Interview with Giovanni Cigui: I think life is vibration, and music is that too: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Giovanni Cigui. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Giovanni Cigui: – I was born and grew up in Trieste, in the Northern-East side of Italy. My grandfather had (and still has!) an upright piano at home, he’ s been reading classical piano pieces, and that got me charmed into playing. Also, my mom used to put on a record on which there was Peter and the Wolf by Prokofiev, together with a narration of the tale; that’ s my oldest memory of me being really excited for music.

Anyway, right after high school I moved out to study music and do more experience, I think that’s when I grew up the most musically speaking. First I moved to Austria, where I lived 4 years, then to Amsterdam for other 4 years, half a year in Philadelphia and since last year I’m based in Mexico, between Mexico City and the state of Veracruz.

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

GC: – I guess I’ m still working on my sound, as everybody does. In practice, lots of long tones and exercises to develop control.

Then, it’ s also about not getting in your own way. What I mean is that one has to approach the instrument as relaxed – yet mindfully focused – as possible.

Listening to the masters, or really to anything that moves you, and trying to imitate/copy it, also makes you go a long way. It could be willing to sound like Johnny Hodges, or Thom Yorke, or a seagull outside your window. Anything works, as long you’re emotionally involved.

Experiencing live music in my opinion is the best to absorb and learn.

Another fundamental point is the acceptance of your sound. It can take a long time to be able to enjoy the way you sound!

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

GC: – At home I play around and with the metronome, I try to have fun with it, placing it in different parts of a phrase or bar. It’s like a game.

I like the expression “make the metronome groove!” that I once heard. I think of that when I’ m practicing. It means: play around the click in such a way, that it sounds like it’s part of your musical speech, like in an arrangement, rather than a dictator which tells you when you’re wrong.

When I play with others, I try to “match” their time feel, especially when I hear they got it better than I do!

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

GC: – Honestly, I don’ t mind if they do. I’ m stealing all the time. I got the harmony from one place, the rhythm from another and the cells of the melody from something else too. I like doing that, I catch ideas from everywhere and then mix them up and make something of my own. I don’t think it makes it any less mine. I dare anyone to guess where I got “Ladro” from.

I think most of the time we’ re-using, reassembling what we like from what we hear and experience.

When improvising, I try not to fall into what the fingers know, and instead create and sing something honestly. I think the most important is that what comes out of my horn is as honest and spontaneous as I can, in connection with the music, my fellow players and the vibration of the moment. That doesn’t happen so often though!

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

GC: – I don’t have a fixed routine, but before I play a concert I know I need to find a quiet spot where to connect with myself and visualize a place of peaceful concentration. In daily life, I try to keep the body in shape and eat healthy. Meditation is a great practice too.

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JBN: – Ism is culled from a variety of lives dates with various performers over the course of a few years. Did your sound evolve during that time? And how did you select the musicians who play on the album?

GC: – The band is formed by very good friends of mine, we met as students and kept collaborating and hanging after we finished studying.

On this album, the saxophones gain a lot of relevance and a specific role in the harmonic fabric of each tune. This is why I wanted Nicolò Ricci on tenor sax: he’s a tremendous, passionate soloist, with a very personal style, and at the same time sensitive, respectful of spaces and silences.

Mauro Cottone’s approach sounded immediately perfect for my music. Everything he does is always validated by a melodic intention, which is not so obvious, when you think about it.

Giacomo Camilletti has a rare sense of swing, he always plays with plenty of zeal, taking risks while still using traditional comping patterns, which perfectly sums my idea for this album.

In several tracks, the band is joined by Scottish-born, Amsterdam-based trumpet player Alistair Payne: such an eclectic musician extremely flexible and super active in the mainstream, contemporary and free scenes in Amsterdam. He’s an experimenter, as his solos show: even when he doesn’t get far from tradition, it’s easy to find his sense for research, which shapes his image as an artist. His sound perfectly blends with both saxes, strongly supporting the harmony.

