Friday, March 27, 2009

A Visit with Jazz Bassoon Great Paul Hanson

Last Summer I had the privilege of having Paul Hanson over for a chat and exchange of ideas. Paul has a great amount of energy and spirit. Ive decided to publish our visit in the form of an interview. Paul is a real bassoonist playing jazz, that is to say his sound and the way he gets around the horn is amazing, this is not just a passing hobby. Paul is in Japan playing with Cirque du soleil. If you get a chance you must check out his recordings. Rufus Olivier

Here we go:
RO: what's it like to be the first bassoonist in a Cirque show.

PH:It is totally amazing. I did play a bassoon part in a previous show (SALTIMBANCO) but that was only a short part. This role was offered to me as a bassoonist because they had
scouted me and decided to put me in the band. My audition included playing english horn,tin whistle, bass clarinet, clarinet and bassoon but it seemed like to me that they really wanted bassoon the whole time. My wife (also a bassoonist)remembers them asking me in 2006 (in Buenos Aires) if I would want to go
to Tokyo. They by then had seen my audition DVD. They are always looking
for musicians who can improvise and play any styles.

RO: what's it like to be part of the creation process of a Cirque show
PH:It was interesting but too long. Too much time sitting around in Montreal at their world headquarters in the winter playing 5 tunes a day and then doing nothing much else. The director (Francois Girard, THE RED VIOLIN) wanted us there to help inspire the gymnasts and acrobats. I suppose we did-we also had to do Yoga and movement classes which I guess were helpful. We did try a lot of music eventually and as a band we tried different approaches and
arrangements all the time. Every one of us came up with ideas and lines that ended up in the show.

RO: what's it like to perform day in and day out this show.
PH:It is very incredible-I wish everyone could see this fantastic show (I'll put the show URL on the bottom of this article)The music is very central to the show. As musicians-we are seen and heard individually a lot more than on most Cirque shows. Our show sound design is in surround sound (170 speakers in the house) and there's a lot of attention to the soloists. Our violinist (Paul Lazar of Paris) and I are featured a lot-we kind of parallel our soprano and tenor singers.
The whole band appears twice onstage at the end of the show-for the trapeze act where we are set behind the trapeze act on a parallel 40 feet in the air-and at the finale where we come out of the stage on a riser and then we go on a revolving ring.So we are seen much more than on most Cirque shows. That is so cool! The endurance of playing this show is an issue. The part was designed around things I do so naturally they wrote a lot of english horn-type parts way up high (I play parts up to Eb and often in solos go to high G). I just recently decided to switch
bocals for a number because the main bocal was sharp in the tenor register. Now I have solved that problem by switching bocals and I'm glad I did. During Creation I never thought my part was hard-but during weeks of performance I learned that it is quite a part endurance-wise.

RO: what's it like to do what you do (play jazz/fusion/world music/classical) on bassoon with your special equipment (FRAP microphone, effects) with Cirque.
PH:It's very special to me. They really wanted a combination of my musical energy, creativity and bassoon playing for this gig. They don't even know at Cirque that it is totally uncommon to have a FRAP microphone for the bassoon! To them it's just like seeing a violinist with a pickup-but they quickly learned that the quality of sound I get with the mic is perfect for such a big venue (2100 seats). I do have an overhead mic but it's not the primary sound source of the bassoon for them-the overhead helps maintain an acoustic feeling when they need it. When I go onstage I have a wireless setup that works well too. They have some of the most advanced sound equipment imaginable and it's very complex. They have worked on my sound and my wife Cynthia Hanson who you all know was most impressed with the quality of the sound. Without getting too technical-we are all linked by a click track and time code and different scenes that are maintained by our programmer (our guitarist) and managed by our bandleader. We hear our mix through in-ear monitors. As a band-we really don't like having to play with backing tracks but this is the modern way Cirque does everything-we're just glad that you can also hear the band too atop the pre-recorded orchestra. Isn't that a trip? They go to Romania to record an orchestra and that orchestra is played 380 times a year as backing tracks for us! It's a weird business isn't it?.... Oh well.

RO: what's it like working and living in Tokyo

PH:Fantastic. Sometimes we miss things like Honey Nut Cheerios and the Napa Valley, the Redwoods and all that wonderful Bay Area stuff.
But this is a fantastic adventure and there's so much going on in Tokyo. We have gotten out in the summer to the coast and the beaches
are wonderful. Cirque Du Soleil has their own school for performer's children and our daughter Bella attends the school-she's thriving.
Our son Zach also goes to school-the international preschool 3 blocks away. It's a very nice neighborhood that Cirque put us up in-we
are staying in a wonderful condo with a great view of Tokyo Bay.

RO: what are your hopes and dreams for the future there.
PH:My hopes are that we continue to get to know people here and the town and get Cynthia into some playing situations too! The kids
love going to Disneyland as often as they want and they are starting to make friends. I hope to stay here awhile but I'm not sure
exactly how long that will be. I hope that when I leave there is another hungry bassoonist who wants this fantastic job!