This time, we are going to talk with German producer, arranger, composer and trumpet player Steffen Kuehn and Mexican bandleader, composer and musician Christian Tumalan. Both are at the head of the Pacific Mambo Orchestra and share the role of co-executive director of Pacific Mambo LLC and Pacific Mambo Records. Also, each has his own record label and separate musical achievements, but unify their skills to make the group they have in common one of the best in the United States.
Both expressed their points view about the orchestra, the work they do in it and what each one has done in music in general. These views reveal that quality, professionalism and adaptability are the main values on which the orchestra they lead is based.
A bit of Steffen’s story
The start of the conversation focused on the beginnings of Steffen Kuehn, who ackowledges having been a musician all his life, since he started playing the trumpet when he was just eight years old. He attended the University of North Texas to start his formal music education and learned to arrange music, compose and specialize more in the trumpet. He now focuses on is teaching trumpet, playing for the orchestra, arranging, selling music for television and movies, among other activities (all have to do with music).
When we talk about his written publications, he mentioned a instruction book to help beginners to play the trumpet some years ago. Today, He is working on a second book and a new record production. What he has planned for Pacific Mambo is to make about 10 songs for its new album, of which two have already been made.
Christian’s musical background
Christian told us a bit about his musical training and confirmed that he studied piano for more than 10 years. He has also played piano since the age of 14 when he was in high school and started much more formal musical training at the age of 15. It can be said that he was already an expert at playing both instruments after a decade of much dedication and practice.
When asked about his roots in jazz, he commented to us that almost all jazz musicians have some training in classical music and direct access to technical elements with the instruments. His goal in learning about classical music was not to become a performer dedicated only to that style, but to gain as much knowledge as possible about music in general and to improve his piano skills.
How do you apply German and Mexican heritage to the music of the orchestra?
As for this interesting subject, both artists pointed out that polka music and Mexican banda music were very similar in terms of sounds and instrumentation used for both. In Steffen’s case, he was always very interested in going to the United States to learn and study about jazz, how and where it originated. He comments that, if he had wanted to study classical music, the best places would have been Germany, France and Italy, as many of its greatest exponents come from there.
Both Christian and I went to the root of how the jazz movement started, how it originated and developed over the years. However, I studied Latin music here in the United States and my Colombian roommate at the time explained to me a lot of things and introduced me to a lot of Latin rhythms I have ever heard before,” said Kuehn.
They both started to introduce jazz and this knowledge to the music of the orchestra. About this, Christian said that the mixture of rhythms was like ”a battle of entities” in which they were looking for what works and what does not work, since not everything can be mixed. ”What I usually do is combine my knowledge in classical music with my own Big Band arrangements,” Christian said.
”The fact that we have musicians from various countries in Europe and Latin America has helped us a lot to see different perspectives. Also, due to the number of musicians we are, we can play in different styles that other groups cannot” added Steffen.
Skills they look for in their musicians
Steffen pointed out that the first thing they look for in their musicians is the chemistry we can have with them. In this sense, he mentioned that he has met excellent musicians with whom he does not get along with at all, which makes the work environment very heavy. Therefore, he does not take them into consideration for the orchestra because, if there is no chemistry and an atmosphere of respect, everything else does not work.
Another thing that the performer considers important is the spirituality of music, which many times is not attained by all musicians. When a musician opens up to the spirituality of the music, that’s when the magic happens and the chemistry hits us. We are very fortunate to have so many musicians who share this feeling and have reached that point as we have,” he added.
How do you share roles in the orchestra?
Christian commented that both he and Steffen were very good in different areas separately. Steffen has a quite charismatic way of communicating with people and knows how to earn the respect of others very quickly, while I focus more on the technical and musical aspects of the group. I think that complements us very well”. He also said that the German was very good with information and details such as tours, hotels, flights, names, taxes, among other things.
When Steffen’s came to talk about his partner, he said that he knew a lot about everything to do with music technology, stage direction, tempos, editing, mixing, video, audio and many other things. He confesses that he is unable to do many of these things, so they are left to Christian.