Q&A with guitar virtuoso Nils Jiptner (Nils), has been one of the most successful forces in the contemporary Jazz genre

"I would like the music styles to be less segregated, more mixed up. Radio stations, music programs should play a wider variety of music, not be so specialized to one narrowly defined genre."

Nils Jiptner: Caught In The Groove

Guitar virtuoso Nils (Jiptner) has been one of the most successful forces in the Contemporary Jazz genre. With 4 number 1 Hits in the Billboard Smooth Jazz charts, including the Song of the Decade 2001-2010 “Pacific Coast Highway” and the Song of the Year 2011 ”Jump Start”, he stands out amongst his peers. “His CD ‘Jazz Gems – The Best of Nils’ could easily be titled “The Best of Contemporary Jazz” and it is pure joy and exhilaration reliving these masterfully composed and produced hits.” As songwriter and producer he used his “Midas touch ” to provide hits for many artist in this genre, including Lisa Addeo, George Benson, Brian Simpson, Reza Khan, Alvin Pope, Tony Saunders to name a few. LA based (German-born) jazz guitarist Nils belongs to the first guard of top guitarists of the smooth jazz genre with albums like Blue Planet (1998), Pacific Coast Highway (2005), Ready To Play (2007), Up Close And Personal (2009), What The Funk (2010), City Groove (2012),  Alley Cat (2015), and Play (2018).

(Nils Juptner / Photo by  Bob Bussar)

Guitarist, composer and producer Nils, one of Smooth Jazz’s premiere hitmakers and producers for over 15 years, released his latest 10th album titled "Caught In The Groove" (2020, Baja/TSR Records) where meets an audience in difficult times. Nils plays on the album guitars, synths, Rhodes and programming. He is supported on selected tracks by Oliver C. Brown (percussion), Johnny Britt (organ, vocals and horns), Mitch Forman (piano), Derrick Dmar Martin, Tony Moore, Gorden Cambell (drums), Darryl Williams, Reggie McBride, Darryl Jones, Carsten Schmelzer (bass), Clydene Jackson (Rhodes), and Dov and the LoveStar Strings (live string section).

Interview by Michael Limnios                          Photos by Bob Bussar & Pete Mars

How has the Jazz and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I think music opened me up to the world. I grew up in Germany, my first influences were classic Rock bands like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd… and as a rebellious teenager they provided the soundtrack for my life. As I grew older, I was introduced to funk music and R&B and got totally emerged in that. It was all Earth, Wind and Fire, Commodores, Funkadelic… Then I got into jazz, when I heard Steps Ahead in Munich, Michael Brecker laid down one of the most amazing solos I ever heard. Ultimately music was the reason for me to move to the US and start my career here.  Now that I am a recording artist and have fans all over the world, I love the fact that music crosses all national and language boundaries.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

My creative drive comes simply from the enjoyment of doing it. It’s never a chore. I always had music in my head and I just love doing it. And as to my sound, I like funky, upbeat grooves and soulful ballads. I add in some of the energy of Rock’n Roll and sprinkle in some sophistication of jazz. My songbook is a way of getting other musicians into playing my music. Ideally, I want my music to be played long after I am gone. 

Which meetings have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

One of those experiences would certainly be meeting George Benson. He wanted to meet me in person before he agreed to record a duet with me on my Blue Planet CD. We went to his hotel room, he pulled out a $50,000 D'Aquisto jazz guitar, put it in my hands and said play. After freezing for a millisecond, we started jamming and had the greatest time. The producer who helped me with that record taught me one of the most important lessons, in that you have to create your own opportunities. Open your own doors, if you wait for someone to do it for you, you might be waiting forever.

"My creative drive comes simply from the enjoyment of doing it. It’s never a chore. I always had music in my head and I just love doing it. And as to my sound, I like funky, upbeat grooves and soulful ballads. I add in some of the energy of Rock’n Roll and sprinkle in some sophistication of jazz. My songbook is a way of getting other musicians into playing my music. Ideally, I want my music to be played long after I am gone."  (Nils Jiptner / Photo by Pete Mars)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

I like telling the story of my "Spinal Tap” moment (referring to the movie). Right after Pacific Coast Highway was a hit, I started my first tour across the US. I remember flying to Orlando and the radio station put me up in a 5-star hotel. My wife was with me and we had a wonderful time. The next day we had the gig, it turned out to be in a corner of a Home Depot or similar place. A guy was demonstrating vacuum cleaners, another was selling detergents and in the back, there was a stage for me to perform with backing tracks for about 5 listeners under bright cold neon lights. The next day we travelled to Charlotte, No. Carolina and when we arrived at the hotel, there was vomit in the elevator and the room smelled like they tried to cover up a dead body with lysol. My wife refused to stay, and we found another room. The gig the next day was then the total opposite. It was a roof party in front of a cheering and dancing crowd.  We had the greatest time.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

In popular music I miss bands. I know they still exist, but many of the big acts are just somebody in front singing a song with 5 or more dancers behind them exercising synchronized swimming in stage. I want to see the musicians play the music.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I would like the music styles to be less segregated, more mixed up. Radio stations, music programs should play a wider variety of music, not be so specialized to one narrowly defined genre.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Write your own music and create your own sound. Don't try to imitate others.

"The producer who helped me with that record taught me one of the most important lessons, in that you have to create your own opportunities. Open your own doors, if you wait for someone to do it for you, you might be waiting forever." (Nils Jiptner / Photo by Pete Mars)

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

I have been getting several fan letters telling me they lost a loved one and my music has helped them to get through the day. Those are the letters that make me humble as well as proud having created something that helped someone through a difficult time. I always describe music as a language that communicates feeling through sound. So even simple things like making someone get amp and dance, put a smile on their face or get that euphoric feeling that only music can bring out, that’s what it’s all about.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I’d say I would love to have been at Woodstock, seeing Jimmy Hendrix and Janice Joplin perform.

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