Jazz isn’t just a musical style, it’s a way of life for consummate performer Johan Bylling Lang.
A little girl dances happily, following the rhythm of the music. She looks excited, like the rest of her friends. They all are interested in music. Johan Bylling Lang smiles while he is playing a street party in a crowded square of Blågårds Plad in Copenhagen. These children have the same illusion that he had when his music teacher gave him a saxophone. He was 13 and he had no idea that a dream would become his job.
Nowadays, he plays in several bands (Jazz Five, Bylling and his Red Hot Stompers…) and gives as many concerts as he can in Denmark. But at the moment, he is quite busy taking care of his new creation; ‘Doin’ my thing.’ “It’s a mix of all the places that I have been visiting the last five years,” he explains. This CD is full of his experiences in New York, New Orleans and, of course, Scandinavia. Flying solo was something he had been considering for two years. Finally, he recorded his own music and put his name on the cover. It’s not the first time he’s played his own songs, it’s something he used to do with bands like Jazz Five. “There was some music that I could not play with the different groups, I would not feel comfortable doing that,” Bylling Lang says.
He wanted to go one step forward. His jazz is mixed with other styles that make his music more modern. He usually plays classic jazz, but ‘Doin’ my thing’ also has new links and influences. He is really happy with the result of writing his own music and forming a new band. But this “great experience” can be really hard as well. He compares his job with having his own company. “When you are ill, like in another kind of business, you do not earn money that day,” Bylling Lang explains after confessing that he has been quite sick the whole week.
However, he is one of those lucky musicians who earn enough money to live from his job. “You have to be awake all the time. You need to find customers (by) sending emails, calling people…,” he advises. He never stops working. In fact, he gives about 200 concerts a year on all kind of stages, from any street in Copenhagen to a jazz venue in the city centre. But concerts are not the only thing that he does to earn money. Two years ago, he taught in a school of music, an experience that he remembers with a smile. “Music gives a lot of opportunities to make money while you are enjoying yourself,” he explains. For those musicians who want to make their hobby their job, Denmark provides good opportunities. Bylling Lang admits that taxes are really high (40%), but on the other hand, he believes that the government really supports artists and musicians. If you want to take a year off to create new projects, you can ask for money to live on during that period. If you need time to make your music, it is possible to have it. “In that way, we are very fortunated in this country,” he says.
What’s more is that Copenhagen takes care of jazz. There is a long tradition and the city is considered one of the capitals of jazz, specially since the 60s. It was a time when a lot of Americans moved to Denmark. Most of them stayed, got married, so the music they brought with them started becoming more and more popular in the country. “In my opinion, thanks to those immigrants jazz is so important in our culture,” the saxophonist says. He’s right. In fact, it’s not difficult to hear this kind of music in the city. You can usually find people playing a cello or a clarinet in the streets. It feels like the atmospheric soundtrack of Copenhagen, that matches amazingly well with the sound of a saxophone: elegant and sophisticated.
Jazz is running into Johan Bylling Lang’s veins. You notice it as soon as you meet him. But that is not the only sort of music that he likes. “If the music is good, it does not matter what kind of music it is, I like it,” he explains. So, he plays all rhythms and he is not afraid to mix different ones. In fact, in one week he’ll play a jazz concert, a ska show and with a rock band and in a church; because he likes to experiment. “But I admit that sometimes it can be a bit confusing,” he laughs.
During his long career, this saxophonist has played a lot of concerts. That is the reason why it is not surprising that his best memory was on a stage. He has participated five times at Roskilde (the biggest rock festival in Europe, every first weekend of July), where you can see in live important names like Bryan Adams or Prince. So, playing on the biggest stage with a Danish hip hop act in front of 40.000 people was something unforgettable for him. “It is not always like that,” he laughs looking at the public. It is not so crowed today, but it is enough to look at people’s smiles to realize that jazz is the perfect melody for Copenhagen.