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Meet Markus Gottschlich

Markus Gottschlich, the new executive director of the NM Jazz Workshop. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Markus Gottschlich, who says he has a “Renaissance-like” approach to life, is a performer, composer, educator, former NCAA basketball player and a businessman.

Above all else, the Viennese-born musician, who grew up in an apartment once occupied by Beethoven, is a renowned jazz pianist and composer who has traveled the world to perform.

He is also, as of last September, the executive director of the New Mexico Jazz Workshop. Gottschlich landed in Albuquerque after a career in Miami, where he was artistic director of the Miami Beach Jazz Festival and founder of Jazz Academy Miami.

He came to New Mexico because the organization here has a unique mission: “Under one umbrella, it has two things I’m very passionate about, jazz education and the performance aspect,” he says.

“I do love the green and red chile, that’s a nice bonus, and the landscape is very impressive, but I jokingly said if this was Anchorage vs. Albuquerque, I would be just as excited,” said Gottschlich, 38.

A Steinway artist, Gottschlich has an international business degree from Western Connecticut State University. Knowing the fundamentals of business, he says, is key to having a successful music career.

“I think anybody studying music should take business classes, because we live in a world where just being able to play music well is not enough,” he said. “I know many musicians who never see a stage and they’re incredible, but they’ll never get the opportunity because they can’t write their own biography. They don’t know how to talk to the press. They don’t have a good website. They don’t have any of the basic marketing (skills) and just being a well-rounded human being. ”

Gottschlich’s business sense became evident quickly. Under his watch, the New Mexico Jazz Workshop applied for and won a $20,000 economic impact grant from New Mexico Gas Co. and its parent company, Emera. The focus of the group’s application was the “Under the Stars” program, a series of 17 summer concerts that employs roughly 250 musicians, plus stage crew and front-of-house personnel that can mean an additional 50 workers per concert.

Gottschlich started taking music lessons when he was 5 on a 100-year-old piano his grandmother had rescued from a neighbor.

“Her mentality behind it was that if all else fails, if you’re able to play piano, you can still get yourself a bowl of soup,” he said. “That mentality, it never really made sense to me until I realized it came from surviving the World War (II). Scarcity is an experience that is shared by all of those who survived war and postwar times. Skills and talents became a tradable currency.

The story provides the perfect description of Gottschlich’s career: “For me, it’s been many bowls of soup.”

You left Austria when you were 17. Why?

“Just like any good immigrant – the thought of a better life and a better opportunity. The world’s not big enough for a young person. Everything’s too slow, and for me, I wanted to experience the world.”

Why jazz?

“I was just very drawn to jazz because I never knew the piano could sound like that. To me, the piano was an instrument that produced classical sounds, but the same instrument could sound completely different. I was interested in figuring out how that’s possible. I’m getting close to figuring it out.”

How do you spend your free time?

“Free time is more for people who have a job, right? But if it’s something you’re passionate about or you’re obsessed with something, then there’s no free time. Even when I’m not here (in the jazz workshop office), I’m thinking about something or working on something. So in a sense I’m not looking forward to free time. I’m happy doing what I do.”

What’s on your bucket list?

“I think creating for myself the sense of awareness of how unique each moment is, because then every single day is something from your bucket list. Sometimes we just take things for granted until they’re gone and so in a sense, a bucket list is not a destination, it’s not a location. It’s more of a state of mind.”

Tell me about a difficult time in your life.

“I think just being away from your family. I think that’s the hardest part. The interesting thing about that is you would assume it’s harder in the beginning and then it gets easier, but it’s actually the other way around. It’s easy in the beginning and then it gets harder because in the beginning everything is new to you and you really haven’t spent that much time away. The longer you stay away, (the more) your reasons for being away need to be stronger.”

What do you miss about Austria, besides your family?

The cuisine, culture, language. But most of my adult life I’ve spent here, so it’s a little bit of a schizophrenic existence. When I’m here I like to customize my experience and make it as European as possible, see the little French cafes. And when I’m over there, I wonder, ‘Hey, why do stores close at 6 p.m.? Why can I not go shopping on Sunday?’ So I’m in both worlds, and I miss whatever’s not there.”

Any pet peeves?

“Which is such an American thing, by the way. That term itself, I don’t think we have anything like that in German. I think, in the situation I’m in, a pet peeve would be for people who want to associate themselves with an organization like ours for their own agenda or the wrong reason – for their own ego or to take advantage of the structure we create here. The Japanese say it’s bad when one thing becomes two, so if somebody wants to affiliate themselves with a certain mission or organization in order to do something else, I don’t like to see that.”

What makes you laugh?

“I’m so used to talking about work that I can’t switch. Do I exist as a person?”

What are your favorite foods?

“From living in Miami, I came to love Cuban food and I will go very long and very far for good Cuban coffee. I love Cuban coffee – you know, colada? – like espresso. Same thing with king crab legs. They’re not necessarily healthy. King crab legs are extremely high in cholesterol, especially with hot butter, and the colada has so much sugar, and it’s such strong coffee. It’s like rocket fuel. The first time I drank it, I thought I could look into the future for about 10 minutes.”

What is your deepest wish for the future?

“This question is extremely poignant when you put it in the front of this background here: that we are a small nonprofit in a small music market dealing with the least-heard genre in the world. What we do, it’s already so unlikely that having success in this field gives you hope and gives you energy and drive to do more. It’s almost like Don Quixote and the windmill. We’re trying to promote an original American art form, jazz, and we’re trying to preserve it. It’s always an uphill battle, and so you have to maintain a positive mindset about it – that you’re getting there. You will never get there, but it’s a journey. We are doing well on the journey.”

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