Roland, what inspired you to start a career as a musician?
I started playing music when I was ten. First I began with the clarinet, later I studied saxophone, then I went to the Swiss Jazz School, and the Conservatorium was later — the classical music education where I also studied saxophone. But I think the roots are actually going back to my father because he had about 20 LPs — and all jazz. So the only thing I heard when I was young was Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington — this stuff, you know, never classical music. So jazz was very close to me. Later I had to think about going into classical music. I played all the classical music on the clarinet but I'm an improvising musician, so jazz was the right place to be for me.
Why the saxophone? What's so special in this instrument for you?
My mother told me that I have to start learning music with clarinet and after clarinet saxophone is a logical continuation. When I was younger, I played jazz on the clarinet all the time. As I grew older, this Dixieland swing became a little bit boring, so I started to get into the "cool" jazz, you know, Mice Davis, John Coltrane — and then I began playing the saxophone.
Who would you say inspired you the most when it comes to music?
Saxophone, in fact, has different instruments - you have an alto saxophone and a tenor saxophone. On tenor, it’s certainly Coltrane in the beginning, later Jan Garbarek — a Norwegian saxophone player. Then when I played the alto saxophone, it was David Sanborn, which influenced me the most.
Do you remember your first concert? What was it like?
Oh, my very first concert? (Laughs) You know, I played in a school orchestra, so let's say this was the first time. But the most important thing for me was when I was 12 years old and I joined a Dixieland band. They were all elder, about 70-80 years old, so I was the Little Benjamin. We just ran around and played everywhere. It's also interesting that the very first band I gathered consisted of a drummer, two clarinet players and...a tuba. We had a school party and performed there. I think that was the first time I played for a big audience (laughs)
What are you looking forward to in your career?
You know, I'm not a typical musician who works with a band or who is writing his own compositions and all these things. I'm very successful in finding the right music for the right place or the right people. What I like very much at the moment is being in the crowd — sometimes when I have the tech like a wireless microphone, Bluetooth for the background music, I walk through the people. The audience can also order music — if I have the possibility, I will play that as well.
I don't have these kinds of goals like "I would like to play that and that". I've played a lot of stuff and with many people — with Zucchero and Boy George, at the Roger Federer's wedding [a famous Swiss tennis player], at a fashion show in Prague. I also took part in the Art on Ice — it's a big show with ten thousand people watching. So I did a lot of this stuff, but for me to be a little more intimate with the audience is very satisfying.
Are you familiar with any Ukrainian musicians?
Not yet — but I will have a little spontaneous show with Khrystyna Soloviy. She will also have a concert tonight, so we’ve made an agreement to work together for a few songs. It's very spontaneous — we will see what happens.
Is it your first time in Ukraine actually?
Yes, it is. I played in Moscow once on a club opening.
Oh, that's very chic.
It was great. But indeed it's the first time I'm in Ukraine.
I see. So how do you like it here?
I arrived yesterday evening so I had just a little walk — but I already saw beautiful buildings and that people are very friendly. You know, in Zurich people are quite cold. They don't look at you on the street, always fixed on their own stuff in their phones. It's a tough atmosphere — Zurich is a beautiful city but the people are a little bit cold, too cold for my liking. Here, the people I've met are more natural.
Photos provided by Roland Graf.