Italian-born saxophonist ALDEVIS TIBALDI launches a new sextet album “TwentySix Three” on February 26th with a group including trumpeter/composer John Eacott. Rob Adams found out the background:
Carla Bley, Willie Garnett and Bill Kyle are unlikely ever to play in the same band together but the pianist-composer, saxophonist-instrument repairer and drummer-jazz club owner form an invaluable trio of encouragement and assistance in the career of Aldevis Tibaldi.
The Trieste-born saxophonist, who has been resident in London since 2004, encountered Bley while playing with a student orchestra in Bologna and was impressed by her willingness, over lunch with the young musicians she was tutoring, to answer any and all questions about arranging techniques. As the saxophone technician to players from Ben Webster to David Sanborn, every professional passing through London owes Willie Garnett a favour, says Tibaldi. And mine host of Edinburgh’s Jazz Bar, Bill Kyle has consistently given Tibaldi the opportunity to see that his musical ideas work and may be this trio’s most vital component.
Tibaldi began playing classical trumpet and double bass as a child in Trieste and by the age of eleven he had added a parallel interest in jazz courtesy of Gerry Mulligan and Sonny Rollins, whom he discovered through an art teacher with a fondness for passing mix-tapes to pupils he thought might share his musical tastes.
“One of those tapes had Sonny Rollins’ Saxophone Colossus on it and I was immediately seduced by the sound of the tenor saxophone,” says Tibaldi. “This was small town Italy in the 1980s and there wasn’t a lot of jazz around. The nearest saxophone teacher was 150 kilometres away so I learned to play with the school concert band until I moved on to the academy, where I played all sorts of music, church music, a lot of rock music. It was a great experience.”
Having won a place at university Tibaldi went ahead and took an MA in Political Studies but just days after he completed his final dissertation he was studying the singular inversions and voicings that make Carla Bley’s music so distinctive. By this time he was playing baritone in the OFP Orchestra S.Lazzaro in Bologna, whose many guest directors included Steve Coleman and Bruno Tommaso as well as Bley and her long-time partner and collaborator, bassist Steve Swallow.
“Carla and Steve were wonderful,” he says. “We had a week of rehearsals with them and often the guest directors would eat with the professors but Carla and Steve sat with the students and let us fire questions at them all through the meals. What Carla told me stayed with me for years and I still use the knowledge she imparted in my own music today.”
Another lasting influence from his early days is Balkan music. Trieste being near the Yugoslavian border, musician exchanges brought him into contact with the compound time signatures that are a feature of the Balkan traditions. “I never actually played that music but it made a big impression,” he says. “What amazed me was that, not only could they play music in those metres, but they could also dance in 13/8 – and I could barely count it!”
In 2004, Tibaldi decided on a change of scene. He moved to London and taking time to find his way on the gig scene he got a job in Virgin Records’ Oxford Street store. In the jazz department there he was exposed to a lot of music he hadn’t heard before and wandering through Soho after work he encountered a local worthy, Jake Vegas, who was his passport onto the jobbing musician circuit.
“Jake is a very funny guy but also a genius,” says Tibaldi. “And through him, I was able to give up my job with Virgin and earn enough to live on as a musician, playing weddings and other functions, a whole variety of things.”
It was around this time that, on a road trip through Scotland, Tibaldi happened upon the Tuesday jam session at the Jazz Bar in Edinburgh. Hearing him play, club owner Bill Kyle offered him a couple of nights’ work the following weekend, playing with the World Premiere Quintet – an ad hoc meeting of musicians who are often meeting for the first time and who organise the set list on the bandstand.
Two nights became three as Tibaldi sat in with the Jazz Bar Big Band on the Monday and from then on Kyle would call and invite him back periodically to work with musicians including award-winning trumpeter Colin Steele, pianists and young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year winners Alan Benzie and Pete Johnstone, and the now Korea-based Paul Kirby, and the experienced Kyle himself.
“Playing at the Jazz Bar has been a great help with my career in the UK,” says Tibaldi. “Having these musicians playing my own music has let me see that my ideas work and it’s given me confidence when putting my own projects together.”
Among those projects is the London Jazz Ensemble, which includes sometime Loose Tubes, trumpeter John Eacott and trombonist Paul Taylor, alongside pianist Liam Dunachie, bassist Richard Sadler, and drummer Chris Gale. The band launches its first album, TwentySix Three, on February 26 at Hampton Court House, where Tibaldi has been teaching saxophone since 2009.
Mostly comprising Tibaldi originals, with arrangements of Mingus, Monk, and Ellington tunes and the Italian standard Mi Piace, TwentySix Three showcases Tibaldi’s ability both to make a three-horn frontline sound almost orchestral and to produce his best work to a deadline.
“I have ideas on the go all the time and notes all over the place that I’ll keep coming back to and revising,” he says. “But I find that my best writing comes when I have to come up with something to order. For some reason a deadline makes me think clearer and more decisively. It’s a great motivation.”