm busy with solo concerts which doesn't leave a lot of time.
Guitar.com: Yeah, your touring schedule was about two-thirds solo concerts and the remainder was split between workshops, master classes and a few dates with Thierry.
Jacques Stotzem: A lot of the concert promoters here in Europe, they want to combine one or two day workshops, say on Saturday and Sunday and then they do the concert on Saturday evening. So very often I do that.
Guitar.com: Well that's got to be great for you because it maximizes your time, while your there.
Jacques Stotzem: Well sometimes we travel a lot by car. We'll have a date in the South of Germany, which is a full-day of driving. So going there for one gig wouldn't be a good use of time. Three, however, isn't as bad.
Guitar.com: Understood. My favorite all-time Jacques Stotzem recording is still "Fingerprint." The CD in general, Secret Garden, Frame, Lazy - all those - they're very beautiful songs. So with your latest CD, Sur Vesdre, it's your seventh release, by my count.
Jacques Stotzem: Yes, it's my seventh.
Guitar.com: When you prepare to go out and do a tour and start rehearsing the songs that you'll be performing, how do you go about selecting the songs you'll perform from your growing catalog?
Jacques Stotzem: I'm a very big guitar fan. When I'm home, I like to play the guitar everyday. But I never prepare exactly what I'll play. I know that if I'm writing a new composition, I'll be busy practicing or finishing that piece. But the composing process is very hard to control. And sometimes you want to work on something new and you take out your guitar but then nothing happens. On the other hand, sometimes, you don't have the time to stay and play for hours and hours but when the ideas are coming, it's hard to stop it. I like to play the guitar very much, every day. It's a very free process.
Guitar.com: Well, I was thinking more of, when you're playing a concert and someone shouts out "Blue Box" (from Two Bridges), let's say. Are you comfortable enough to start pulling out some of your older material, even though you may not have had a chance to properly prepare that piece?
Jacques Stotzem: Oh, oh, that's a good question. I usually meet different people at my concerts and they want me to play this song or that song. Usually if the song is from one of my older recordings, I haven't had the chance to practice it. Most of the time, I can remember it but I don't like to risk it. The composing process is always moving. When I perform, I do a few pieces from my older recordings and then most of the program consists of material from my latest CD. It's more fresh to me and it's more close to what I want to tell the audience. From time to time, I might add a few older pieces.
Guitar.com: Maybe throw in a Stotzem classic, a jem...
Jacques Stotzem: Yes, the reason I pick one over another. Uh, I really can't tell you why. No reason, I think. Maybe because I like them. In Taiwan, they are going to release a Best Of collection and that made for a very interesting experience for me.
Guitar.com: A Best of Jacques? That's good to hear, how so?
Jacques Stotzem: Yes, yes. Well, in preparing for this release, they asked me "what do you want to put on that CD?" I said that I had to listen to all the old CD's to come up with a list. And that was a very good exercise for me because I discovered some pieces that I could play again live. There was some pieces that I had totally forgotten and a few sounded quite fresh and could fit right into my current program. It was a really interesting process because I never listen to my own CD's (laughs). I can tell you that. But I have so many pieces and I enjoyed listening to some of them and there are definitely ones that I will add to my concerts in the future.
Guitar.com: I see you also doing quite a few workshops and master classes. What do your workshops focus on?
Jacques Stotzem: Well, there are two different types of classes or workshops that I do. One of them is where guitarists are from all different skill levels attend. They come to the workshops to learn specific things about my fingerstyle technique or my compositions. Usually in this kind of class, I will play some pieces that I have composed that are not too difficult to play because you're addressing players of all skill levels. I have to be really open to all these players because you can't talk too technical and at the same time, you still need to address the needs of the better players. Then in the Master Class, I explain the way I play and the way I compose plus some of the reasons why I play the music I do. So in the workshops, the people bring their guitars and I help them learn in a more hands-on fashion. I give them tablatures so they can practice at home.
