An interview with Maurizio Giammarco: The spirits of the masters help me (you) to keep the path … Video

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Jazz Interview with jazz saxophonist Maurizio Giammarco. An interview by email in writing.

JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Maurizio Giammarco: – I grew up mainly in Roma, after several relocations due to my father job when I was a kid. None of my relatives was involved in music but my family, as many middle class families of that time, take care about culture. So there were just a few records of different genres at home: among them Gershwin’ Rhapsody In Blue and a Duke Ellington collection (late ’30 masterpieces: the most visionary music ever!). Those records little by little took all my attention, together with a little bit of Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven… In retrospect I can say that has been mostly Ellington to change my life: he was the “virus”!

JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the saxophon?

MG: – Later on, being a young teenager, I started buying records with the little money my mother was giving to me (having lost my father at 11). The first two LP were a Louis Armstrong and a traditional Jazz collection which took all my concentration for a lot of time. I soon developed the intention to play an instrument and the choice went to the saxophone. You know, Bud Freeman was my main early reference: I started with traditional jazz and this was a very lucky occurance, since my taste and jazz knowledge developed as a consequence, following the evolution of Jazz. Those were the late ’60, and a lot of other music was also going on; so through my friends I got involved also in the rock scene (Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, progressive rock, blues and everything else), and after a while I started to play, also in live situations, with a progressive-blues-rock-soul (?) group of friends. A started hitting the stage not even knowing all my scales on the instrument!

JBN.S: – What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the saxophon?

MG: – I’ve been mostly a self-tought musician, but at the very beginning I had some harmony lessons with (classic) composer Gino Marinuzzi. In 1973 Giorgio Gaslini made his famous first jazz workshop at the roman Conservatory (I was there), and later in 1975 I went to the States studying at Karl Berger’s Creative Music Studio (Woodstock) and taking sax lessons in New Jersey with legendary teacher Joe Allard (among his students: Dolphy, Liebman, Grossman, Brecker and even Coltrane for a few lessons). I later went back in USA a few other times to improve (and play!).

JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

MG: – Three things: practice, practice and practice. I obviously tried many set-ups, spending a huge amount of money in mouthpieces etc. But I always took care of the sound, which is the main thing, in a never ending research.

JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

MG: – Being a self-taught (no jazz and even saxophone was regularly teached in Italy during my early years, anyway), I really developed a personal system, which ended focusing on rhythmic patterns (also for teaching reasons). I did also many transcriptions, which I started doing very soon, and are now an essential part of every jazz musician training. Frankly speaking I’ve never had any great problem with rhythm, from the very beginning. I think the reason is Ellington as my main earlier paramount music source.

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?

MG: – I don’t make use of specific patterns anymore (except maybe a few that I love). I just play what I feel and ear. But I used to study hundreds of pattern to understand the sound of the changes. You need to study the most of them to forget them later.

JBN.S: – Many aspiring musicians are always looking for advice when navigating thru the music business. Is there any piece of advice you can offer to aspiring students or even your peers that you believe will help them succeed and stay positive in this business?

MG: – If I knew the answer I was a more successful musician! Anyway the most important results in my career came by working with good peers of mine. So my advice is: find a good bunch of musicians and work the harder you can to develop a musical project of any kind, possibly interesting.

JBN.S: – Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?

MG: – These are hard times for true music: that is music that arises from honest inspiration and dedication. The music business is taking care only of the commercial side, going worst and worst. Media are responsible of the annihilation of people mind. Honest artists (not only musicians) are left alone. Nevertheless I’m confident that such a systematic war against individual creativity will find a stop. At the moment Jazz can still be a (very small) business for just a few, but I see a lot of young people strongly dedicated and this will make a change by force.

JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

MG: – This is actually a strong argument and a critical point especially from the teaching point of view. Most of young guys are still very interested in the tradition (in fact indulging in an anachronistic nostalgia) but many go directly to more advanced forms of jazz bypassing what has been our basic training (and missing some of the best emotional part of the music we love). I don’t blame them even if I’m not that glad about it. But as a matter of fact jazz has now one hundred years of history which is very hard to assimilate in the time you need to prepare yourself to survive playing music, which is…. the sooner is possible. So this reality opens to a complete new scenario, mostly unknown. Moreover the smartest jazz around is a kind of very difficult music (often related to advance contemporary music), that needs a lot of competence and confidence from both musicians and audiences. That’s where the media culture is really missing and the problem arises in his seriousness.

JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

MG: – Well I grew up listening to John Coltrane so part of his spirit (and not only his) stays with me. I try to do my best to compose and play music whose target is to be useful to other people spirit. The spirits of the masters help me (you) to keep the path.

JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?

MG: – Turning 65 in a few days I’m not figuring out any particular expectation. What brings me fear is the growth of the worst sides of globalization and the increasing lack of freedom and creative happiness in the human organization of life.

JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?

MG: – Maybe a comeback to the emotional and spiritual side of music. But this can happen only after a big change and improvement in society.

JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?

MG: – Well, jazz has been viewed for years, and still is, as a kind of XX century afro american folk music. This concept, true only in part, has been always the main drag for european musicians and a great alibi for the general public cultural disinterest about jazz. Still is a big point for the jazz business. But I believe that jazz became a universal art form (when it’ s able to reach his artistic potential, which is no easy at all). As far any folk idea is concerned, I think globalization made a clean sweep about it. It’s over. What we call “world” music is something that makes often use of nice sounds that unfortunately belong to other places and times, and, on my opinion, is good for tourism.

JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

MG: – These are the records in my car in the moment I write: Complete Red Nichols on Brunswick, Morton Feldman, Eight Blackbirds (a terrific avantgarde ensemble from Chicago), Jeff Beck, Sly and the Family Stone, Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh.

JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?

MG: – I have a couple of (classic) Selmer Tenors Mark VI (five digits), Yanagisawa Alto, Yamaha 82Z Soprano (but I miss my former Yanagisawa). As the tenor mouthpiece I switch between a Theo Wanne Gaia model (numbers 8 and 9) and a custom ebonite model made by an italian artisan named Alessandro Degola, which is my main choice at the moment.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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