Sardinian trumpet star Paolo Fresu is playing on Nov. 11th & 12th at Pizza Express’ My Jazz Islands Festival, which brings together British and Sardinian musicians. Alison Bentley – who attended part one of the festival in Sardinia – interviewed him.
Alison Bentley: You play in a number of different idioms- your duo work with pianist Uri Caine, for example. Standards- was that how you started?
Paolo Fresu: For me, there’s not a big difference between standards and original compositions. Especially with Uri Caine- we play a lot of different things. We’ll be in Umbria Jazz in the last week in December, for four nights. We’ll play one night- just standards; one night- original compositions; on another we’ll play Baroque music, and on the last night we’ll try to play just Italian pop songs- why not? I think that the most important thing is not the material- the material’s just a pretext to go inside the music. The most important thing’s our attitude to the music. We need to know the history of this music, because otherwise we live in the present, and we don’t know about the past. We need to know about repertoire; we need to know about the artists, because otherwise we have no tool to open new doors. And standards are like bread for us- if we play standards we can also play original music. I like very much jazz- I like Miles, Louis Armstrong, Chet Baker… but the real way for me is to mix standards, originals and all kinds of material.
AB: Your ECM music’s a very distinctive style too- your recording with guitarist Ralph Towner.
PF: The record title was Chiaroscuro. I made two records for ECM- the first was this one with Ralph and the second was Mistico Mediterraneo. That was a special project with a Corsican choir and a bandoneon player. With Ralph Towner, the repertoire was 80% original compositions- Ralph’s compositions, basically. And Blue in Green, which is one of the most famous standards in the history of jazz. I think that the problem is not the material that we use, but the way we play this music. We can even play very traditional songs from Sardinia. Dear Old Stockholm (played by Chet Baker) was a traditional song from Sweden, and a lot of jazz standards were from the very rich popular repertoire from the 40s, 50s, 60s. We can be original if we know the history of the music. It’s not easy, of course!
AB: Your music with Nguyên Lê and Huong Thanh, and Omar Sosa – that sounded very original to me.
PF: Well, yes. With Omar and Nguyên Lê there’s another kind of approach. Because we play original music- a kind of mix with traditional music: for example, with Omar, some things from Cuba- and with Nguyên Lê, from Vietnam. We play one note, and that note is the first step to go inside the music. With Omar, the first thing we share is not the music, but the philosophy of the music- the sounds and the silence. With Uri and with Ralph, the improvisation is 50% or less. With Omar Sosa the improvisation is maybe 80%. The communication is completely different. I have a lot of projects with piano players like Omar and Uri. Tomorrow I’ll be in Poland with Bojan Zulfikarpasic, the Bosnian piano player. Tonight I am in Bologna with Daniele di Bonaventura on bandoneon. Another project is with a string quartet. I like very much to play with small projects, because the quality of the sound and silence is very important for me.
AB: Your Devil Quartet funk made me think of Miles Davis and ‘You’re Under Arrest’?
PF: Yes! My Italian quintet or quartet is another adventure: with bass, drums, guitar and myself. I think I need to float between those different kinds of projects. The very simple ones like duos, because they have a lot of silence, and at the same time with the quartet- we play a lot of rock and electric sounds. So the whole personality is very rich and very different.
AB: And you write for film and dance as well?
PF: Yes, I like very different kinds of things in music- and I like to play the things that I like! I hope that the audience can follow me and my music. I think I’m very lucky, because in my life- I started in 1982 or 3- in my career I just followed myself, and not the audience. I followed my ideas, and finally I’m at the age when the audience is also happy- and when we have a lot of people at the concerts! But the most important thing for me is to be honest and happy with myself on stage first, and with my musicians. If the interplay between my musicians is correct, we can speak to the audience. But if the interplay with my musicians is not correct, we have nothing to give to people.
Alison Bentley: How did you get involved with Filomena Campus’ Jazz Islands project?
Paolo Fresu: Filomena was in my workshop in Sardinia maybe 12, 13 years ago, and I’ve followed her career. She’s a fantastic player, a fantastic singer. She makes theatre pieces, she writes lyrics, she’s a great organiser- and has a relationship with England and Sardinia. She composed lyrics in the Sardinian language. I like Filomena because she’s very curious and open, and plays with a lot of different people.
I think it’s very important to try to open new doors and windows- maybe we don’t know what happens through those doors and windows, but it’s important to push!
Pizza Express Dean Street:
Mon. 11th Nov.DÙOS (CD Launch): Filomena Campus, vocals; Giorgio Serci, guitar; Adriano Adewale, percussion; Sonia Peana, violin, and Paolo Fresu, trumpet (TICKETS)
Tues. 12th Nov. JESTER OF JAZZ: Filomena Campus, vocals; Steve Lodder, piano; Dudley Phillips, bass; Rod Youngs, drums, and Paolo Fresu, trumpet (TICKETS)