In the 20th century, the state of the art of the trumpet has been formed in lion’s shares by the achievements of jazz musicians. The concept of playing the trumpet was pushed up to a higher level than ever thought possible. Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Don Cherry are but a few of the many trumpet players who have. They are male. Valaida Snow, Clora Bryant, Barbara Donald, Ingrid Jensen and Saskia Laroo form a short but important roster of female trumpet players who, despite the rarity of women in the field of jazz trumpet, will leave a distinct mark. Saskia Laroo, is a current feature on the face of 21st century trumpet artistry.
Saskia Laroo, coined in America by press and public as ‘Lady Miles Davis of Europe’ has been going strong for over three decades. Born in 1959 in Amsterdam, she grew up in Den Ilp and went to high school in Zaandam. Her first playing experiences at age 8 were at Het Brass Band of Fanfare de Eendracht in her then hometown Den Ilp. At 18 she attended the University of Amsterdam to study mathematics, albeit briefly, soon swayed by the challenge of a professional career in music. She studied trumpet with some of the best known artist / teachers of the day: at the Muziekpedagogische Academie of Alkmaar, the Sweelinck Conservatorium (with Boy Raaymakers) in Amsterdam and the Muziekpedagogische Academie of Hilversum (with Ack van Rooyen). However promising it sounds in retrospect, Saskia’s was not a smooth beginning. It was difficult for her to get her foot in the door: “A problem with getting gigs was that nobody wanted to play with somebody as unknown as me. The trumpet player is naturally the most important person in a band. He plays the “lead” and gives all “cues” for the other musicians. Often the rejection sounded as follows: you can’t play a whole concert, you will get tired halfway because you aren’t strong enough,” according to Saskia. So, for a short time, she choose bass over trumpet as there were more requests for bass players for many gigs. “After starting to gig on bass, they put more faith in me and even began to accept me as a trumpeter as well.” By this period, Saskia had already begun booking herself.
Saskia Takes Shape
By 1979 Saskia is a full-fledged professional, performing with dixieland bands and mainstream jazz combos. It was during this period that she had the privilege of frequently being called for work by Dutch tenor saxophonist Hans Dulfer.
By 1981 Saskia became a regular in his bands and also Rosa King’s Upside-Down Band, which included in the line-up a young sax prodigy named Candy Dulfer. While in the formative years of her career, she’d also garnered much experience absorbing world music, namely, of Hispanic, Caribbean, Brazilian and African roots. building on these influences, Saskia continued to expand her horizons.
In 1982 she formed her own Salsa Caliente Band; between 1986 and 1990 she led Caribbean Express; from 1990 till 1994 she performed with The Caribbean Colours. Around 1994 Saskia felt she had found her own voice. While having gone solo for the first time in 1993, the following year this grew into the Saskia Laroo Band, featuring compositions from her debut CD “It’s Like Jazz”. In 1995, Laroo gave birth to two new groups: Salsa Bop - a Latin jazz quintet and Jazzkia - her straight-ahead jazz unit. Presently, besides barnstorming with her own of several groups, Saskia Laroo often appears as a special guest artist.
The Shape of Saskia’s Sound: The Musical Concept
Music over the past one hundred years has become a rich, colourful potluck in the banquet of the many, and musicians worldwide have flourished as its caterers. Jazz itself is such a kitchen, born of a plasma of creativity in peril, reared as a hunger to enthrall “the party people”, and matured as food for the whole person in an uncertain existence. Saskia Laroo makes her way by cooking up new styles which blend bebop jazz, club, hip-hop, rap, world, and whatever else grooves, in a driving party mix. Her sound is often described as “nu jazz”; she herself has coined her sound as “body music”. Her sound is borne of her broad musical palette. It’s power may be in her down-to-earth perspective; “I want people to have a good time, to dance when I play. I don’t just play for other musicians”.
Laroo makes this magic with her favourite of her several units, the Saskia Laroo Band. Its members are often an international bunch who hail from other lands, are well-versed in many styles, and open to new sounds. Thus, her joy comes to life with this group: some tradition, lots of hipness, groove, ba-ad solos, bold rap vocals, and her mellifluous trumpet leading the way. With all, she freely cooks up the jam.
Yet, like many eclectic artists before her, there are challenges to mass acceptance innate to mixing jazz and more popular styles. Laroo loves the freedom to jump from jazz to groove and back... and back again. Though this predilection has been clear from her first release, “It’s Like Jazz”, some of her more purist jazz pals chide her for “flirting too much with pop...”. Pop fans dig the pop elements but still see Saskia as a jazz artist. Ironically, the music critics’ opinions seem to differ little from the fans. Saskia’s first concern is with reaching everybody, the audience as well as the critics. Her math ultimately weighs having a solid fan base over critical acclaim, “I think the reason why it’s all going okay is because I play for the fun of all, including mine.”