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

GC: – I guess, in short: intellect is for when you prepare, and when you perform you want to connect with the soul. Ideally.

Then of course, there’ s a portion of rationality when you perform, and definitely you can train your channels of connections when you practice, by visualizing, meditating..

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

GC: – When I play my music, I try and get my best out of the context I’ m playing in. “Reading the room” is always a good approach, and the beauty of a music like jazz is that you can make changes on the run, like micro-adjustment to an arrangement, that could help to engage with the audience, and also keeps the band excited to try something new.

Though, how can you really know what the people want? Has this specific audience come to be entertained, pleased or to be surprised, or inspired? Every night is different. I only can do what I feel, at the best of my ability in that moment.

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

GC: – Few days ago Facebook reminded me of a photo taken 4 years ago, in New York.

I played at Dizzy’s Club (Jazz at the Lincoln Center) with an incredible band led by Luis Bonilla, the fantastic trombone player from the Vanguard Orchestra. I was sitting between my idols: Dick Oatts, Billy Drewes, Terrell Stafford, John Riley and many more tremendous musicians. It was the night after Trump’s election, and you know, the club is in front of a Trump tower, you could see thousands of people on the street.

It was an emotional roller-coaster, being there with those amazing musicians, and yet feel their reaction to the whole political situation. Everyone was grieving.. Though, the show went on, and it was killing! I remember at one point I couldn’t stop smiling, I turn around and Roberto Quintera was grooving so hard on those congas, right on my back! It just made me so happy.

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

GC: – Good question. I guess more recent tunes could be taken as “standards” when harmony and forms are taught in schools, since that’ s were most of the jazz is being taught and learnt these days. Though, I don’ t think the age of the songs is really the issue. If the music is great, it lasts forever and can attract all generations.

I think it’s about how much jazz/creative music is being played by the major medias (radio, tv etc..), and also how well is music taught in elementary schools, if it is at all. If people aren’t educated to listen to and appreciate the art of music, then jazz and other forms of advanced music will sound more and more “difficult, old fashioned or intellectual”, and they will look for easy listening stuff.

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

GC: – Wow, that can go deep. I think life is vibration, and music is that too.

Music – and silence – can get to parts of the unconscious that normally are rather inaccessible.

I don’ t think there is a meaning to life, until you decide there is one.

I believe in doing good deeds to yourself and to the people you have contact to.

Music is just one of those deeds.

I believe we all parts of one and I believe in higher entities, to be found by looking inwards.

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

GC: – Recognition. Acknowledgment of what we do by the system/community and by the people, of the value of it. Obviously it means economically too. Way too often musicians are forced to undersell their work (performances, recordings, lessons!) just to get by.

It’s a very complex topic… But acknowledgment should come from both institutions and “regular” people, there could be more education about the various art forms in general.

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

GC: – Recently I picked up the tenor, so on the saxophone matter I’m listening a lot to Sonny Rollins, Coleman Hawkins these days.

But I’ m into a wide spectrum of styles.. last night I fell in love with a song by Anna Wise with Jon Bap: cool changes! – talking about getting young people into deeper music/harmony.. Also classical music, Ravel especially, is what gets me mostly in the last years.

And living in Mexico, I’ m exposing myself to a good amount of latin music; I’ m fascinated by traditional music.

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

GC: – No message specifically.. I try to write and play melodies which could be enjoyed by as many people as possible.

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

GC: – Probably to see Duke’ s band with Johnny Hodges playing the Far East Suite. And Trane’s quartet! And Miles quintet, first and second, for different reasons.

Also, I’ d love to walk in the Victorian Age London. I love that gloomy feel that it’ s been always portrait with.

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

GC: – What gets you touched by, excited of a musicians/band/record? And what do you expect when you go to a concert?

JBN: – When, how, it is difficult to answer unequivocally, of course, a wonderful and sincere concert, for sure.

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

GC: – You mean in the Covid era? I navigate by sight and try to keep a smile.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Giovanni Cigui's stream

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