Felix Bornholdt is a New Zealand pianist and composer. An active figure in the Australian improvised music scene, Felix is also a member of the pop band Lime Cordiale and spends much of each year touring in the USA, Europe, and UK. His debut solo piano record, Man Overboard was released in June 2023.

What early childhood musical experiences and memories led you to play the piano? Growing up, my dad played records in the house from waking until bed; it was a wide selection with a lot of ECM, Bach, Gregorian chant, Palestrina masses, and then some seriously out-there recordings by groups like the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Don Cherry, and Pharaoh Sanders. If there was a unifying feature, it was all fairly fringe music and always cranked at high volume. Hearing Keith Jarre‚ ’s Köln Concert for the first time was a huge moment for me. I have memories of trying to play it for friends in high school and ranting about all the mythology surrounding it – the fact that he hadn’t slept for days, had to drive, nearly didn’t make the gig, then the piano was the wrong one and the gig almost didn’t happen! They were uninterested, but that record more than anything made me want to become a pianist.

What have some of the highlights of your musical journey been so far? When I moved from Wellington to Sydney, I felt like I had just arrived in New York. I was going out nearly every night and hearing people like Mike Nock, The Catholics, and Sandy Evans – the people that I had admired all through high school. It was totally intoxicating and deeply inspiring. As part of the pop world, I’m overseas on tour for about four months each year. There are some enormous highs in playing shows in places with such a deep musical history as London and New York, and the general pinch-me-ness of somehow getting to see so much of the world by being a pianist.

You are well-versed in a variety of musical genres, what does jazz mean to you? I was on tour in the US a few months ago and stopped by the gallery Corbe‚ vs Dempsey in Chicago. A couple of weeks earlier I’d been in New Zealand, and the saxophonist Peter Brötzmann had just died. My Dad, Uncle and I had been listening to some of his music and leafing through a book of his graphic design work. He did a lot of album covers and posters, including the cover for his own record Nipples, which is the only record produced by Manfred Eicher that doesn’t appear on the ECM label. I walked into the office of this gallery in Chicago, and that same book was open on a desk. When I mentioned this to Mr. Corbett, he pointed to a chair on which Peter Brotzman’s saxophone case was sitting. They had been conducting their own Brotzman memorial on the other side of the world. We talked for an hour or so; these guys had an encyclopaedic knowledge of all this improvised music that had been coming out of New Zealand in the 80s and 90s – in Chicago! I mention this because it gave me a profound sense of jazz being this strange global community, Black American music that has had a very deep and lasting international influence.

What is your latest musical project and how did it evolve? I’ve just released my first solo piano recording, Man Overboard. In part, it is a collection of works that are thinking about living and making music in the South Pacific. When I was in school, I was part of a two-week expedition, initiated by the Sir Peter Blake Trust, to the Kermadec Islands, which is a remote volcanic region three days sail North from New Zealand. An experience like that changes how you see yourself in the world and in this case, it got me thinking a lot about water and about living in what are aquatic nations.

You are home alone on a Sunday evening and want to relax listening to some of your favourite music. What would you choose? I’ve always been enamoured with the sound and format of the solo piano. There’s a record by the pianist Jon Balke called Warp which is solo piano with strange threads of electronics running behind it. I’m also completely unable to escape Glenn Gould’s Goldberg Variations; I love them both – the ‘55 recording for the morning and the ‘81 for the evening. There’s also a curious recording by h hunt called Playing Piano for Dad that I find oddly compelling; it’s almost like listening to someone practising or being recorded covertly. Sometimes he stops in the middle of a piece, and you hear the chair creaking, or some faint words being spoken off -mic. It’s startlingly intimate and very beautiful.

– Barry O’Sullivan