Niels Lan Doky: Notes Filled Me Up



“I do believe that music is a language. It’s a language we use to tell stories. The reason why music exits are because we as human beings have the need to exchange, interact, and communicate on levels and about things that cannot be expressed with words.” Read less …

In this biographical and at the same time intimate interview, world-famous Danish jazz player Niels Lan Doky reflects upon his relation to music. “There was music in the house I grew up in”, he tells and underlines that he seeks to create “music of today standing on the shoulders of the past.”

“The different genres of music are like dialects. I know of some scientific research analyzing brain activity in children. When babies are exposed to music for the first time, they react the same way as when they are exposed to language. It’s part of human nature to conceive music as a language.”

“Every conversation is a form of jazz”, Niels Lan Doky continues. The way jazz is played is similar to a group of people coming together and having a conversation. “You might know the topic in advance, but you don’t know what will be said and what the conclusion will be. In any spoken conversation the key element is who is at the table, what do they bring to the table and how do these elements interact to become an interesting story.”

Niels Lan Doky was born in Copenhagen in 1963 and is the older brother of jazz bassist Chris Minh Doky. Both were children of a Danish mother and Vietnamese father, who worked as a doctor and was a classically trained guitarist. Accordingly, the guitar turned out to be Niels’s first instrument. He switched to piano at 11 and went on to attend Berklee College of Music in the early 1980s.

A generation younger than artists like Keith Jarrett and Pat Metheny, pianist, composer, and producer Niels Lan Doky is one of the most acclaimed and prolific jazz artists of his time. He has released more than 40 albums, has collaborated with the greatest artists in jazz, and has won countless awards and accolades around the world. When he released his debut album in 1986 an American Jazz Journalist wrote: “There is nothing more encouraging and satisfying than to encounter for the first time a young Jazz musician of real stature, someone who can make you feel that the future of the music is in good hands.”

Since then, Niels Lan Doky has had one of the most extensive and unusual careers ever seen in music, which ‐ aside from performing, arranging, composing, and producing music ‐ also has included work as a film director, author, venue owner, speaker, and more. He was Knighted by Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II of Denmark in 2010 and has appeared on bestseller lists in Europe and Asia. He has lived in Boston, New York, Paris, and London before returning to his hometown of Copenhagen in 2013, where he gave the TEDx Talk “How Jazz Wisdom Will Change Your Life” in 2016. Today, Niels continues to celebrate the past, present, and future of Jazz as a musician and as the founder of the Niels Lan Doky International Jazz Collective.

Niels Lan Doky was interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner in his home/studio in Elsinore, Denmark in December 2020.

Camera: Rasmus Quistgaard and David Schweiger

Edited by Rasmus Quistgaard

Produced by Marc-Christoph Wagner

Copyright: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2021

Supported by Nordea Fonden

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