Jazz interview with jazz baritone saxophonist and bass clarinetist Francesco Caligiuri. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Francesco Caligiuri: – I was born in 1991 in Cosenza, Calabria, in the south of Italy. In this Region It’s predominant the culture of classic music and marching bands and I started playing in one of these in my native town Spezzano della Sila. The type of music played by marching bands includes the Italian Melodramma, the symphonies, the overtour and the military and symphonic marches, but jazz music is not included. I discovered the wonderful world of jazz thanks to my favourite instrument, the baritone saxophone, at first thanks to Mulligan, then to Charles Mingus’s music and the use of this instrument in his songs.
JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
FC: – The peculiarity of my sound is that I love playing in a strong and powerful manner but at the same time I manage to make my baritone saxophone like a little bird! My study of sound was based on breathing and emission of air and also listening to famous musicians, but the most important thing is to have the concept of a beautiful sound well impressed in mind.
JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
FC: – When I was child, I exercised myself by scales, musical chords and saxophone technical studies. I’m graduated in Classic Saxophone and Jazz Music with a first-class honour’s degree at the Conservatory Stanislao Giacomantonio in Cosenza and actually I’m studying Jazz Composition. I love playing by the use of odd structures and not ordinary time (7/8 – 10/8 etc.). To split the beat in groups of 3 and of 2 it’s a daily routine because it’s a typical practice of Mediterranean music. I think Jazz was influenced a lot by rhythms of the Mediterranean area, besides those of African Continent. For me the jazz beauty is concerned in rhythm, armony and in freedom improvisation that bring audience to keep a high concentration.
JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in?
FC: – The harmonic aspect of my music moves closer to modal music, preferring the use of the Dorian and Lydian scales. I love moving the tonality by the use of not ordinary cadence and also of substitution of tritone. Sometimes I construct some pieces of mine on the harmony of the double harmonic scale, other times I prefer the use of many chromatic passages that create a state of harmonic tension. As regards the compositional aspect, I can say that my music is full of counterpoint, moreover I love Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington and Gil Evans, but at the same time I like very much also Bach and Wagner. Sometimes I like playing also in a free manner, with the awareness of absolute freedom and the unawareness of what could happen! This is the concept of “free music”! If I had to assign to my music a philological line, I’d like to indicate for sure the European jazz of ’70s, a melting pot of different musical cultures in which the harmonic freedom, based on both improvisation and composition, ranges from classic music to jazz and finally to a complete improvisation.
JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
FC: – I’m not afraid of the disparate influences because I’m open to every language, from jazz to classic music, from folk Calabrian music to Irish music, from Indian raga to Scandinavian Peninsula’s nordic songs, from African and Arabian music to French and Spanish music (full of Phrygian degree’s sonority), until the ancient music. We need only think that improvisation was already performed in the Baroque first period! This is what did musicians that lived in America between the end of 1800s and the beginning of 1900s, that is to open their mind so as to join all the different cultures in one special thing: the Jazz!
JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
FC: – In my opinion, sounds can stimulate some parts of the brain making in this way an invisible connection between music and mind. From my compositions come to light the musical aspects I love more than any other things and the most important mean of communication is improvisation. It allow to the musician to express his own state of mind. Improvisation has been assimilated by Jazz, becoming the most important aspect of it. Spirituality and Music are synonyms with Improvisation and Jazz!
JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
FC: – Yes, I am. There is a relationship between the artist and his audience and It’s indeed this relationship to create the magical moment that unfortunately only few times emerges during a gig. I remember a concert of mine in Colonia, Germany, where audience has been focused on us from the first instant we started playing! It has been a wonderful experience and I felt motivated to do my best with my baritone sax! I realize that this cannot happen always, jazz listening is decreased compared to that in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, so audience and new generations don’t know very well this type of music. I give the fault to mass medias and their lack of divulgation; in fact, nowadays radio and television put first low-quality programs yielding a return and then those with a high level of culture but not lucrative at all!
JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
FC: – I have lots of memories about gigs and studio sessions; in particolar, I remember two beautiful concerts together with C.M.C. Ensamble in L’Aquila and Colonia, where the atmosphere was suggestive, the music full of counterpoint and of a multitude of harmonies, but what impressed me most was the gig I organized the 20th of March in Cosenza with my quintet, in which there were high levels of concentration and each musician has given the very best of himself. As regards studio sessions, I remember two of them in particular, that is my last album “Renaissance” and also the album “Kaleido” together with the Hydra Quintet, because both recordings were made in one single day!
JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
FC: – I think that Jazz is an ever-changing type of music and constantly innovative. Every young people who live their own daily and musical life in this way are willing to move closer to Jazz. This is what happened to me… I had enough curiosity in make something new with improvisation!
JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
FC: – In my opinion music is the voice of spirit, giving in this way to each musician the possibility to get their most intimate feelings out! In 2017 I published my first album “Olimpo”, a project dedicated to greek mythology, in which the leitmotif is indeed the most intimate aspect of my musical thinking, really able to move audience!
JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
FC: – At this stage, music has reached a very high level. The 20th Century was characterized by a greater creativity and experimentation both for painting and music. Nowadays trying to change something is useless, the only thing we can do is create something new, by a mix of the different types of music already existing, in order to break the ordinary standards: my musical work is based on this concept! I hope to create something new and strong such us Ornette Colemann with his free jazz!
JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
FC: – In the last few days, I’ve been listening to Bill Evans’s album “You must believe in spring”, a cd that I love a lot, because It’s sad and intense at the same time but also full of feelings! In these songs I can perceive the strong spirit of Bill Evans!
JBN.S: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
FC: – Your music reflects your soul. Always be yourself and play what comes from your heart!
JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
FC: – I would like to realize two desires: listening to Bach in person and playing together with Charles Mingus!
JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
FC: – Does it exist a kind of Jazz we can define European?
JBN.S: – Thanks for answers. Yes, of course …
JBN.S: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
FC: – I hope that through the union of my ideologies I could impart to audience and other musicians my musical spirit and my way of thinking by the knowledge of my music: because all the different types of music linked together are wonderful!
Interview by Simon Sargsyan