Feature/Interview

Lorenzo De Finti: “Safely distanced. Very careful. It’s time for our journey to start again.”

“How did it feel?”. “Unreal.”

Italian-Swiss pianist Lorenzo De Finti, a good friend of LJN, placed this photo on Facebook on Saturday 27 June, with the caption “Safely distanced. Very careful. It’s time for our journey to start again.” It showed the first rehearsal by his quartet since lockdown. Sebastian found out more…

Lorenzo De Finti and his quartet at their first post-lockdown rehearsal

LondonJazz News: You finally got your quartet together again on Friday. What’s the story?

Lorenzo De Finti: The covid outbreak caught us while we were about to start the third and final leg of the “Love Unknown” European tour: we had concerts planned in Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Italy, Romania and Norway. Plus we were starting to schedule the recording sessions of our third album. In the meantime, as our trumpet player was leaving the band, we were trying to figure out who could be the right one to replace him.

The long and severe lockdown interrupted our plans. It was literally forbidden to leave your house, you needed a special printed document to show to a possible police control even if you just had to go to a grocery store. Until 8 June you weren’t allowed to leave your city, and we all live in different cities! So, once we were free to move, we immediately set up a date and got together, with all mandatory precautions taken.

LJN: How did it feel?

LDF: Unreal… we got together in a big empty theatre in downtown Milan, with a grand piano, and it felt weird. Initially, I had trouble finding my concentration. I was worried that I was too close to my friends (even though we were three metres apart and the law says one metre, two for wind instruments), concerned that I would not be able to hear Marco Castiglioni‘s  drums so far away… But once the music began, I got back on track with the same emotion and enthusiasm I had before the “apocalypse”.

LJN: Where have you been during lockdown? And how has it been?

LDF: On Friday 21 February (the day of the first case in Italy), I drove to Locarno (Switzerland), the small town I come from, 120 km from Milan, with my wife and my three kids for the weekend. We were supposed to go back to Milan on Sunday morning (23 Feb) but I host a jazz radio show on the Swiss National radio network and I got a call from them asking me to stay in Switzerland for the following two weeks as a precaution because no one coming from Italy would be able to enter the studios. At the same time we got the news that schools would be closed in Italy for the next two weeks so we decided to stay in Switzerland, as a kind of vacation. No one could have imagined what was going to happen in a matter of days… Long story short, borders were closed, we got stuck there!

It was hard… 40 square meters, web school for my older kids (10 and 7) to manage, the little one (2) destroying the house in the meantime. My wife Kate, an American singer, and I were super busy all day, and then, after the kids went to sleep, we had to take care of our own work… My parents helped us, but this forced us to be even more careful in order to protect them from infection.

Every day, my older son Thomas and I used to go to the basement for a one-on-one football match.  We would finish around 6pm in time for the daily government report on the pandemic, and I will never forget the pain I was feeling during March, with hundreds of deaths reported and 4-5,000 new infections every day.

Thank God none of us got sick.

I managed to put together a Facebook stream “Love Unknown quarantine tour” – a sort of video music show in which I presented some live videos of my quartet, chatted with other musicians sharing our experiences (Paolo Fresu and Magnus Ostrom joined me, among many others). Of course I tried to practise every day even though my Swiss piano is pretty cranky… but it did its job, tuned by a guy dressed up in an Ebola protective suit!

LJN: And presumably you were preparing to get your band together?

LDF: I couldn’t wait! I finalised the process of composing for the new album together with bass player and co-writer Stefano Dall’Ora, and we decided to try out the great Italian trumpet player Alberto Mandarini. Swiss trumpet player Matthias Spillmann is still involved in the project, but given the current situation, we needed an easily reachable musician.

LJN: And when were you allowed to go back to Milan?

LDF: On 4 May, the Italian government lifted the lockdown a bit: we could have gone back, but we would have had to quarantine in our apartment for 14 days! On 8 June this rule was revoked, and we finally made it home on 14 June, four months after arriving for our “weekend trip”…

LJN: Parts of Northern Italy were really badly hit by the virus. Are people generally cautious and respectful of the rules?

LDF: I can only speak for what I see… I think 80% of people are very cautious. Wearing masks is still mandatory in our area; before entering department stores they take your temperature and you must use hand sanitiser; social distancing is mandatory, especially in restaurants.

I have the impression that people are really scared: in my area we had something like 16,000 deaths, 50% of the people who died from this parasite in Italy. It feels like a post-war atmosphere, people want to start again, but they know it will take time. No one wants another lockdown.

Of course we have our own percentage of idiots here in Italy, as everywhere else; I hope they will not destroy the sacrifice we all made during the past four months.

LJN: Is it clear what musicians can and cannot do in Italy?

LDF: I think it is: since 15 June concerts are allowed (theatres and cinemas reopened too). The rules are very severe: there must be a 4 square metre space between people in the audience, the stage must be big enough to allow one metre between musicians, two for wind instruments.

For example, I am the artistic director of a small jazz festival in Milan (the Rosetum Jazz Festival) and our room usually contains 120 people (like on our last show, on 14 Feb, the great Kristian Randalu Trio), but now only 15 people would be allowed!

It’s not easy, but we are well known for being very creative and it’s time for us to start again now. Music and culture (and beauty) are as important as health safety and economy after the dark period we have been through.

LJN: You do have some concerts (with audiences!!) in your diary. Where are they? How will they work?

LDF: Only five out of 19 tour dates survived the pandemic, but fortunately most of them will happen next year. I’m so glad we will hold a special event with my quartet at the Rosetum Jazz Festival in Milan on 15 July, then we will be at Passau Jazz Festival (Germany) and Hadeland Jazz Forum (Norway).

In November we’re meant to perform in Leipzig and Dresden in Germany and Altdorf in Switzerland, but it’s difficult to plan so far away in such an uncertain situation. I think we will have to wait for the vaccine to go back to normal.

As far as I can see there will be two short concerts instead of a regular one, which would allow more people to join the event. I know Paolo Fresu will use this method in his festival in Berchidda. I like the idea of playing more!

LJN: And how would you describe your mood / state of mind at the moment?

LDF: I’m still shocked by the whole situation…it’s been unreal… I remember waking up in the morning in March or April, thinking “no, this in not happening”. But it was. We have to face it, live with it, and possibly learn something to make our lives better out of it. I feel grateful that we can start again: everything we used to take for granted looks like a big daily miracle to me now. I mean small things like sitting outside a cafe drinking an espresso with my wife in the morning, or riding my bicycle through Milan or having a long rehearsal session with my quartet…

We must be very careful, the war is not over yet, but three months ago, if anyone had told me “you will perform in Milan on 15 July” I would have considered it pure madness!

Let’s stay positive, and see what happens in the next few months.

LINK: Lorenzo De Finti’s website

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