Bernadette’s Take on
Félix Stüssi, Montreal, Québec
A Global Jazzer from Glarus
If you happen to see a guy in Montreal on a bicycle, pulling an electro-piano on a bike-trailer behind him, it is Félix Stüssi. He does not drive a car because this talented jazz musician is very environmentally conscious. “Incurably green”, he calls himself.
Even in winter, he moves around on his bike in Montreal! Rumour has it, the piano keys are sometimes frozen solid when he arrives at his destination.
You should immediately stop Félix and ask him where he is going. Because Swiss born Félix is a well-known professional Jazz musician, with a loyal following in Switzerland and in Canada, with four CD’s in the stores and a fifth coming out soon.
His grandfather was an alpine herdsman in the mountains of the Swiss canton Glarus when he was young. When Félix was 23 years old, he also spent time as a goat herdsman on the same alp (mountain pasture). He got his first piano lessons when he was nine years old.
A view from the Vorderglärnisch mountain onto Gleiter (Oberstafel of the Vorderschlattalpli) – for those who are familiar with the Klöntal in Switzerland. Here is Félix with his friend Giorgio Hösli, a publisher of books about the alps (zalpverlag). You can see why Félix loves this area – but please don’t fall down, guys!
Then, the boy from the Alps grew up and wanted to sail the oceans. A sailboat took him from Portugal to the Canary Islands, Senegal, Brazil and Martinique in the Caribbean. From there he flew on a plane to New Orleans, and then a truck driver took him to Toronto in Canada.
Félix hitchhiked to Montreal where he met his future wife. He now lives there, but in between he did a lot of other stuff (it almost makes you dizzy to list them all): like traveling some more, living with his wife for five years in Switzerland, going to university to study history, ethnomusicology and English. Last but not least Félix established himself as a jazz musician.
And he and his wife had two kids. They were both born in Canada because in 1998, they decided to return to Canada.
When Félix does not perform in bars and concert halls or is touring, Félix lives with his wife and kids in a bungalow in Montreal, speaking in tongues. I mean, in several languages. Swiss-German and French with his family, 12-year-old daughter Zoé, 9-year-old son Yann and his wife Manon.
English of course, is the international language of Jazz, and Italian is the language in the quarter in Montreal where Félix has a house. He is also surrounded by Maghrebians and Haitians. “The cultural mix in Montreal is unique”, Félix says. “People can keep their cultural identity here.”
He has a sextet with the world-famous trombone player Ray Anderson, an American who lives on Long Island (New York).
His new project is a trio named “Les Malcommodes” (in Swiss German: “Luusbuebä”, in English “Little Troublemakers”). With this trio, he will be touring Europe in April and May 2014, with several concerts in Switzerland.
Félix and his sextet won the Grand Prix of the International Jazz Festival in Montreal in 2007. And they were nominated twice for the prestigious Juno Award in Canada.
Before Félix becomes too famous and does not give anymore interviews to poor journalists like me, I have to make a UPC (Urgent Phone Call):
Félix, why on earth do you call yourself still Stüssi and not Stuessi or Stussi? How will Canadians be able to pronounce your name?
I fought hard for keeping the Swiss Ü, I can tell you. Besides, umlaut have become trendy in English and French!
Speaking of Swiss peculiarities: Do you play the Swiss alphorn?
Yes, I have tried it and I was even able to get sounds out of it. A few years ago, I played music at the Swiss embassy in Ottawa with a Jazz alphorn player. My uncle also played the “büchel” which is a shorter version of the alphorn. As an ehtnomusicologist, I am interested in how different instruments are played.
Does the Swiss alphorn inspire your jazz music?
Yes, it does. On one of my CD’s there is a piece called “Friifad” about a mythical and very exposed chamois hunter’s path in the Swiss Glärnisch mountains where I worked as a goat herder. Due to glacier melt-down and rock decay, it is nowadays a very difficult climb to get to Friifad. This piece is inspired by the overtone series which is still used by alphorn blowers.
So you not only know how to play the piano but to blow a horn?
Yes, I can play the trombone, too, but of course not as well as our Canadian band member Ray Anderson. You can imitate the alphorn with a trombone. Ray, by the way, has played the alphorn in Switzerland.
How did you succeed in having Ray Anderson in your sextet who was named five times the best trombone player of our times?
I met Ray in a cultural centre (Kulturzentrum Holenstein) in Glarus that I helped to create. I felt a harmony between the two of us and we agreed to make music together.
How did you start out as a musician in Montreal?
You begin at the very bottom of the totem pole. Nobody had been waiting for me. First I played in bars for free. There was a pot for tips beside me and I got a free sandwich and a beer. But before, I thought of working as a foreign correspondent and it was even more difficult. Slowly, I made myself a name in the jazz scene.
How would you describe your music style to a lay-person like me?
My trademark is modern jazz that has its roots in the traditional jazz. My music is accessible and has a lot of groove and blues and a sense of humour in it.
I have discovered and cultivated my own musical hues.
Is it true that as a boy they called you Fix in Switzerland?
Yes, but Fix would sound really odd in Canada. I have put an é in Felix, because I am the fifth-generation Felix in my family. I have to distinguish myself!
Where do you live during your frequent stays in Switzerland?
In our family’s holyday home in the Swiss valley of Hinter-Klöntal. My daughter likes to help our neighbour with haying and goat herding.
Do you take the bike to travel to Switzerland, too?
No, I take the plane. But when I returned to Canada with my wife, we sailed in a cargo ship across the ocean, from La Spezia to New York. It took us twelve days.
Have a look at his website
Kulturzentrum Holenstein, Glarus
Musikbeispiele sind entweder auf der Webseite (siehe oben), iTunes (unter dem Namen Félix Stüssi und unter LES MALCOMMODES) oder auf den Webseiten von Effendi Records, Justin Time Records und Unit Records finden.