A conversation with Dieter Limbourg

04 Feb 2021

Every two months we introduce you to someone connected with the orchestra, whether on stage or behind the scenes. Today we’re talking to Dieter Limbourg (alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet, flute).


How long have you been part of BJO?

I’ve played with BJO since 1999 when Fabrice Alleman left the orchestra. There was a concert scheduled at Jazz Middelheim that included Ellington’s Far East Suite, which has quite a lot for clarinet. Since Fabrice would have done that, they were looking for a replacement who also played clarinet. I remember dusting off my clarinet and starting to practise like crazy (laughs).

What do you do in the orchestra?

I play 2nd alto sax, soprano sax, flute and clarinet in the band, and I regularly arrange and compose for us as well. That’s another passion of mine. I’ve actually had it since I started playing music. The advantage of writing for BJO is that there are very few limitations, since they can play anything you write, but the disadvantage is that if it doesn’t sound good, the problem is not with the band but with you. Very instructive.

What do you do besides playing in the orchestra?

I’m also involved with a number of other projects as a musician/arranger, like Otomachine, a Belgian funk big band led by Frank Deruytter, and I play with other bands (quartet or quintet or sextet) that I write for, and I mostly play tenor saxophone with them. I also work sporadically as a studio musician in the pop world, or for one-off projects like the Jonas Van Geel/Peter van den Begin Big Band, etc.

I also teach jazz saxophone, jazz harmony and arrangement at the Kunsthumaniora in Brussels.


The advantage of writing for BJO is that there are very few limitations, since they can play anything you write, but the disadvantage is that if it doesn’t sound good, the problem is not with the band but with you. Very instructive. - Dieter Limbourg.


Which of this season's projects are or were you looking forward to the most and why?

Every production is a new challenge, with its own potential/difficulties/opportunities. I usually look forward to whatever is next in my diary, and at the moment that’s the rehearsals with Kommil Foo and BJO, for which my colleague Lode Mertens and I wrote the arrangements. It’s always exciting to see if everything you wrote works and holds up in practice. It’s an interesting exercise to balance Kommil Foo’s sensitive and moving songs with the energy and all the different timbres of a jazz orchestra!

Covid-19 has wiped the concert schedule clean of course, but there are still lots of projects. There’s a lot on my plate: the project with Kommil Foo I just mentioned, a disc of music by Serge Gainsbourg with the French singer Camille Bertault, my own project Two Places with DJ Grazzhoppa, rapper Zediam and singer Monique Harcum (planned for release on 5 February) and a project with a qanun player from Iraq, Osama Abdulrasol (which I think will be quite a challenge for the orchestra), and lots more …

What's your favourite BJO memory?

After more than twenty years, there are a lot of course, but the productions with Kenny Werner and Maria Schneider are what immediately comes to mind. More recently, there’s the concert with Wynton Marsalis and the JLCO, of course, but there have been many, many really fantastic moments. The various projects we’ve done with Bert Joris always guarantee special moments that everyone in the orchestra will cherish. One personal memory that will always be with me is working with saxophonist Bob Mintzer. The warm personality of this terribly modest and at the same time incredibly talented man is really remarkable…

What was the last CD/Spotify track/radio hit you listened to?

Lately I’ve been listening to a wide range of music (usually not the latest radio hits, I don’t really follow the hit parade), including older recordings of people like Maurane (“HLM”, along with Charles Loos and Steve Houben), an incredibly talented lady who left us much too soon. And the symphonic music by the English composer Frank Bridge with those typically English harmonic colours. The music of Vaughan Williams and the cinematic and fascinating music by the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu. But also the latest disc by pianist Fred Hersch. I just rediscovered a few solo records by Clare Fisher, “Alone Together” and “Just Me”: a feast of good taste and harmonic finesse ….

As a musician, how are you dealing with these unusual times (as a result of COVID-19)?

For me, it’s a time to think about what I want to do. Luckily for me it’s not a time of great frustration, but an occasion to spend some time on things you normally pay too little attention to. I’ve also got more time to write, listen and practise. But although practising and writing music are great fun, still, the most important thing is playing. Music isn’t just the notes on paper …..For many, many people, these are hard times (and not just financially, but mentally as well.) It’s difficult to replace the contact and the energy you get back from the audience in front of you with livestream concerts and recordings (they’re important of course, if only to keep you “in shape” as a musician), but music isn’t a one-way street: without both performer and listener being physically present, the interaction between them is hard to turn into a digital form. And then I’m not even talking about the social function of live concerts. While there’s life there’s hope, as they say, but I think it’s gone on for long enough now.