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03-01-1931 - 05-08-1989


arrangeur, componist, contemporary classical music, jazz, piano, trompet


Nedley Elstak

Nedly Elstak

Nedly Elstak (Semarang, Java, 3 January 1931 – Amsterdam, 5 August 1989) will be remembered as the maker of soft-spoken, often profound jazz music, and an influential teacher in the realm of music theory. During his lifetime the performance of his sophisticated ideas is rarely perfect; this is the result ...
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arrangeur, componist, piano, trompet

Mentioned in the biography of

1955   Rob Peters
1959   Kid Dynamite
1970   Rob Verdurmen
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Biography Nedly Elstak

Nedly Elstak (Semarang, Java, 3 January 1931 – Amsterdam, 5 August 1989) will be remembered as the maker of soft-spoken, often profound jazz music, and an influential teacher in the realm of music theory. During his lifetime the performance of his sophisticated ideas is rarely perfect; this is the result of his 'laissez faire' attitude as a band leader and embouchure problems as a trumpeter. After his death an impressive series of his compositions is eventually recorded carefully - although some critics are of the opinion that Elstak's music could have benefited from a little edge.

1950 - 1964

Elstak, born to Surinam parents on the Indonesian isle of Java, arrives in the Netherlands with his family in 1936. He goes to school there, and receives violin lessons, but teaches himself to play the trumpet when he gets interested in jazz. After high school he gradually becomes a professional musician. He initially adores Dizzy Gillespie and gets to be photographed with his idol, sporting horn rimmed glasses and a goatee. Later Miles Davis becomes his point of reference. Elstak thoroughly dives into theoretical matters, and helps colleagues out with his newly acquired knowledge. Self-taught pianist Rein de Graaff is one of the musicians whose limited theoretical knowledge he helps to expand. He befriends saxophonist Theo Loevendie, himself also a jazz horn player with composing ambitions. In the early sixties they found the Workshop Quartet.

Kid Dynamite Theo Loevendie

1965 - 1977

The trumpeter develops more and more into a composer; initially writing brief, useful jazz themes, later also more elaborate songs and eventually large orchestral works. He records an album with singer Sophie van Lier, for whom the melodies seem to be too hard to handle. Although Elstak's music goes down well with the Amsterdam jazz critics Van Lier receives a great amount of flak. Years later critic Erik van den Berg writes: 'Elstak, usually a very patient man, can be very angry over this type of criticism: his music sounded as it should have sounded – period.' (de Volkskrant, 14 April 1995). He manifests himself explicitly in the avant-garde of the day; he joins Ornette Coleman when the American makes his Dutch debut at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw on 29 October 1965. He also performs with the German vibraphonist and bass clarinetist Gunter Hampel for a while. In the late sixties Elstak finds himself a day job; not only to make ends meet, but also to kick his drug addiction. He tries to distance himself from the rugged Amsterdam night life and can frequently be found composing at the piano. He works at the P.C. Meertens Instituut (an institute for Dutch dialect studies), which is depicted in J.J. Voskuil's novel cycle Het Bureau. Elstak appears in it as the character Stanley Graanschuur. He starts his own jazz cellar in the Amsterdam Vondelstraat: de Masjien. He manages to keep the club afloat for a number of years. Elstak is on stage regularly as a horn player, although his best days as a trumpeter are over. In the seventies he starts giving lessons in music theory at the Amsterdam Bimhuis and lessons in ensemble playing at a neighborhood center in the Amsterdam suburbs of Buitenveldert. The ensemble classes are in fact jam sessions for beginners, where Elstak makes sure that everyone has sheet music, and his pupils give one another enough space to play. In 1977 he briefly plays heavy free jazz with the short-lived band Incident.

1978 - 1989

Elstak's career takes on unpredictable directions. In spite of the criticism of Sophie van Lier's thin voice he starts a band with five female singers, none of whom have much stage experience. It is originally called Seven Singers and a Horn and keeps this name when two of the seven ladies are unable to perform. The album Sad Trumpets features insecure beginners' voices, but they don't detract from the beautiful arrangements the leader has written. Erik van den Berg in the Volkskrant article quoted above: 'You wouldn't want to hear these pieces sung with classical perfection; the power of Elstak's music lies in its non-academic, living, never really finished nature.' The ensemble eventually yields some professional vocalists, like Soesja Citroen and Astrid Seriese. Partly for his work with this outfit Elstak is awarded the Boy Edgar Prijs (the major Dutch jazz award) in 1983. The pianist-composer – Elstak is sensible enough to leave his trumpet untouched from now on – further extends the formation with more winds and strings. The resulting ensemble, his Paradise Regained Orchestra, is to perform Elstak's most ambitious composition to date: an orchestral work based on John Milton's poem Paradise Lost. After Elstak's death a twenty piece orchestra is formed, under the direction of Werner Herbers, to perform the work as carefully as possible for a recording session and a brief tour. Erik van den Berg, once again: 'In an agonizingly slow tempo, in which the percussion seems to be ticking away eternity, we descend into hell step by step, led by the lowest tones of the tuba. The motionless darkness of Milton's 'profoundest hell' is followed by a liberating return to the light: a swinging jazz-finale on an interminably repeated fragment by Elstak himself: Paradise regained, Paradise, Maradise.' In the eighties Elstak teaches at the Arnhem Conservatory. He collects his theoretical knowledge in a four volume teaching method: Praktische Jazz Theorie (Practical Jazz Theory). But he also makes long nights as a background pianist in a gambling hall in the Amsterdam red light district. Here he unfortunately re-adopts the habit he tried to break with in his office days. Nedly Elstak dies in Amsterdam on 5 August 1989.

Discography Nedly Elstak

In the discography you will find all recordings that have been released listed chronologically. We restrict ourselves to the title, the type of audio, year of publication or recording, label, list of guest musicians, plus any comments on the issue.

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