“This record shows the raw emotion in a room full of people, I am so glad we got this recorded!”
Vienna-born alto saxophonist Guido Spannocchi, has now lived in London for a decade. “The scene and musicianship are unmatched and I absolutely love this city!” He has a new album out. “Live at Porgy and Bess”, recorded (almost by chance) last year in his native city. Interview by Sebastian.
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LondonJazz News: I understand you went from Vienna to do postgrad studies in Paris, and then came to London more than a decade ago. What’s the story?
Guido Spannocchi: When living in Paris, busking became my main source of income but the good spots are usually controlled by gangs and after finishing my postgrad course and the financial support that came with the scholarship I quickly ran out of money so I thought I’d just move to the next bigger town, hehe. I remember vividly arriving here with a one way ticket, my instrument and a suitcase filled with hope. I cannot stress enough how much I now feel at home here, the scene and musicianship are unmatched and I absolutely love this city!
LJN: Was that after you’d finished conservatoire?
GS: I never actually finished Conservatoire, you’re also the first official interview I’m telling this, but the structure at the world renowned Conservatoire of Vienna is, as the name suggests, very conservative. I couldn’t see much application for the curriculum I was taught and only very few of my tutors were active musicians. Eventually touring got in conflict with regular attendance and I fell out with my main teacher so I left and started to study musicology and law. I quickly abandoned my law studies but musicology enabled me to attend a post grad course in Paris from 2009-2011 where I focused on minimalist music and West African studies.
LJN: How often do you go back to the continent and to Vienna in particular?
GS: Most of my family live on the continent and I try to stay in touch with them which provides a welcome excuse to go there. Whenever possible I tend to combine those family visits with concerts, I usually play in Vienna about two to three times a year but am often there for the Christmas, Easter of Family reunions.
LJN: And what are your normal playing haunts in London ?
GS: There are a few obvious clubs which I love such as Ronnie Scott’s especially the late shows, the Vortex is another great venue particularly due to their cutting edge programming. I run several residencies such as most Saturdays at The Bloomsbury Club where we usually work in a baritone sax, organ and drums combo but I am also a big fan of more experimental venues such as New River Studios and used to love The Agile Rabbit in South London which is currently on a hiatus,
LJN: How would you describe Porgy and Bess to people who know London venues? What’s it most like ?
GS: Porgy & Bess, or Porgy as most Viennese people call it, is similar to Ronnie Scott’s but there is only one show a night, usually two sets and a very concentrated audience. The light is usually quite dim and the stage relatively high as the venue has a balcony so it allows views from the stalls and balcony. It used to be a 24hr erotic cinema which was converted into a club in the early 2000s. I’ve been going to Porgy & Bess even before it was situated in its current premises ever since the age of 12 and remember sneaking in as I couldn’t afford tickets.
Right now the venue is lush, it provides a full backline and musicians are treated exceptionally well which is why it’s made itself a name on the circuit. Some of the biggest names rather play at Porgy & Bess than in big concert halls as the slightly more intimate environment allows a closer connection to the audience although the capacity is around 400 people or so. I think first and foremost though it’s the team which makes the club, director Christoph Huber has a good ear/eye for interesting acts and is never shy of taking risks with more daring ensembles or newcomers, he is also in the club pretty much every night of the year so I guess the commitment speaks for itself.
LJN: Who is in your quartet, how long has it been with this personnel and where do the connections come from?
My quartet consists of piano but lately also lots of keyboard or synthesizer, the main call for this role is Danny Keane, one of my oldest friends and closest ally, we met when I was hanging out in London after a tour in 2005 and have been working together on and off ever since. In the last few years, this work has intensified thanks to suitable gigs and writing sessions together.
On bass I try to work with Ruth Goller whenever I can, her timefeel and unapologetic approach to instant arrangement is mind-blowing, I love her way of playing which brings a totally different soundscape to my music, we actually met on a funk gig in 2014 or so and have been working more closely in recent years. Whenever Ruth isn’t free I call Jason Simpson who is one of the first people I played with when moving here and who I’ve been doing countless tours and gigs with, I love his tasteful playing! Currently, Jihad Darwish has also been doing some of the shows, he’s a very close friend and I love how we can play straight-ahead gigs together but also go completely berserk on some free-fall jazz explosion, he is currently in the process of releasing an album which I cannot recommend enough.
On drums Pete Adam Hill is my first choice, his playing sits effortlessly between tradition and modern grooves and he always brings high energy in a very musical context.
LJN: I gather you and Ruth Goller have no fewer than THREE languages in common?!
GS: Yes Ruth is from South Tyrol which is right next to Austria, we both speak German, English and Italian, this can be quite funny on tour but is also incredibly practical.
LJN: What’s the story of the live recording and what is the set up at Porgy?
GS: Porgy & Bess offer a multitrack recording for a very reasonable price as they have a fully functional state of the art recording studio in the basement directly under the stage. When going on tour I inquired about the possibility of this but was then unsure whether to go ahead with it or not as floating the cost presented a possible problem and of course you never know if the band or yourself will be on form on the night so I never actually confirmed the recording. Once the gig was over the engineer came over and told us he had to test the gear for a big production the next day and we could have the multitrack for the agreed price. Sceptical about it I asked for a bounce of the files in order to have a listen but as soon as I had a moment to check the recording I immediately wanted to make this an album. They recorded it so well, it sounds incredible which is also thanks to my brother Raphael Spannocchi who mixed the record and whose ears for sound are just phenomenal.
LJN: You are releasing the recording so you must like it! ….?
GS: Yes I do, I think it gives a real insight in the way I like to work, live on the spot with the band and the audience, taking risks and going with what feels right in the moment. I am very proud of what we have achieved as a quartet and incredibly grateful to all the hard work everyone has put into this project over the years. Being a self releasing independent artist isn’t always easy but I am lucky to work with some of the best people in the industry and this record is a testimony of all of this, it shows the raw emotion in a room full of people, I am so glad we got this recorded!
LJN: Which tracks work best / Are there tunes that work particularly well?
GS: There are two:
- “Don Ron” is one of my favourites, it’s a simple little melody dedicated to Ron Grün, a multi-instrumentalist living in Paris who showed me the good spots to busk and taught me some Klezmer music as an effective way of making money on the street. On that night at Porgy & Bess Ruth pulled out all the stops during this tune which gives it a completely different feel and almost morphs it into a different tune during the bass solo and the drum part.
- “Cto Me Yelo” is another favourite, this is a Roma tune usually sung as a round or canon on the road while travelling. I learned this tune from my grandmother, who was an integral part in my upbringing and who was a displaced person herself having to flee Hungary at a young age. Without getting into too much detail I think we do capture the essence of that tune on the record, it’s not easy to leave home and you don’t know what awaits you abroad, it must be devastating to be forced to leave your birthplace and we can count ourselves lucky if we do not have to live through this hardship. One of the things I have learned from my grandmother is to surround yourself with likeminded people you can rely on as this can ease ones journey and community provides solace. More than ever we must focus on understanding each other through empathy and kindness.
LJN: Where is recording available / how do people get hold of it?
GS: It will be available on double red vinyl, CD and digital via kudos distribution hence in good record shops or via this link as well as on my gigs – LINK HERE
LJN: Will there be a London launch – where … when ?
GS: Yes we are doing two nights at Ronnie Scott’s on 16th & 17th June always for the late late show starting at 11pm and I’d love to see you there!
LINK: Guido Spannocchi’s website
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