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The monthly Tea Break is a series of short, fun items in What's New Magazine
that also gives jazz musicians an opportunity to update us with what they are doing.


Katharina 'Tini' Thomsen

(Baritone Saxophone, Bass Clarinet) - July 2019


Tini Thomsen


German reeds player, composer and educator Katharina 'Tini' Thomsen is a busy woman. She deserves to be much better known in the UK and with the release of her albums Uphill Struggle - her 2018 debut album with Q4, and Shift, the third MaxSax album released in the Spring of 2019, that should help spread the word. She is also playing in this year’s Promenade Concerts which will give us the chance to hear more of her music.

On the Continent she has been building a strong following for her unique style of high-energy jazz-rock at festivals and venues across Europe. The highly respected North German Radio Big Band (NDR) and Hessischer Rundfunk Bigband (HR) have recorded and broadcast her music, and  Tini recently conducted  the Peter and the Wolf Project with the Swedish Norrbotten Big Band on an extensive tour.

You will see from her website (click here) that Tini started playing the saxophone at the age of 13 after falling deeply in love with Tony Curtis in the movie Some Like It Hot - that 1959 movie which also starred Jack Lemmon and, of course, Marilyn Monroe singing Running Wild:




Although Tini started out on the tenor saxophone, at fifteen she discovered that she could play lower by switching to the baritone and three years later she was playing bari in the Landesjugendjazzorchester in Hamburg and with the German Youth Jazz Orchestra. After two years studying jazz at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hamburg, she moved to Amsterdam in 2003 to study with Ferdinand Povel.

In 2005 an instrument with an even lower register, the bass clarinet, caught her attention, and she took the opportunity to study it as a second main subject with Erik van Deuren. In 2008 she finished her degree (saxophone), and in 2011 she finished her Masters degree in saxophone with distinction and with special note for composition. Composition has become a major part of her work and she has now received several awards for her compositions: from the Metropole Orchestra arrangers/composers workshop with Vince Mendoza in 2008; at the New Dutch arrangers contest in 2009 with a CD Recording, and in 2010 at the Bujazzo composers' contest, again with a CD recording.

Since her graduation in July 2011, Tini has been sought after as a freelance musician, arranger and composer and has performed across Europe with a wide range of ensembles including the Metropole Orchestra, the New Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra, the New Cool Collective Bigband, the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Incognito, The Temptations and Nils Landgren, the Ed Partyka Jazz Orchestra, Malte Schillers ‘Red Balloon’ and the MTV Unplugged sessions - the long list is on her website. She joined the late, great Dr John with a Dutch horn section for concerts at the North Sea Jazz Festival, Montreux Jazz Festival and Jazz in Middelheim; she has also played on the UK version of X Factor and is a committed educator running workshops and lessons.


Tini playing Shorts Cuts with the New Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra.






She took time out to call in for a Tea Break:


Hallo Tini, thanks for stopping by. Can I get you tea or coffee?

Tea please. If possible prepared filtered water.  


Yes, I can do that. Milk and sugar?

God no!

Word is that you were originally from Germany and then moved to Amsterdam – where are you based now?

Yes, I´m from Germany, moved to Amsterdam and stayed almost 15 years but now I´m back in Germany since a short while. I originally planned to stay in Holland for half a year for an exchange during my study, which obviously got a bit out of hand. 


It might have got out of hand but it seems like it turned out to be pretty constructive. Is the music scene there very different?

The Dutch music scene is crazy! Every style you can imagine and lots of intense characters but everything in a rather small space. If you are a good player in the Netherlands you will soon play throughout the whole country, whereas in Germany it stays local a bit longer, just because of the size of the country. But at the moment everything is changing so quickly anyway (I sound old!) and people are more connected beyond borders. 20 years ago one could hear a difference in the style of a country. Not sure if I could do that nowadays. One thing never changes though:  Ask me who is playing what instrument from a group of musicians and I can almost 100% certainly point out the brass players.



Lanteren Venster


Are there many jazz clubs in the city and do you have a favourite? And are there particular clubs that welcome jazz musicians from the UK and elsewhere?

Do you need gigs? ;-) .........I´m afraid that I have to answer those questions with logistics and music industry stuff. My favourite jazz club is the one where I can trust the sound guy to make us sound good and where I can park my car very close to the stage.

Seriously. No great programming or hip interior design with instruments hanging on the wall can make up for the sentence "you looked great on stage but we couldn’t hear you at all", followed by a long walk back to the car park, where I´m stuck for the night  because I didn’t see the opening times properly (that happened by the way). Ah, and the food! In Rotterdam is a big Jazz venue (Lantaren Venster) that doesn't really have a great vibe but the food is cooked by a Brazilian Lady with a lot of passion. I love it there and play better after her meals. In Amsterdam of course is the Bimhuis with a lot of international programming, good parking and very good food as well as very good sound engineers. 




I have to say that the baritone sax is one of my favourite instruments, but it is a bit heavy to carry around. Do you take it on the metro?

I try to avoid public transport. Either people hate me for using up THEIR space and I rarely travel with just one instrument (the bass clarinet is mostly with me, too) or they ask why I didn't learn the piccolo flute. Other often heard questions are: "How heavy is that bag? How can a little girl like you play such a big instrument?" At which point I wish I had a piccolo and probably shouldn´t mention what I would do to them with it! Or one of my favourites: "My nephew is playing the cello, too".

That results in me basically living in my car and when I was still living in Amsterdam I got parking - (and speeding) tickets quite a lot. Before that I was riding the bike a lot in Amsterdam with the bari on my back, bass clarinet on the shoulder, clarinet and flute dangling from the steering and somewhere another bag with music and computer and a flock of guardian angels on every side. Now I live in the country side far faaaar away from any public transport or even bicycle paths.