Guitar.com: The Master Class, then, usually consists of the higher grade plaWhen I do the Master Class, no one brings a guitar. It's more informative. Lots of questions and answers, I would assume.
Jacques Stotzem: Yes, that is correct.
Guitar.com: That's makes sense. Now you also have guitar tab available for most of your recordings, yes?
Jacques Stotzem: Yes, every CD has the tab book. Acoustic Music Records produces these publications. You can find them on their website.
Guitar.com: I've read that Stefan Grossman was a big influence on your early playing? Did you grow up listening to like, Reverend Gary Davis, Son House, Mississippi John Hurt and some of the other early blues players?
Jacques Stotzem: Yes, good question. As you know, I'm in Belgium. It's not like I grew up in New York or something. It's such an American Sound. It's true. I discovered the guitar through Stefan Grossman. I saw him once on television. When I saw him, I knew I wanted to learn how to play guitar but I wanted to learn exactly the way he was playing. At the time, I didn't know what that was. So over time, I tried very hard to learn this ragtime blues. It was difficult to find records and books about this type of playing. But I found some and through these books, I discovered the names of Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Blake and Big Bill Broonzy. It was not very easy to find recordings for these players back then.
Guitar.com: I'll bet, as you said, you weren't living in New York at the time.
Jacques Stotzem: Right, I cannot tell you that I'm a Rev. Gary Davis fan because I only have maybe one or two of his recordings here. But I learned much from Big Bill Broonzy and Blind Blake, Mississippi John Hurt. It's true that the beginning of my guitar technique is rooted in this style of playing. But at the time, I was learning this traditional ragtime blues but I was not singing. So I found out quickly that a big piece of this music was missing, if you don't sing. I was a bit frustrated because if you're just playing the guitar part of one of these songs, much of the song is missing. So I quickly decided that I needed to compose music for myself in order to be really happy with the guitar. I think that maybe, three or four years after I had purchased my first guitar, I began to compose and tried to find a more personal way for me to play guitar. I'm still a big fan of the blues though.
Guitar.com: What about players like John Fahey or John Renbourn?
Jacques Stotzem: Well, I was more close to the country blues then what John Fahey was doing. You can hear some of this in my compositions. It was a big influence on my playing. There is a composition of mine called "Acoustic Spirit." Its got that kind of a jazzy, Big Bill Broonzy style of playing, with a more modern chord progression but it still has the traces of country blues in it.
Guitar.com: Now the acoustic music scene in Europe is far different then the US. There are many players in Europe that we rarely, if ever get to see or hear Stateside. Do you have any favorites that some of our Guitar.com users might check out?
Jacques Stotzem: I have a long professional relationship with my producer, Peter Finger. I really like his playing. He's a very good player. What I like most about a guitar player who brings something different from other players. Do you know what I mean?
Guitar.com: Yeah, like that have their own voice.
Jacques Stotzem: Yeah, it's something personal. The reason why I like Peter is because he makes very different music from mine but he brings a new voice to the guitar. And that's what I prefer to listen to. It's really hard to give you names off the top of my head. But Peter comes to my mind.
Guitar.com: Peter is also the Publisher or the editor for Akustic Gitarre Magazine in Germany, yes?
Jacques Stotzem: Yes, he's the big boss of Acoustic Music Records as well.
Guitar.com: When does he have time to do any playing. He seems so incredibly busy, that guy.
Jacques Stotzem: You mean Peter? Yes, yes but he has a new partner so he should have more time to play now.
Guitar.com: How about in the States? Any favorite players?
Jacques Stotzem: In the States, yes there are a few players that I really like but not necessarily just acoustic. Pat Metheny - he's not a solo acoustic player but the music that I listen to isn't always acoustic music, in fact I don't listen to solo acoustic guitar very often. I prefer to listen to jazz. Mike Stern is another as well as John Scofield. Oh and Bill Frisell. Granted they aren't solo performers but I do enjoy their music very much. I'm a big jazz fan.
