Sound It Out: “20 Questions” #17 — Elias Stemeseder

Another installment of the recurring “Sound It Out: 20 Questions” feature on, with an artist answering a survey inspired by the famous Proust Questionnaire…

Austrian keyboardist Elias Stemeseder, who was born in 1990 and raised on a farm near Salzburg, spent five years in Berlin before moving to New York City in 2016. Elias made his dual Sound It Out debut in both halves of a January 2018 double-bill, performing as part of the collective trio Jagged Spheres with saxophonist/flutist Anna Webber and drummer Devin Gray, as well as sitting in on the first half with the Speak Low trio of singer Lucia Cadotsch, saxophonist Otis Sandsjö and bassist Petter Eldh – friends from Berlin. On February 10, 2018, Elias returns to Sound It Out with the Jim Black Trio, performing alongside the leader on drums and Thomas Morgan on double-bass. The trio’s three albums – Somatic (Winter & Winter, 2012), Actuality (Winter & Winter, 2014) and The Constant (Intakt, 2016) – have not only set a beguiling new standard for the 21st-century piano trio; they are also a wonderful showcase for Elias’s inventive, songful playing. Trading acoustic piano for synthesizers, Elias also features on Black’s atmospheric new quartet disc, Malamute; the keyboardist has also recorded an album for release later this year with the collective trio Eyebone, playing Wurlitzer electric piano and bass synthesizer along with Black on drums and Nels Cline on guitar. Elias performs regularly in bassist Greg Cohen’s bands, and his appearances around New York have included playing piano in a trio performance of John Zorn’s Bagatelles at the Village Vanguard. Elias is currently writing music for his debut recording as a leader. Germany’s Jazz Thing said this about him: “Elias Stemeseder cares neither about the establishment rules of jazz nor about those of the postmodern. He has his own, completely unique voice.” — BB

  1. What was the first jazz album you fell in love with and stayed in love with?

The boxed set Miles Davis & John Coltrane: Complete Columbia Recordings.

  1. What do you think is one of the most overrated jazz albums ever?

I don’t even know what “overrated” means, really. By which criteria? If a particular piece of music means something to someone, why care if other people think it sucks? Everyone can have their own music they like and dislike. I won’t talk badly about someone’s musical output, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. There’s plenty of people who feel they have a legitimate need to talk openly about that, and that’s fine – but I just don’t feel it.  

  1. What’s one of your all-time favorite non-jazz albums?

Over the past year, it has been Sviatoslav Richter’s Salzburg 1972 recording of J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier.

  1. What’s the last album you listened to from beginning to end – and did you like it?

Way Out West by Sonny Rollins – and I loved it!

  1. What was the most recent concert – of any genre – that made you fall in love with music all over again?

A concert of Craig Taborn’s quartet with Chris Speed, Chris Lightcap and Dave King, during Craig’s residency at the Stone.

  1. Which are your very favorite and least favorite venues for live music?

I love places that are run by fellow musicians and musicians’ collectives. One of my favorites is Dobialab in Monfalcone, Italy (despite the fact that they don’t even have a piano). Great audience and atmosphere there. My least favorite places are the ones that make you feel like you owe them something for playing. 

  1. What’s your favorite quote about music?

“Don’t play everything, or every time – let some things go by. Some music is just imagined.” — Thelonious Monk

  1. If you could have a drink with any late visual artist of the past, who would it be?

Isamu Noguchi.

  1. What are the top three tools of your trade?

Brain, ears, hands.

  1. What’s your most indispensable piece of technology that isn’t music-oriented?


  1. What are your top media sources of writing/opinion/news about music?

I don’t really have a go-to source. I do read Ethan Iverson’s blog, Do the Math, somewhat regularly, but that’s it, in terms of print or online media. Usually, I find out about things through conversations with friends and through going to concerts.

  1. What non-musical/non-technological quality is most important to being an enduringly creative musician?

Lateral thinking.

  1. What living person do you most admire – and what’s one quality he or she has that you most admire?

Anybody who is willing to put their social prestige at risk in order to follow ideas or visions that society doesn’t value in any obvious way – political activism, art, alternative concepts of living, etc. 

  1. What living person do you most despise – and what’s one quality he or she has that you most despise?

Most of the politicians that constitute the new Austrian government.

  1. What’s your favorite place in the world?

My parents’ forest (they’re farmers). Intact nature and air, just five minutes by foot from our house. 

  1. If you could live in another time period, when would that be?

Some point in the future when there’s more equality and kindness.

  1. What book would you most like to read again?

Der Untergeher by Thomas Bernhard. 

  1. What film haven’t you seen that you feel like you should?

Night on Earth by Jim Jarmusch.

  1. What aspect of the past do you miss most – and what’s one thing you look forward to about the future that doesn’t yet exist?

I miss the pre-Internet and pre-smartphone era, for the feeling of true solitude. And I look forward to seeing the direction that music will take. 

  1. What would you like your last meal to consist of?

Lentils and sautéed kale with garlic, made by my brother.