Tommaso Starace Interview
Tell us a bit about how you got into jazz and why you chose the saxophone.
“I got into jazz in my late teens when I was 18 years old, so quite late. I have always been into the arts and before starting off music I had done 5 years of acting. I'm a big fan of sound track music; Robert De Niro still to this day remains one of my mentors as an artist. I grew up watching many of his movies which are accompanied by very strong sound tracks written by some of the best composers around such as Ennio Morricone, Dave Cruising, Randy Newman to mention a few. So music has always been a big part of my life even if I wasn't practicing it. My father used to listen to many records of great jazz musicians and the saxophone sound always got my attention for it's expressiveness and closeness to the human voice. I loved listening to Stan Getz on the bossa novas, Cannonball Adderley on bebop tunes and many more jazz artists.”
“Since I was into acting and loved watching movies one day when I saw the film 'Bird' by Clint Eastwood I was instantly taken by Charlie Parker ( played by the wonderful actor Forest Whitaker) and by the way he was blowing with such passion the saxophone sweating on the stage and giving everything he had to his audience. The power of the music, the swing and groove combined with the sound of the saxophone inspired me to take up that instrument! I always say that if the saxophone hand't existed I wouldn't be doing music…I just love what the sound of that specific horn!”
How come you chose to study jazz at university in the UK?
“I started playing the the saxophone very late and unfortunately in Italy if you want to get into music education you have to start early in your teens. I knew that if I worked hard ( in the last 4 years of school I changed from the Liceo Scientifico to a British School in Milano) so in two years I was able to do all my GCSEs, grades up to 8, and my A Level Music to get into a Conservatoire in the UK.”
“My mother's Australian and I grew up meeting Aussie, British and American friends of my parents who would pass and stop over at our house in Milano as guests. So I was always attracted to the Anglo-Saxon culture and I liked the respect that it has for the arts.
London is a city that I always loved so for me to come over and live here is a dream come true.”
You’ve toured the UK before and you’ve also toured a lot of countries in Europe, including your native Italy. What are your favourite places to perform?
“I love performing in many venues from big festivals to small intimate clubs. I guess one of the venues closest to my heart is the Blue Note in Milano where I have now played 5 times with my quartet. But another amazing experience was performing in South America in Chile at the Providencia International Jazz Festival de Santiago where we were sharing the stage with Paolo Fresu on the same night.”
“I love visiting the Luzern jazz club in Switzerland which has always a wonderful audience!”
“I think that the Verdict is one of the coolest new jazz clubs in the UK and I get such a thrill to get to play there. Andy Lavender who runs the club has done and continues to do a wonderful job! Plus one of my best friends is from Brighton and I have known that city since the first year I came to the UK ( 20 years ago) and I love the laid back and hippie atmosphere that it has got to offer.”
Your latest project is inspired by the photographs of Gianni Berengo Gardin. What is it that you like about his images?
“What I like about his black and white images is that they tell a story. Gianni himself believes that if an image isn't narrating a good story then it's not strong enough! A lot of his images are taken in Italy from the 40's to now.”
“In 2005 I worked on the images produced by the Magnum photographer, Elliott Erwitt, part of whose fame was due to the irony present in some of his photos. Eight particularly original and diverse photos by Erwitt had inspired as many compositions, which were recorded with my British quintet.”
“Italian Short Stories – my new album- is instead the fruit of my decision to recount something of my Italian past in 14 photos taken in different parts of Italy by one of the greatest Italian master photographers, Gianni Berengo Gardin. When I asked myself why I wanted to embark on this “Italian” project – a novel idea, quite unlike the Bepop and the Swing of Afro-American jazz that had hitherto been my inspiration – I came to the conclusion that after 20 years in the UK and notwithstanding my good fortune in living in one of the most beautiful and stimulating cities of the world, London, I had succcumbed to a touch of healthy homesickness and nostalgia for the memories of my childhood. So it was that I felt the need to work with my quartet on compositions with strong melodies, in tune with the elements that make Italian music so famous throughout the world. Improvisation is still present but in a less important role: it is the melodies that accompany and bring to life the images, that tell a tale.
You’re performing at The Verdict in Brighton on Friday 28th November. Your touring band is slightly different from the album. Tell us about the band and what we can expect to hear.
The musician making up the band for the Verdict gig are amongst the finest jazzers in the UK and I feel very fortunate to play with them! I will be joined by pianist Frank Harrison who had a great sensitivity and touch and has recently released a wonderful live album recorded at the Verdict with his trio. He also live for quite a few years in Brighton up until not long time ago. On bass I will be joined by Al Swainger who I first met when I was playing down in North Devon and he's such a gentle man and makes things so easy for you musically. My Italian drummer from Milano (who's on the new jazz-photographic album 'Italian Short Stories') has come up to join me for the 15 dates that we have in this Uk Tour up until the 6th December. He's has the ability to play convincingly in many styles of jazz on top of being a wonderful pianist!
For the evening at the Verdict I have chosen 14 images from the vast portfolio of Berengo, images that tell a story and that accompanied by the quartet's music create an atmosphere of 'cinematic jazz' for the audience that come along to listen. In concert the photos will be projected onto a screen and backed up by the music of the quartet. Photos taken in Palermo, Milan, Venice, Genoa, Siena, Florence. In each image there's a story happening that my quartet want to narrate through the performance of the music specifically written for each image.
For me this project was a leap back into my Italian background and the memories and experiences that infected my music are still a source of delight and contentment. I wish the listeners at the Verdict a similar experience!
For more on Tommaso Starace: www.tommasostarace.com