Interview with Sokratis Votskos: I would say soul is everything, if you want it to be real: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist, bass clarinetist and composer Sokratis Votskos. An interview by email in writing.

JazzBluesNews.com: – When you improvise, you know where you’re going. It’s a matter of taking certain paths and certain directions?

Sokratis Votskos: – Improvisation for me is like a room with endless mirrors and endless windows in the same time, just like honest conversation and inner thought! You never really know where it’s gonna take you, either if you’ve had the same set of phrasing or a similar interaction with the other band members. ‘’You may answer or you may say something else…’’ As my friend and jazz legend Milcho Leviev once told. It’s always playfull, and it demands parts of your fantasy and logic in the same time. That’s intriguing to say the least, because you connect dots between places you wouldn’t otherwise! J

JBN: – Do you ever get the feeling that music majors, and particularly people who are going into jazz, are being cranked out much like business majors? That they are not really able to express themselves as jazz musicians?

SV: – The thing for me is: Whatever you do you have to do it with sincerity, simplicity, and passion. Passion may be the gravity towards good aesthetics and quality, that lead also towards uniqueness. Art from time to time maybe difficult to understand, and that’s why it usually cranks up to be that you really have to do somebody’s else will and ‘’not play yourself’’ so that you can be booked etc, in what turns to be a ‘’no no’’ for expression in general. I would say, do speak your inner soul, and you’ll find passionate lovers on what you do, because that way you’ll be the most passionate player and first listener of your music. And finally my own view: Do what you do with the utter simplicity, the hardest and most passionate way possible! Dig deeper folks! J

JBN: – What about somebody who is really gifted and puts together a band and just gets upset to the point of quitting because of the business aspects-the agents and the clubs?

SV: – You NEVER do whatever you do having your mind in what somebody wants to listen to, except for you! Otherwise it’s gonna be false, faux, with no soul at all. So, play yourself not what an agent or a club would like to listen to. Music is a language, and only if you speak yourself the most passionate way possible, you’re going to persuade and become part of this genre’s living history booking those gigs that reflect to you and not on what somebody think he wants… Think about it that way: Would you really persuade somebody speaking othe people’s ideas but you don’t really believe them in your guts?

JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

SV: – Having good aesthetics is the only real way to achieve this aim. That’s easy to say, though I may have encountered more non musicians with good aesthetics than musicians with this quality, in my life till now. It’s actually a whole live’s process that reflect also in other aspects of your life. Actually everything influences you, but it’s like the roots of a tree, if you know what you absorb and the qualities of each, you can filter the information and keep the usefull and good ones.

JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

SV: – I would say soul is everything, if you want it to be real. A real conception of what you’d like to do is what your spirit demands. And, in the bottomline, it’s the real centre of creation -the soul-, except for the moments you have to really study something technically. After this, the technical part strengthens your expression palette, so that you don’t struggle while creating on the spot!

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

SV: – What people want is what you really think and embody. That’s my manifest. It’s a trap thinking ‘’well I have to please them, I have to do this, I have to do that’’. Nobody really wants a faker in every aspect of life. SO, if I speak my soul out through music, even if it’s not pop music, people are gonna love it even if they understand it or not! It’s and algorithm, and it works amazingly well!

JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

SV: – One of our strongest memories as a quartet comes no further than in Odessa jazz festival in 2018, where the organizers and the audience really embraced us while the performance was great. Prilep jazz Weekend  that year was also nice, along with Duende jazz bar’s (SKG) performance. Our performance in KOTH underground festival (SKG) is our most iconic, because that’s how it really all started back in 2017! From my personal view, live performances is like a small window to other people’s lives and how you could give them joy, make them think and even dream. It can be otherwise though… I had a very bad experience performing Greek folk music 6 years ago in my hometown, where an audience member died in front of us while dancing. Heavy drinking and bad health were the reasons… It’s the ultimate realization that even within music or and it’s ability to make time stop, life just continues on it’s crazy flow.  I tend to think that we are ought to process things and thoughts just like kids to it, body and soul, the simplest way possible, in order for us to embrace this flow and get on.

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

SV: – I would say, listen to much music! Not only jazz, or classical, but music from all over the globe! There are so much gems in the folk music of several traditions that make you think out of the box and absorb ideas in a way that gets you back to the root of how jazz was created. It was really a continuous process of combining the African rythms with the west music harmony in an unexpected way, combining different roots, with amazing fruitfull results. So, while studying jazz thoroughly as an idiom,you are able to create your own voice and personal style. That’s everything, and that will keep you in a path of love and passion with music and life. It’s not only the musical instrument and you, but the centre of all life, Soul!

JBN: – And lastly, being a teacher, do you find it difficult to write music yourself?

SV: – I would say, that helps you even more. Teaching is a logical process that demands your presence guiding and finding paths for the students to cross. I have a theory that suggests, if you strengthen the logical part of your brain and overall thoughts you become stronger also creation wise! Also having a stable wake up and routine program also helps you lots. Being a creative person myself, I have noticed that studying the physics of acoustics lately (my Masters studies) helps my creational part even more than working only on that side of thinking. That corresponds to everything in life!

