Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Giovanni Benvenuti. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Giovanni Benvenuti: – I grew up in Siena, a very beautiful medieval town in Tuscany. My parents don’t play any instrument but my father is a music lover (in particular Rock and classical music) so I started to listen to music very early. I used to listen the albums that I liked the most for hours and hours. Even before I was able to write and read I was, and I am still, a Michael Jackson fan, then I started to listen to a lot of black American music like Funk and R&B. I also listened to a lot of Rock (Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa and so on). When I was 11 I started to listen to jazz, in particular John Coltrane and Dexter Gordon, and I was amazed by the sound of the great tenor players.
JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the instrument? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the instrument?
GB: – I started with flute when I was 11 and then changed to tenor saxophone at the age of 12 thanks to a very good school teacher that told me that I had some musical talent. I decided to play tenor because I was in love with Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane, Stan Getz and Lester Young, and also because is very similar to the human voice. So I started to study at Siena Jazz, a very good jazz school (maybe the best in Italy), where, when I was 18, I had the opportunity to study with great masters like Mark Turner, Seamus Blake, Joel Frahm and Gerry Bergonzi. I also had the opportunity to study for a short period of time in Boston thanks to a collaboration between Siena jazz and Berklee college. Then I moved to Bologna, a city with a great jazz tradition, where I studied and graduated at the conservatory. I learned a lot from my sax teacher, Barend Midellhoff, who has developed a very pragmatic way to learn the bebop language and to apply it to any kind of musical context.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
GB: – I always focus a lot of my energy in the search of my own sound. In order to do that I transcribed a lot of other saxophone players and I imitated them. When I played with other people I used to choose the sound that I felt was more suitable to the context, but I didn’t have a personal sound. After years of transcriptions, playing with people any kind of music I think I have developed a sound that is a melting of the different sounds that I had in my mind, a sound that I can use in any context.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
GB: – I try to practice as much as I can and to always study something that I don’t know. I use to create my own exercises and to personalize what I practice, even the technique. I use to transcribe a lot in order to assimilate music as I language and to listen to a lot of music, not only jazz but also classical music, brasilian music, African music and so on. I also force myself to listen to the music that I don’t like at the moment in order to open my mind. I think jazz is very related to rhythm so I always studied rhythm very hard: I use to play id odd times, I use the metronome in unconventional ways (3 on 4, 2 on 7 and so on) and other stuff.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?
GB: – I can’t say what harmonies I prefer, I just try to love what I play at the moment and to use my ears to make it better. I practice melodic and harmonic patterns at home but I try to forgot them when I’m on stage. When I’m on stage I don’t think about what I like and what I dislike, I just follow my instinct and try to follow the musical flux.
JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album 2018: Dissolvenze. how it was formed and what you are working on today.
GB: – Dissolvenze was formed by the urge to unify two different aspects of my personality: my love for jazz and my love for classic European music. I’m in love with chamber music and in particular I love French composers like Ravel and Debussy. Creating an album that could unify jazz and classical music was I way to introduce a bigger part of my musical personality. So I wrote music for two different ensembles: a string quartet and a Jazz trio. So I think is I very particular album, because it has a very changeable sound and you can’t really say what kind of album is. The title track Dissolvenze reflects this duality: is a classical tune with a jazz solo at the end.
Anyway this year I also worked at two other albums: the first is Giulia Galliani MAG Collective – Song For Joni, an album dedicated to Joni Mitchell. Giulia Galliani is a singer and a good friend of mine. She created a very good band and I’m very proud to be part of it. Each member of the band arranged the tunes of the album so that the album reflects all our musical influences.
The other album is called Question Market. Is a modern jazz album in with you can hear music composed by each member of the band.
Now I’m working to the music for a duo with the bass player Francesco Pierotti called Step Two: we are practicing our tunes and we will record it soon.
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
GB: – I think that good music has a perfect balance between intellect and soul. Probably every musician has a different answer to this question. I use my intellect when I practice and when I’m composing new music, I take my time to investigate any aspect of the music I’m practicing. But I when I’m on stage is all about soul, I just follow what I hear in my mind.
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
GB: – I’ve a lot of good memories from gigs, jams and so on. I always love to be on stage and I try to make every gig a special moment. I also use to join as many jams as I can, because they are a very good way to be inspired by other musicians and to improve my repertoire, in particular when I have the opportunity to share the stage with very good players. It’s great when you create a relationship between you and the audience: for example I recently played a concert in Istanbul. I couldn’t speak Turkish but I felt like music was a strongest language than any other.
I also love studio sessions: when you are in studio you can really be perfectionist and to take all your time in order to get exactly the sound you want. I feel like playing in studio is harder, because you can’t forgive yourself when you do a mistake so that you feel more pressure.
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
GB: – I think that the best way is to make them love music in general: when you really love an art form you start to be curious about that kind of language. Of course young people are more connected with modern jazz, but at some point they will start to be interested in the history of that music and they will enlarge their prospective. I think is the same with any other music and art form in general: if you really love something you will be interested in his history. Our goal as musicians is to make good music that people can understand and to tell them that we learned from the great music of the past. We are part of a tradition and we have to share that heritage.
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
GB: – I’m not a very spiritual person, I’m not religious, so the word spirit has a different meaning for me. In our mind there is something that goes beyond our rationality and music (and art in general) can relate with it. Art is something that can be described and studied in a technical and rational way, but at the end of the day there is something that you can’t describe by words. What you can’t describe is what really matters and it’s what art really is. You can call it spirit if you want, for me it’s something that is related with our inner nature. I don’t know about life in general, but the meaning of my life is to search for something that you can describe in my music.
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
GB: – I really would like that musicians like myself could only deal with making music: every one of us has to deal with selling our music, searching for gigs and so on. Unless you have an agent that requests a huge amount of time. I would like to just play my music and to don’t be distract by such things.
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
GB: – I’m listening a lot of classical music, in particular Domenico Scarlatti. But I also listen to a lot of Chris Potter music. I think listening to any kind of music is the best way to develop a strong musical personality. I like to play different kind of music so I have to listen has much has I can in order to be prepared to improvise. Jazz is my greater love anyway.
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
GB: – I’ve never had the opportunity to listen Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and others jazz legends live, so I would go to New York 60 years ago, maybe with a videocamera!
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself.
GB: – My question is: what kind of music should I listen to in order to enlarge my horizon?
JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. Classics and of course good jazz and blues.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan