Jazz trombonist Nabeau Clairhout has made her breakthrough in recent years with her quartet N∆BOU. She will be one of the central musicians at the Brussels Jazz Festival in the coming days. However, she still has to fight prejudice.
“I was shocked when, during an open day at music school, a father asked me if the trombone was a suitable instrument for girls,” says Nabeau Clairhout. At the age of 29, she had become a figurehead for the machine that wasn’t in the top drawer at the academies.
- Trombonist, composer and bandleader of Antwerp Nabeau Clerhout is artist-in-residence at the Brussels Jazz Festival in Flagey.
- The festival mainly features European jazz for a long weekend. The label is more versatile and feminine than before Corona.
- Claerhout presents three projects, with the icing on the cake being the concert by The Trombone Band with American trombonist Robin Eubanks as special guest.
This is exactly what motivated the Antwerp musician, who has made her breakthrough in recent years with her quartet N∆BOU. Why learn guitar or piano if everyone else is already doing it? Because her family didn’t think the bassoon was cool enough and the ukulele was too expensive, she ended up with the trombone. I have never regretted it. I am even beginning to like my machines more and more, precisely because there is still so much to discover.
She recalls a conversation with a fellow student at the Royal Academy of Music in London. “We imagined that each square of graph paper represented something someone had done with a jazz guitar. Then we did the same exercise for a jazz trombone. Our conclusion was that the windows would remain nearly empty.
Clearhot listened to rock, classical and R&B at home. Throwing all of these sources into a jazzy mess, she delivers a lemonade that tastes sweet, but still has just enough bite. “Because we’re not just after John Coltrane or Miles Davis, many find our quartet’s music difficult to identify with, but I love it.”
Check marks and talents
“I always try to stay polite in conversations with parents, but the disappointment was great on the inside,” Clearhot still looks back at the open day. “I hope that if the girl in question was a mother, such questions would not be asked anymore.”
The catch-up maneuvers around gender diversity have left their mark on the jazz community, which has traditionally been a masculine milieu. The trombonist’s appearance on posters for the Brussels Jazz Festival gives her mixed feelings. She realizes that this is an acknowledgment of her talent, but it falls short.
I hope programmers will not content themselves with my post to specify what looks good in their files: young, female, colored.
In Rotterdam my head was big on the school truck. Wrong, but the ideal remains that one day it doesn’t matter who or what you are and only the music matters. The fact that my success has lasted longer than a one-time wonder helps me to evaluate all the attention in a positive way. (Laughs)
Clearhot studied jazz at the art school Codarts in Rotterdam. There she received workshops from both bass guitarist Rainier and drummer Jamie Peet, the two Dutch musicians with whom she will open the Jazz Festival in Brussels on Thursday. She had been familiar with bass, a resounding name in the European jazz circuit, for some time. Her boyfriend, guitarist Machell Hermans, is a huge fan, so his music has become part of her regimen.
If I put Renier’s compositions next to the ones I wrote for N∆BOU, I might be remiss. (Laughs) I find it particularly inspiring that he loves to play several guitar lines at the same time. Pete got to know Clearhot better at the Amsterdam Modern Orchest (AM.OK). A few days before this interview, they rehearsed as a trio for the first time and she’s still glowing.
I don’t necessarily want to get people to take on the trombone, but I do want to encourage them not to do what everyone else is doing.
Clearhot also collaborates well with singer Lynn Cassiers. Partly because she didn’t do much about her surplus experience. We sniffed each other out during a blind date on Corona’s version of Leuven Jazz, then did a project for Zonzo Compagnie and now we play together often, like later on Flagey. If you perform for a lot of big teams, it’s a good idea to have something smaller on hand. With only vocals, trombones, and effects, we have to play the same string instrument and drums. This is a playground.
The icing on the cake is her residency with the trombone band she put together in the wake of being crowned Young Jazz Talent at Gent Jazz. Her response was to everyone saying that she was the only trombonist they knew. I’ve tried to bring together young trombonists who are all building careers. In October we recorded a CD at Brussels Jet Studio with American Robin Eubanks as guest, one of the most important modern jazz trombonists. Then he played mainly solo improvisations. In Flagey he will really play, as the voice of the sixth trombone.
Sweet and bitter
The recent bankruptcy of Jazz en Muziek, the non-profit organization behind Gent Jazz and Jazz Middelheim, was a bitter pill to swallow. You have not yet received the €10,000 you will receive in 2021 as a Young Jazz Talent.
“I don’t suppose we’re at the top of the list of creditors either. My management is trying to fix it because the financial stalemate is there. However, I would call it a bittersweet story rather than a bitter one, because without this award we would not have dared to launch such a unique but very expensive project as Trombone Ensemble.At the same time, you can’t overestimate how important festivals have been to my musical and personal development.By the way just like Rataplan and Flagy.It’s only because they continued to believe in us that we were able to realize such a big project.
It would be nice if the next generation of musicians used the trombone more often. How else are these diamonds filled? But instead of getting everyone on the trombone, I want to encourage people to not just do what everyone else is doing. As a child I consciously started looking for something that would make a difference. You don’t have to be the salmon swimming upstream every time, but you can sometimes look back. See something you like: do it!
Nabeau Clearhot opened the Brussels Jazz Festival in Flagey, Brussels on Thursday with Reynier Bass and Jimmy Pete, on Saturday with the Trombone Ensemble. Robin Eubanks and On Sundays with Lynn Casiers.