Interview with Roberto Ottaviano: Stimulate it with intelligence and measure? Video

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Jazz interview with jazz soprano saxophonist Roberto Ottaviano. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Roberto Ottaviano: – I grew up in a small town in Southern Italy, Bari (happy that it is mentioned by Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood in the movie “The bridges of Madison County” …), where at the time, towards the end of the 1950s, very little happened. It was completely random because in my family, before me, there was no musician. At some point the game became the most serious thing in my life, like for children. It has become enchantment, passion. Over time I have met many teachers, attended schools, but today at my age, I proudly claim my self-taught strength.

JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

RO: – Finding my sound is still a not completely solved goal. I went through several instruments before arriving at what I recognize to be my most authentic voice, and that is the soprano sax. This involved a journey through time and space, certainly of African American music, but overall in all world music and not just for saxophone … indeed, my sound has a lot to do with the translation of several aesthetic and emotional components. When the air column is formed, when the process between breathing and blowing starts, when this matter takes shape through the articulation with the stroke of the tongue, I don’t focus only on the harmonic or melodic or rhythmic memory, but I try to translate a face , a painting, a photograph, a light …

JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

RO: – There is a practice that I have never abandoned and that is to consider the rhythmic aspect as a single flow rather than the addition of a certain number of beats. It is a concept that I learned by making music directly with African (Francis Bebey, Lamine Konte, Baba Sissoko ….) and Asian (Trilok Gurtu) musicians. This gives me the opportunity to conceive musical phrases that are not caged within a measure, be it four or seven or eleven quarters. In fact, even if a sequence is written in four quarters I can play it freely as if it were in seven or eleven, developing a polymetric sense within it. As for the melodic aspect, on the other hand, I still find it extremely interesting to extrapolate more paraphrases starting from the original theme, since I am not an improviser particularly inclined towards harmonic complications. If there is one particularity that distinguishes me, this is my lyricism.

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

RO: – It is not at all easy in fact. Steve Lacy once said: you have to play what’s in your blood … Only you have to get there, you have to grow and mature to the point that “your” blood has something to tell. Even today in my playing there are many tracks by Lacy, Coltrane, sometimes even Hariprasad Chaurasia (perhaps the most important Indian Shenai player …), but from time to time Roberto Ottaviano peeps out.

JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

RO: – At my age I have to check a series of factors well: rest, nutrition, balance in social and emotional relationships, keep the level of curiosity high and not give in to intolerances but rather maintain a childlike spirit. On the other hand, all this psycho-physical sanity must be channeled into pure study: scales, intervals, patterns, specific passages, care for intonation and extension. Really like working out before a race.

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

RO: – For each there is a different balance. Everyone manages to find it based on many elements that come from afar: sensitivity, education, culture, social context, compared to the importance given to the public and how one wants to relate to it. Just please him? Stimulate it with intelligence and measure? Invite him to search? Many authors have also developed a wide range of situations, just think of Duke Ellington. And it is not just a matter of a greater or lesser compositional or improvisational complication, rather it is part of a more general mood.

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

RO: – As I said before, there are various ways to relate to the public. The public is fundamental when it becomes the recipient of the expressive message and it is even more so in live situations because it dispenses return energy useful to create a state of mind. Here too, as between the balance between intellect and soul, we must consider the sense of joy that can be offered in having something recognized together with the commitment to drag them along inaccessible paths that may intrigue them.

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

RO: – Dozens and dozens of course, but I remember once I was in the Studio to record a duo with Mal Waldron. Apart from “Soul Eyes”, he told me that practically all the songs I had chosen for the session, he had never recorded them …. but it was extraordinary how he found the right color, environment and intention with which he enhanced my interventions. All this, however, with great nonchalance, occasionally smoking one of his long “More” cigarettes and moving the pieces of a very small electronic chessboard placed sideways on the piano. When we went to the control room to listen to the first three or four pieces he exclaimed: “Fear! Fear! Ottaviano, I am afraid!” and we laughed like crazy …

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

RO: – This is a constant question for me as a Conservatory teacher and also when I see that the average age of our audiences is quite advanced. If we talk about standards, songs, then a starting point is to let them to listen versions interpreted by artists closer to their age (Amy Winehouse, Annie Lennox …) and then gradually make them discover the hidden wealth in previous years. But also the operation made by Herbie Hancock a few years ago, using songs by Joni Mitchell, Peter Gabriel, Kurt Cobain or Prince, by Brad Meldhau who plays Radiohead or Dave Douglas who plays Bijork can have its positive effect. Then there are many artists today who use electronics together with acoustic instruments, and who elaborate rhythms closer to hip hop or dub, in a context where blues and the jazz improvisational modality survive, it is another way to establish some contact of continuity with tradition.

JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

RO: – Today a lot of jazz community feels the figure of Coltrane as that of a “Saint”. The question is in the terms in which some human beings seek a form of redemption, a willingness to convey good through their actions, to help make the surrounding world more sustainable, alleviating conflicts, trying to stimulate goodness in others. Spiritual strength is needed to detach and impose a certain direction. Some like Coltrane have translated it into a mystical and cosmic vision, others are not involved at all, they are more pragmatic, which does not mean that they are bad cats.

JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

RO: – If I could change something I would try to go back in time when music was not a consumer object, but a moment of growth, participation, awareness. Today the relationship that is established between those who make music and those who listen to it is too superficial, with the excuse that we have everything on platforms and social media, no one takes a moment to devote to in-depth listening, with the result that we are all richer in information pills but all more profoundly ignorant.

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

RO: – I listen to what today can be defined as “great classics”, in Jazz and beyond. I am also constantly looking for innovative ideas between writing and composition and I then took a lot of advantage of the lockdown to dust off all that British music that marked the years of my training, from the very characteristic rock-blues to the progressive of the Canterbury scene up to the fundamental meetings. between the English jazzmen and that group of South African musicians who escaped from the Apertheid.

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

RO: – In reality I don’t have a particular message that I try to convey with my music, because in it there are small stories and personal reflections as well as an attention to the social context that we go through. I believe in the thaumaturgical value of music which can make those who listen to it feel good but which also manages to create bonds, connections, developments and creative associations, making us better people. of course I am talking about music in which the listener can play an active role rather than being stunned when it is poor, stupid and repetitive.

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

RO: – I have no doubts, I wish I was twenty and be in the 1950s. The fifties and sixties, years of extraordinary meltin ‘pot, of plots and a season of boundless creativity …

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

RO: – How difficult is it today to be able to do your job and listen to answers that are not trivial? How difficult is it today to be able to do your job and listen to answers that are not trivial?

JBN: – No difficult …

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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