The Buma Boy Edgar Prize, the most prestigious award for jazz and improvised music in the Netherlands, has been awarded this year to the pianist, keyboard player and composer Jasper van ’t Hof (Enschede, 1947).
The award consists of a sculpture by Jan Wolkers and a cash prize of €12,500. Van ’t Hof receives the award in recognition of his impressive oeuvre, stemming from a fifty-year career as a performing artist. For decades, whether playing piano, synthesizer or any other form of keyboard, van ’t Hof has continually revealed himself to be the perfect embodiment of the genre-transcending performer and composer.
Van ’t Hof has always approached jazz as a broad canvas, allowing him to roam freely between a wide variety of styles, ranging from freebop to jazz-rock, free jazz and fusion, and refuses to be hemmed in even today, more than fifty years after he first took to the stage.
His versatility and long and distinguished record is so impressive that the jury, in its first deliberation, wondered why the talented keyboard virtuoso hadn’t been awarded the prize earlier.
The reasons for this late recognition are partly to do with the musician himself. Although Jasper van ’t Hof is as Dutch as Leyden cheese, much of his activity has long been conducted abroad. Our eastern neighbours, in particular, were quick to recognize his significance, as well as his uncommonly powerful stage presence. This so-called X-Factor of his remains as compelling as ever. Whenever he sits at the keyboard, there’s always the sense that something unusual is about to happen.
This and his other notable qualities were finally made evident to a wider audience in 1968, when van ’t Hof and the drummer Pierre Courbois broke through with the band Association P.C. Courbois once described van ’t Hof as a ‘complete maverick who always does what you least expect.’
This has held true ever since. He played free jazz with some of the style’s greatest exponents, such as the tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp. Yet this didn’t stop him from denouncing the basic premise of free jazz, which he sometimes described as ‘a platform for experimental music with frequently questionable results’.
In collaboration with Courbois, van ’t Hof conceived a version of electric jazz that differed markedly from its American variant. In his version, musical adventure played a much larger role in its performance than the display of instrumental virtuosity. Van ’t Hof was also one of the first major European jazz musicians to recognise the improvisational merits of the synthesizer.
In the seventies, he also made a huge impression internationally with Pork Pie, an eclectic jazz-rock band featuring the saxophonist Charlie Mariano, whom he greatly admired and had managed to enlist.
While he has always welcomed collaboration, van ’t Hof is also a superb soloist, something he has long demonstrated not only on the piano and synthesizer, but also on the church organ.
Besides proving his credentials as a jazz musician par excellence in countless small ensembles, he was also responsible for establishing a significant link between jazz and so-called “world music” in the eighties, via his Afro-European group Pili Pili. Of the more than seventy recordings to his name, it was those with this band that brought him the most international success. Van ’t Hof formed the band in the early eighties as a vehicle for expressing his love for African music through jazz, particular the rhythms inherent in music from the Democratic Republic of Congo. This was the band that brought the now globally famous star Angélique Kidjo to the public’s attention.
In spite of the group’s immense success, van ’t Hof refused the temptation to restrict himself to one band or tried-and-tested style. His hunger for new collaborative opportunities remained insatiable. Luckily for the Dutch public, these opportunities increasingly began to present themselves in the Netherlands. The musicians he’s worked with recently include the saxophonists Paul van Kemenade and Tineke Postma and the percussionists Han Bennink and Jamie Peet.
He maintains a lively interest in the explorations of the younger generation of jazz musicians, which has recently yielded some wonderful albums, such as No Hard Shoulder (2016), which he recorded with Dick de Graaf (sax), Stefan Lievestro (double bass) and Jamie Peet (drums), who make up the rest of his quartet (“¼tet”). This recent collaboration with his fellow countrymen has had the pleasant outcome of increased appearances at home. And while some might consider Jasper van ‘t Hof a name from the past, one who was finally acknowledged last year by way of a career-spanning box set, Jazz Because, he is in fact more involved in developments in jazz today than ever before.
On behalf of the jury,
Gijsbert Kamer (Utrecht, 2 April 2018)
The Buma Boy Edgar Prize 2018 jury consists of:
Marcel Kranendonk, chairperson (music consultant, producer and coach, Utrecht)
Gijsbert Kamer, secretary (music journalist, de Volkskrant)
Eddy Geerts (music programmer for De Machinist and DJ, Rotterdam)
Herman te Loo (freelance journalist and music programmer for Jazz Inverdan, Zaandam)