Exclusive Interview with Kristjan Randalu


Lea Kreinin was able to catch Kristjan Randalu during his busy schedule to discuss his musical tastes, why and how he became interested in jazz, and what he loves about living in Estonia. This interview was published in the April 20, 2018 (Nr. 16) edition of Estonian Life. Read the full interview below:


Kristjan Randalu is one of Estonia's most well-known jazz pianists. He has studied and developed his skills abroad. At a young age he moved with his family to Germany, but has now returned to Estonia after years living abroad. His new CD Absence(ECM Records) was just released. Kristjan will be performing in Toronto on May 28 at 7:30pm at Mazzoleni Hall as part of Estonian Music Week. 

Your parents are also pianists, but perform classical music. How did you end up playing jazz?

I was surrounded by pop as well as classical music. When I lived in the Soviet Union, I only had a limited number of CDs/cassettes and heard some songs on the radio; later in Germany, I listened to everything that was popular at the time. I wanted to create my own music. I started with a synthesizer and a computer, which later led to my first bands. From there it was a smooth path to jazz – I felt that they were the pianists who felt comfortable behind the piano and created their own music. 

You lived in Germany for a long time, later studying in the UK and U.S. Why did you decide to move back to Estonia?

After I had completed my studies, I stayed in New York, but most of my concerts were in Europe. At some point I didn't really have a home. I also tried living in Barcelona and Berlin. Estonia had always been home in my mind and the final push was meeting my wife, who had also lived outside of Estonia for many years. 

What is most important to you in regard to living in Estonia?

The feeling of home, the air, water, light, quiet – especially when I'm in the countryside. The short distances between places and people. 

How would you characterize the Estonian jazz scene?

Estonian jazz life has developed in a very positive way over the past decade. The Estonian Jazz Union has been active, organizing concerts in many cities; jazz can be studied at the university level, and there are many young and creative musicians. 

What kind of music do you enjoy listening to? Who are your favourite composers and interpreters?

I don't really listen to music just for fun since I always have something to work on, for which I listen to specific material. Some music I return to time and time again – for example, Bach, Shostakovich, Chick Corea, and Keith Jarrett.

You have been to Canada before, including to Kotkajärve Metsaülikool (Kotkajärve Forest University). What are your impressions of Canada?

I have been to Canada fairly often over the last twenty years; I also have relatives in Toronto. Canada is very American to me, although, a lighter version of it; however, here I am only referring to cities, such as New York, Los Angeles vs. Toronto and Montreal. Canada's natural environment is magnificent and reminds me of Estonia in some places.

You travel for work very often. How do you spend your free time with your family?

We try to spend as much time as possible in our country home; although, during busier months we often don't spend time there for many weeks in a row. It's great to do activities outside with the children. In Tallinn we have easy access to the sea.

Jaan Kittask