JBN: – How important is it to you to have an original approach? Can you comment on the bridge between being a musician and being a composer?

SV: – As I said before, speaking out yourself and your soul, having your own voice is everything! It doesn’t matter if your are the greatest technically, or not. Think about it as being Albert Einstein in a generation of other great physicist that never found something new but echoed all of their predecessors. Einstein created his own voice by strengthening his mind to think further imagining that there is nothing granted, rediscovering the entirety of the perception of time and space. Sokrates (Sokratis) the philosopher did something equivalent. J.S. Bach, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker did the same expanding the horizon and the quality of what we listen and how well-rounded we are thinking with music. Should I put it in a different way: It’s another thing overthinking, and another deep thinking, keep that in mind.

Being a musician and composer is a great way to understand both worlds, the process of composition and the performance in the same time. Being an improviser in music (and life I suppose) makes you also a composer in the ‘’heat’’ of the moment. That’s life, living the moment the best way possible. One aspect of being an active musician is that you have to study your art so that you stay in shape, while maintaining your creative thinking demands another part of your energy flow, just as we said before. I have observed that sometimes it’s interesting to combine both of them in the same time, so that you study your phraseology and create new ideas simultaneously. That’s actually how I write music, mainly on the piano, writing down and recording ideas, while strengthening my chops musically. I also combine studying on the sax and piano simultaneously keeping the phrasing flow alive, syncing with my soul frequently within.

JBN: – Do you have an idea of what it is you’re trying to say or get across? Is it an idea or is it just something that we feel?

SV: – For me is memories from my childhood and people I love, strong pictures I have held through time and space, imaginative dialogs along with temperamental moments of my life with previous or current girlfriends. It gives fire to my soul and makes me sometimes thinking of the solo more like a ‘’soulo’’! It has to be that way to be real, you know. I also tend to vision the place, the venue that I perform and kinda try to map my thoughts through while performing, watching the shapes and colors and translating them to my sound. All of this while listening to my great cats and performing, calling and responding all together as a body full of energy and thirsty for life! That’s why I reffered to that as an sound algorithm waiting to be heard by the ears and translated to other people’s visions and thoughts.

JBN: – What do you see for your extended future? You know what you have going on? You have life?If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

SV: – I strongly believe that maintain your body and soul energy can get you really further through whichever trip of dream you choose to hold on. For me that’s the alphabeta of my everyday life some years now, though life is life and you have to embrace things to move on, not to get overwhelmed. Several ideas creating along Kolida Babo (MIC Records) and Reggetiko Project. I also have composed new music for my (Sokratis Votskos) quartet, as a strong continuation of our first LP and single with Jazzman Records. Currently I also work on music for a choreography for Francesca, a special girl and dancer from Italy that it happened to work together through September, while recently made the sound design for an exposition in Sparta were I work, working with Kalliroi a local artist. Completing my Masters on ancient Greek god Pana’s cave acoustics and woodwinds is a forthcoming aim. I also tend to record much for new albums that come up, waiting also for a game release that we are working all together on it’s music with Linos from Reggetiko project. Changing the musical world is one of the hardest tasks, because of what’s being promoted and stuff, so I would hit and dispatch all of the managing from the star system. That would help artists express and expand their music, not thinking about it as a consuming process, working with sincerity.

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

SV: – Lately much music from Art Pepper and Milcho Leviev, a late Balkan jazz great that we had the joy to meet and work together. Listened also to Wayne Shorter’s latest grammy awarded album, and Sonny Rollins, real giants (or should I say colossuses) in the history of music. Eric Dolphy is a stand out cat that I look for also, an inspiration for the ‘’bass clarinet’’ side of me. Tony Scott also, who is an otherworldy musician, and inspiration for the energy involving part in performance. Of course John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, the greatest triad always blows my mind.

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

SV: – Love, passion and sincerity. It may sound cliché, but that’s what everything, isn’t that right? Communicating your own feelings, it’s the turnmoil of a healthy mind.

JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?  

SV: – While I really have a strong appeal for 1900’s Great Britain, my trip would be in the times of great blues singer and composer – guitarist Robert Johnson. Meeting and playing my soul out with him would be a privilege. That’s the same with Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy time period. Of course another thing is to be in the same time period and another thing to meet them in person, which would be the actual aim.

JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…

SV: – How is the bond and energy balance between Sokratis Votskos Quartet members?

SV: – I have the great honour to have in my quartet musicians such us Kostas Anastasiadis, an amazingly talented performer and real guru of the drumming in Greece, sharing original ideas and placing his own personal voice within the ensemble. Leandros Pasias and Evvangelos Vrachnos, I really love these guys and can’t wait the next occasion to play together, special talented cats!

JBN: – Ha, ha, ha … 🙂

JBN: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?

SV: – I’m glad that I’m able to communicate and to speak out my own voice and soul with such a great Record company, Jazzman Records! It really gives me more fire and energy to continue composing music and creating in general! Dig deeper folks!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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