I wish we had a photo of you on the bike and all geared up. Who would you say is your favourite bari player?

Ronny Cuber for the many notes and Stephen 'Doc' Kupka for the Hurumph. 



Listen to Ronnie Cuber playing Passion Fruit.





And how much do you play your bass clarinet?

A lot.  7 out of 10 times as a combi.  Sometimes I get asked to play with classical ensembles which now scares the shit out of me. I used to do that much more often in Holland but now my sound doesn’t fit into the classical ideal any more. I did study classical main subject, you know. Also I own a contra bass clarinet and sometimes get asked to join a classical orchestra if the instrument is needed, for example once with Steve Vai as guest artist. Or the other day with the North German Radio Big Band and Randy Brecker. I had a pick up installed on the contra bass clarinet and during the concert the front of house sound engineer went crazy because he thought that a cable had broken while in fact it was just a healthy low, loud, beautiful sound of the contra bass clarinet….



Q4 - Tini Thomsen, Fiete Felsch, Björn Berger and Nigel Hitchcock



I love that story! Tell me more about your band Q4?

Nigel Hitchcock and I had the idea to reunite the famous sax quartet Itchy Fingers, which we did for a couple of gigs. Well, reunite meaning the men of the quartet Mike Mower and Nigel as original members plus two new members. That was all too complicated, mostly because 4 people living in 4 different countries wasn´t easy. So we continued with a Germany based quartet. Nigel and I equally contribute the tunes. His tunes have structure, logic and a lot of harmony, mine have some of the above, but mostly melody and a bit of a pop song approach. It works really great as a combination of our music styles. The other players are from the north of Germany and we hope to become rich and famous with it (tell me if my German "humour" doesn’t translate…).


Oh yes, it translates OK. I think it was UK saxophonist Ronnie Scott who quoted: “How does a jazz musician get one million dollars? He starts with two million dollars”. Perhaps 'Uphill Struggle' sums it up? At which point I have to say that I really like the Q4 debut album Uphill Struggle. Where did that title come from?

From the actual struggle of walking uphill, which we felt during the CD production. A lot went wrong in the process and it felt like climbing a high mountain on one foot against the wind. But we felt the satisfaction once we’ve reached the top and finally released the album. ("It´s all downhill from now on" we would joke!).



Listen to The Hunt from Uphill Struggle.





And how about Shift – I think that is the third album from MaxSax?

Now that you mention it..... even more went wrong during the process of making that album as well. I´d like to believe that I have that much influence on anything …!  Yes it´s the third album and I think we have made huge progress since the first one. On the first one I didn´t have a band to start with, the second album was actually planned as a demo recording… and now after some years of experimenting with the sound and a baritone as a lead instrument we have found something that works, at least I think. 'Shift', as in we 'shift up a gear, buckle up' - people can sample it here.



Tini with MaxSax playing Long Ride at the Bimhuis, Amsterdam in 2016




Is it true that you started playing the saxophone at thirteen after falling deeply in love with Tony Curtis in the movie Some Like It Hot? He had a terrible English accent in that movie!

Yes, it´s true, I got 'inspired' by Tony Curtis. I´m sorry. And even worse - in Germany we were watching movies with German synchronisation. Ha! He sounded lovely on that version… 


Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon in a scene from Some Like It Hot.





How much time did you get with Dr John at those concerts at the North Sea Jazz Festival, Montreux Jazz Festival and Jazz in Middelheim? What was your impression of him?

Oh he was lovely! And a bit scary. We even celebrated his birthday together. He didn´t like to hang with the band after the gigs but between the soundcheck and the gig we spent some time together. At some point he said that music is both a blessing and a curse at the same time. The curse is that he can´t stop. And so he did play until the very end..

It must be even more poignant now that he has passed away, but at the same time fantastic that you have those memories of him.



Dr John playing Right Place Wrong Time at Montreaux back in 1995.






Michael Brecker


What do you usually have in Amsterdam with your tea / coffee break? I have some biscuits here if you fancy one – bourbons, chocolate digestives, Hob Nobs ....?

Got any shortbread? If you haven’t got shortbread I´ll go for coffee (with a little bit of milk) and a cigarette. Unfortunately. 


I do have some shortbread tucked away, but you can have coffee if you like. If you could invite a past musician to play with Q4 – who would you invite, and what would you ask them during your tea break?

I would invite Michael Brecker, I would ask him to marry me in the tea break, and I would offer shortbread with it.


Michael Brecker





If you are desperate for a cigarette, pop out and have a puff and I'll see if Michael Brecker's spirit is free (and available).. In the meanwhile we check out Michael and Randy with the WDR Big band playing Strap Hanging ....


Michael and Randy Brecker with the WDR Big Band in 2007.





Who else have you heard recently that we should listen out for?

Good question! Gwilym Simcock is gonna release an album with the North German Radio Big Band, crazy stuff.


What do you have planned for the coming months?

Bit of arranging, conducting and playing. Actually a good mix in the coming months. Ah, Nigel and me are gonna play at the BBC Proms. And once that’s done I´m gonna spend some months in Scotland over the winter where I will hopefully write a lot of music and practice my tits off. Can I say it like that?


You can say it like that, but there are probably better ways of practicing that are less physically disastrous. Can I say it like that? We'll look out for you in the Proms and you'll get plenty of shortbread in Scotland. There's some more left here if you fancy it?

Yes please! I talk too much anyway! 


Tell you what - I'll make the coffee and break out the shortbread while you play Petal - that has to be an ideal way of celebrating Scotland!




Click here for Tini Thomsen's website.

Click here for details of Q4's album Uphill Strugggle.


Tini Thomsen


Utah Teapot


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