A magazine for guitar players quotes the following typical sayings of Van Iterson: about the sound of his instrument ` I used to try all kinds of separate hi fi material but I know now that sound primarily comes from the fingers. At home I always practice without amplifiers. That way you’re forced to get the best out of your fingers.’ And a charming `homely’ one about his love for the guitar: `A few times a year I fall asleep on the couch with the guitar on my lap. In the early morning my children wake me up ordering me to go to bed because they want to watch children’s tv’.
Martijn van Iterson may be down to earth but he obviously has a Dream. As he says himself in his straightforward, unaffected way: `I dream of the ultimate guitar solo because as far as I’m concerned it hasn’t happened yet’.
Crucial moments in an artist’s life? Van Iterson can come up with two. ‘When I was 14, hearing guitarist Peter Tiehuis. Then I knew music would be my career. A kind of moment of truth. Tiehuis showed me that a fat jazz guitar is not the only guitar to play. Wim Overgauw’s guitar helped me a lot too on this path. Not so much because it was Wim’s but because it’s such a wild, crazy instrument – the first guitar I played that really returned the feeling I put into it. You take it, play it and you know immediately!’
Van Iterson’s voice is best understood through his music. He is constantly evaluating and is the first to acknowledge that to live with and through jazz is not the easiest of choices. ‘After the Bird Award, the phone hasn’t stopped ringing. However, there was a time when I considered doing something else – like only playing as a pastime. I applied for a ‘proper’ job and was interviewed by a gentleman in an office. He had an employment contract on his desk and I looked around to see who my colleagues would be. At that point I got up and walked out. From then on my musical career has improved! Because I realised why I did what I was doing’.
2004 was a beautiful year for Martijn van Iterson. Unanimous praise followed the release of his second CD ‘The Whole Bunch’ (Munich Records). Its international release was ranked top of the American Jazz Chart for radio play. And then of course that award at the 29th North Sea Jazz Festival: the Bird Award as ‘Artist Deserving Wider Recognition’. Presenting the award to Van Iterson, fellow guitarist Pat Metheny had some difficulty pronouncing his name and commented to a Dutch journalist ‘What a guitar player! But can’t he change his name to Martin von Schmidt or something?’.
The Bird Award Jury complimented Van Iterson, calling him ‘a sincere musician with his own unpolished sound and characteristic personal style. He possesses excellent timing and improvises in his own unique manner. As a composer Van Iterson is still underestimated’.
In The Netherlands, van Iterson has long been a favourite of fellow jazz musicians and I was told many times ‘Martijn van Iterson is the one you should hear; he’s a musician’s musician’.
Van Iterson himself doesn’t blow his own trumpet. His first reaction to the Bird Award, whose nominees included Fred Hersch, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Bugge Wesseltoft, Joris Teepe, Matt Wilson and Jason Yarde, was almost comically cool ‘That’s nice, it makes a change’. Speaking of Rosenwinkel, who he’d played a duet with at one of the North Sea Jazz Festivals, Van Iterson told me enthusiastically ‘His latest CD ‘Heartcare’ really is very different. He uses the computer, with samples and ordinary instruments. That sound is something new to me and he interweaves many traditional instruments’. Van Iterson keeps his ears wide open.
Born on July 1 1970 in Leiden, Van Iterson graduated cum laude from the Hilversum Academy of Music more than 10 years ago. He was a member of the Jazz Dance Formation ‘All the King’s Men’; was a guest solo player with well known orchestras like ‘The Skymasters’ and the Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw and worked with several leading names like Jim Hall and Jean ‘Toots’ Thielemans. In 1996, he recorded with a.o. guitarist Mike Stern and during a project of Stefan Lievestro he worked together with drummer Gary Novak (Chick Corea) and pianist Thierry Eliez (Dee Dee Bridgewater). He plays in the cross over formation D-code, in the quintet of bass player Ruud Jacobs, in the quartet of trombonist Ilja Reijngoud, in the jazz rock formation Knoertz and has his own quartet with pianist Karel Boehlee, bass player Frans van Geest and drummer Martijn Vink. Prizes were many: second in the Pall Mall Swing Award (1989), second in the Wessel Ilcken Award (1991), Heineken Cross Over Award (1991).
That is in the past he says modestly, without pretence, and wonders – characteristically – whether such a review should be in a story like this.
At the Hilversum Academy of Music he was taught by Dutch guitar legend Wim Ovengaauw. ‘An inspiration, a coach; we talked more in the pub around the corner than we actually played together but he taught me to keep an open mind to more musical styles’. Wim showed me the thumb-grips – that way you have an extra finger and you can grab wider chords – it cost me a year of pain in my thumb!’ Van Iterson still plays one of Wim Overgaauw’s old Gibson’s (an ES-125). ‘There were a lot of guitars hanging on the wall at his place. I picked this one because it felt the best; then he said ‘take it with you, I’ll have it back some day’’. A year and a half later, Wim Overgaauw died. Since 1995 Martijn van Iterson has been his successor at the academies in Amsterdam and The Hague.
To Van Iterson, there are no boundaries or set styles in music: jazz rock, fusion, cross over, acoustic jazz. ‘The balance has shifted towards acoustic jazz’, he comments. ‘Not consciously, it just happened. I like it all, as long as there is room to improvise’. And jazz has always been there, from his childhood onwards. His father was an amateur jazz pianist with a large record collection. When Martijn was 9 he started guitar lessons, from 15 onwards he was playing at the Leiden Jazz Café ‘The Duke’. ‘There was jazz there almost every day, the generation just a bit older than mine played there: Ben van der Dungen, Jarmo Hoogendijk, Toon Roos and pianist Cees Slinger, every week with a guest musician. So I just absorbed it all! Now and again I played with them, they were so much better than I was – very good to stretch your limits!’
Coming sunday Martijn will appear on Dutch national television with the Peter Beets trio.
April the 27th, 10.30 a.m., Ned.1, Vrije Geluiden
More info : http://www.vpro.nl/programma/vrijegeluiden/
Click the link below for a live audio registration of Martijn with the Ilja Reijngoud Quartet at the Kraaij & Balder, Eindhoven (NL) on february the 8th, 2008.