May 23, 2024

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Interview with Massimiliano Rolff: The style of music is just a detail: Video

Jazz interview with jazz contrabassist Massimiliano Rolff․ An interview by email in writing. – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music.

Massimiliano Rolff: – I grew up in a nice small fisherman village, named Albisola, in the west Italian Riviera, not too far from the French border. I experienced what you would describe as a perfect and sweet childhood. My father, my mother, and my older brother used to listen to a lot of different music at home; my father was fond of swing music, but nobody in the family was a musician. One day, when I was twelve, I bought a guitar from the local music store, and I self-learned how to play and sing Bob Dylan’s and some Italian singer songwriter’s songs. I guess I felt the urge to find a way to tell stories. I started playing electric bass later, when I was 15. I played a lot of rock music, wrote and played my songs, and performed quite a lot with several local bands.

JBN: – How has your sound evolved? What have you been doing to find and develop your sound?

MR: – In my twenties I was an electric bass player, I loved jazz, but I was performing a lot of pop music and fusion staff. When I moved to Holland in 1995, while learning how to play jazz, I realized that my favorite sound wasn’t electric. I kept on diggin’ Bill Evans’ music, Miles, ‘Trane, Monk, Mingus … and all this great music. It took me time though to be able to skip to double bass. With electric bass, I could pay my bills … I was good, and back then I performed as a sideman through all Europe and US with several pop acts. At some point when I was 31, I finally got my first double bass. My music life just started to click perfectly. I had to learn how to play it, but finally, I had found my real way.

JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?

MR: – I practice on records I like. I practice a lot with the metronome. I play the piano. I keep on practicing the basics, every day on my double bass… scales, arpeggios, intonation. I try to learn a new tune, like a jazz standard or some modern jazz composition every 2 or 3 days.

JBN: – How do you keep stray, or random, musical influences from diverting you from what you’re doing?

MR: – All good music, all the music I like, all the music that I think is good, helps my creative process, at any level. The style of music is just a detail, if the intention is good and pure it will help my creative process. Sometimes it is hard to stay away from bad music and bad attitudes… I work hard in everyday’s life, to preserve myself from bad things and wrong energy. It is a fight, and music is my weapon.

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

MR: – To me, the word ‘balance’ is the keyword. I work hard in my practice room to learn well the music I have to perform or record, but I always leave a space of risk, leave some spots of unknown freedom, to keep the music alive. That’s, in my opinion, the key to be prepared and make fresh music at the same time.

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JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

MR: – Soul 75% – Intellect 25%.

JBN: – It’s mathematical for you to do arithmetic so clearly?

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?

MR: – The audience is God. A performer must always respect the audience emotions, but the audience must be surprised too, at some point. That’s why they pay an admission ticket to a show or to a concert, to get what they want, but also to be surprised. An artist must run the risk and try always to surprise his audience. It’s the same when one goes to a restaurant he knows well: he chose it because he feels like eating a specific meal, with that peculiar taste. He goes there because he trusts the cook, and he expects him to propose some new recipe every time. Isn’t it? I desire to satisfy the feelings of my audience and, since they trust me, I run the risk to give them something surprisingly new every time.

JBN: – Can you share any memories from gigs, jams, open acts, and studio sessions over the years?

MR: – A small Japanese woman came to me with a great smile, bowed, congratulated me, reached out, and gave me a small folding umbrella. She looked into my eyes and said: “I loved the concert, keep this umbrella of mine to protect your feelings, now it’s yours!”. That killed me!  I didn’t know what to say… I just loved that, it was awesome!

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

MR: – Jazz repertoire is tremendously wide. It doesn’t have necessarily to be made by jazz standard, I guess. In my opinion, the point is not about the style or the repertoire; most of the people just need to learn again how to sit down and listen to any kind of music. We have to teach to young people how to use their ears again. Nowadays, in our era, is all about “eyes”, and most of the people simply forget to use their ears. Learn to listen is the only skill people should develop in order to be able to appreciate music in general and jazz as well.

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

MR: – Music is one of the most amazing resource we have at our disposal and we can use it both to receive and spread energy to the environment that surrounds us. My spirit is part of the big picture of nature, and I’m so thankful I can blend my spirit with the music, and have a voice in the universe, trying to strongly feel a small part of it.

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

MR: – In our age, music industry tries all the time to replicate music models that suits the market. I think that music labels and music producers should find a way to let artists express more freely, without imposing them ready made music models. If I could change something in the music world I chose to let artists express themselves more freely: there should be more courage in the music industry, in order to let new music ideas grow more naturally and gradually.

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

MR: – Brad Mehldau and Keith Jarrett trios. The Beatles and Ray Charles. Charlie Haden. Vulfpeck.

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

MR: – I try to deliver a sense of collective respect and balance and, in the end, the desire for joy. I sincerely hope that by listening to my music, people could be more prone to be respectful toward themselves.   If they can feel closer to their soul, they might be a little step closer to happiness.

JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine: where and why would you want to go?

MR: – No doubt: I’d go back to the sixties! Old school, modern jazz, rock, and singer-songwriters were all there, everybody at the same time: Satchmo, Duke, Count, Miles, ‘Trane, Monk, Shorter, Hendrix, The Beatles, The Stones, Joni Mitchell, and Dylan. All alive and together. What else?

JBN: – So far, it’s been me asking you questions, now may I have a question from yourself

MR: – Yes. One, please. When you have to review a new album, and you listen to it for the first time, how much your writings are influenced by the first impression?

JBN: – First impressions have a great influence on the CD review that I write and will write.

JBN: – At the bottom line, what are your expectations from our interview?

MR: – I hope someone will take time to read all this, and get to know my music, and eventually meet me somewhere. Meeting people: one of the keys to happiness.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

About - Massimiliano Rolff

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