Shannon Barnett speaks with her colleague in the WDR Big Band, trombonist Andy Hunter. Perhaps appropriately enough for a trombone player, Andy grew up literally halfway between Paradise and Hell (both are towns in Michigan, US). After studying in Cleveland, he moved to NYC and established himself as one of the top jazz trombonists in the city, performing with the likes of Snarky Puppy, Richard Bona, and the Mingus, Dave Holland and Toshiko Akiyoshi Big Bands. He also became well-known in world music circles, regularly performing with salsa, Cuban and Colombian artists. In late 2012, he and his wife Adriana moved to Cologne, Germany, where he joined the WDR Big Band.
Shannon: How did you decide to take the job at WDR?
Andy: Before coming here, I’d been pursuing a sideman career (in New York), but also a solo career, and that’s why right before moving here I made a big push, borrowed some money and put my album out. I knew if I didn’t get it done it would be a lot harder for me to do from here.
When I was getting ready to move, when I was making the decision about whether or not to take this gig – it seems like maybe from the outside it was a harder decision than it was for you – things were going great in New York and I didn’t necessarily want to stop that. I had some serious talks with people about it. It’s hard to balance what the perception of your career will be. After more than a year I still feel like I’m just beginning to find that balance, but I think itʼs working out.
Shannon: You spent quite a lot of time in Shanghai, China. How was living and working there compared to Germany and to the US?
Andy: Well, I was studying Chinese in the US, but took a semester off. I was planning on going to a school in China but then met some musicians when I got to Shanghai. Within a week I had three steady gigs. It was a questioning time in my life – I wasn’t sure if I was going to be doing music full-time.
I was never really based full-time in Shanghai, but wound up introducing a lot of musicians from the USA to the scene there who stayed to live. For the first couple of years I was also in Cleveland (Ohio, US). As soon as I lived in New York, there was a different perception of me as a musician globally, wherever I travelled. People responded differently to an Andy Hunter from New York than they did to an Andy Hunter from Cleveland.
Shannon: It’s interesting to me that New York still has that stigma.
Andy: Well, yes, the climate may have changed, but the level of musicianship if anything has gotten deeper I think. New York still without question for me has the highest density of amazing artists across all genres in the world.
Shannon: What do you find challenging about the job with WDR?
Andy: It’s been an adjustment living in a foreign country, but that’s something you’re going to have. And Germany particularly, I didn’t imagine myself coming to Germany, were it not for this job. We’re new parents too, so it’s been difficult to make friends. I’m certain that as a young person who’s also single like yourself, you will probably find it a very different experience. You’re going to go out and meet young people who are open-minded. We’re not going out and meeting anybody yet, open-minded or closed-minded!
One difficult thing I will say, has been adjusting to A=443. Our instruments are not made to resonate at that pitch. It also gives the band a certain character. I’m getting used to it. It took me a long time to feel confident about my pitch in the band.