Alum News: Interview with Sam Hylton (BA 2014)

Submitted by Michael Neininger on
Sam Hylton
Sam Hylton
ark noir
Ark Noir

You may remember Sam Hylton, one of our recent graduates. You may not know that he and his jazz band, Ark Noir, are making a splash in the Munich jazz scene.  

We asked Sam a few questions about life after graduation:      

Why do you live in Munich?       
 I moved here for a Master's degree in Jazz Piano (performance) at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater München, or University of Music and Performing Arts Munich as it's called in English. Since graduating in 2016, I've continued living and working here in Munich, performing several times a week in jazz clubs and other locations, as well as teaching private piano lessons and several classes at the HMTM. I play in around 12 bands at the moment (still trying to find a balance and to learn when to say no!) and I feel that I've definitely planted my roots here for the time being. I've recently started a second Master's at the HMTM, this time in Jazz Composition.

Was ist eine bescheuerte Frage für einen Musiker? What's a dumb question for a musician?  
"Machen Sie das hauptberuflich?" / "Do you do this for a living?" – Ouch!  

What do you think would be helpful to know for our students?                                                                                   One thing I can't stress enough is to speak as much German as possible; Übung macht den Meister. I put a lot of emphasis on proper pronunciation and learning lots of vocabulary early on in my German studies, and now I'm able to speak fairly accent-free (except for a slight Bavarian touch, ja mei, huift nix!). Native speakers are really grateful and show me more respect because I took the time to pronounce their language carefully and accurately, and I'm convinced that I wouldn't have gotten as many great opportunities here as I have, had I not worked so hard on my pronunciation.  

Also, my mantra since living in Germany has been "Ask and ye shall receive." I've often run into difficult or confusing situations, especially bureaucratic matters, where I could have maybe figured it out alone, but I usually asked my German friends and acquaintances to help me, which they are glad to do. Also, in terms of job opportunities, if I want to work somewhere or with someone in particular, I've often just asked if they could see me joining their team, and more often than not, it's worked out beautifully. I got an internship with ECM Records, just because I asked around if anybody knew someone who worked there. I've gotten many great gigs just because I've told my fellow musicians that "I'd like to play there" or "I'd like to play with him/her!" and it has a way of working out. So, - don't be afraid to just go for something that you want, and surround yourself with "powerful people" who you admire and who can help you grow.

How do you prepare for a gig?                                                                                                                                                   Depending on how intensive or how much (quantity of repertoire) the music is for a gig, I try to prioritize what I really need to practice and what I can reasonably pull off live without looking over it beforehand. If the music is mostly standard repertoire from the jazz tradition, I feel comfortable preparing just by listening to good recordings of the tunes by masters from the past. If it's something new and very specific, I try to devote as much time as necessary until the piece is memorized (or close to it). I don't usually get stage-fright, especially if I have good bandmates to back me up and if I know I've practiced well enough. The only times I really get nervous are before solo concerts, because it can almost feel like I'm naked on stage if I'm all alone up there. But even then, I just remember it's about the music, not me. Nervous energy is selfish energy. 

How do you get a gig in Munich?                                                                                                                                            
 I've become pretty integrated into the music scene in Munich, so I get most of my gigs as a sideman when one of my many friends and colleagues here have organized a gig and are looking to put a band together. There are also several musician agencies that provide me every so often with the odd "Mugge" (Musik gegen Geld, z.B. Hintergrundsmusik bei einer Veranstaltung), but if I'm looking to really perform in a concert setting, it's best to build up a relationship with the club/venue owners and/or their booking agents. I've gotten to know these people from many clubs in Munich, including the Jazzclub Unterfahrt, Jazzbar Vogler, Bayerischer Hof Nightclub, Milla Club, etc. Networking and using your contacts to the fullest is the key! 

What are the best places in Munich to spend a good night out?                                                                                       I've spent some of my most memorable evenings in Munich's Stammlokale like the Schelling-Salon, Johannis-Café, Bergwolf, or in summer on the banks of the Isar. And of course you can enjoy live music in venues like the Unterfahrt, Jazzbar Vogler, or Milla Club. At Milla, my main band, Ark Noir, has a concert series called "Tunnel Visions," where we present 3 or more acts each time (including ourselves, usually with some new material), all combined with live visuals projected onto a tunnel-like construct on the stage. The building itself used to be an an old mill (hence the name Milla), under which a canal of the Isar used to flow, and now that canal is the "tunnel" where the concerts take place. That's always a crazy party that's tons of fun.  

What questions are you asking yourself?                                                                                                                                   I often ask myself: Should I take this gig/new student? How much time will I need to invest to do this project the right way? Will this bring me further in my career, even if it might not immediately help me or not pay very well? Sometimes I ask myself where I see myself in 3-5 years, but that's hard to say. I can't yet imagine leaving this place, with everything I have going for me here.  

What makes you happy?                                                                                                                                                           Good food, nice people, my lovely girlfriend, good music, Wandern, beautiful old European cities, vintage 80's synthesizers, vinyl records, in no particular order...

What is the best advice you have ever received?                                                                                                              Perhaps one of my mother's favorite things to say is, "You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar." That's certainly true, and I know that if I'm looking for someone to work with, it's very important that I get along with someone at a personal level in order to make music with them. I'd rather play with a nice guy who plays pretty good than a mean guy who plays great. So yeah, it pays to be nice!  


Thank you for this interview, Sam.   


In related news: 

  • Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Junge Leute features Ark Noir as band of the week
  • Sam Hylton started a new project with a German classical pianist, Nikolaus von Bemberg, called “The Sofa Suite – The Art of American Piano.”  It was the first edition of a Gesprächskonzert, a talk show at the Münchner Stadtmuseum
  • Ark Noir was awarded Förderung from the Initiative Musik. The German music grant foundation will support the recording of a second album and the “Tunnel Visions” concert series at Milla Club in Munich.