Guitar.com: Do you play electric guitar?
Jacques Stotzem: No, I just play acoustic. I have an electric guitar here but I never play it.
Guitar.com: Did you ever play in a rock band or a jazz band growing up.
Jacques Stotzem: No (laughs), no, never. I'm not sure why. There are many great electric players that I've liked for many years. For example, I'm a big fan of Rory Gallagher. He's a great player. I just bought a box set of his but I never play my electric (laughing).
Guitar.com: Gotcha' (laughing)
Jacques Stotzem: I'm also a big fan of Hendrix as well.
Guitar.com: Oh yes.
Jacques Stotzem: You attended my show in Anaheim, yes? At the end of the show I played "Purple Haze."
Guitar.com: Yes, I got to see that. It was a very proud moment. I thought you really ripped it up. I also caught your performance at the D'Addario booth as well. Both were great. Now you introduced a new signature guitar at this past NAMM show. Why don't you tell us a little bit about that?
Jacques Stotzem: It's a new brand introduced by Lowden called the Avalon Jacques Stotzem Signature Guitar. The first time I tried the Avalon was at their factory last year, it was the first one they have made. I was really blown away. It was quite good. It was different from the Lowden but coming from the same family. I really like the richness of the midrange and the roundness of the high-end. I really do like the Avalon. I've been playing Lowden for maybe seven or eight years now. And now I have this signature guitar and I really prefer it.
Guitar.com: Can you describe the guitar for us?
Jacques Stotzem: It has a Sitka Spruce top. All my guitars have that along with Indian Rosewood for the back and sides. It's actually a very normal guitar. But I have tried many different combinations but I always seem to come back to this configuration.
Guitar.com: And of course it has electronics onboard?
Jacques Stotzem: It has the Fishman Stereo Onboard blender, stock. And I also use D'Addario Strings on these guitars.
Guitar.com: Oh great. Which set do you use?
Jacques Stotzem: I use the new EXP's. EXP15, extra lights.
Guitar.com: How do you like them?
Jacques Stotzem: I like them very much. I like the sound of them because they sound very good when you first put them on and they last much longer. But what I really like are the plain steel strings. The way I play, I play with finger picks and I have quite a strong right-hand attack. And I like to use very light gauge strings. I have an .010 "E" string, extra light. The sound of the high string is very round. I really hate the sound of some strings when they sound thin. If you using very light strings and don't have a guitar with exceptional response AND you have strings that have that thin quality, you have nothing. The combination of the Avalon with D'Addario EXP Strings, the sound is very, very big. I had a workshop this past weekend and I was playing the Avalon and afterwards, everyone was asking me what type of strings I was using because the guitar was so loud. I said, I'm using D'Addario EXP .010.
Guitar.com: I would think that many fingerstyle players would use either a Light or Medium gauge set because, it's just you. You want as much sound, as much mass as possible for thick, fat tone.
Jacques Stotzem: I don't play in open tunings. If you play up the neck, for me, with very hard strings, it becomes much more difficult to play. I find it hard to keep my playing lyrical with heavier strings. But my action is quite high.
Guitar.com: So with your normal touring schedule, do you have an exercise regime that you utilize on a regular basis?
Jacques Stotzem: I do warm-up exercises everyday before I play and piece. I do scales. I do major and minor scales, chromatic scales. I also have some things that I have developed.
Guitar.com Do you have any plans to come to the US in 2003?
Jacques Stotzem: I met someone at the NAMM show that wants to help me organize a tour in Kansas and possibly play at Winfield (The Walnut Valley Fest - home to the National Flatpick and Fingerstyle championships). But most likely that will be next year.
Jacques Stotzem: Right. I will have a tour in the UK. A couple of times actually. (http://www.stotzem.com)
Guitar.com: Well, we'll be sure to check out your schedule and look forward to when you come to the US. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. All the best and much success.
Jacques Stotzem: Great speaking with you, hope to see you soon.