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Interview with Simona Premazzi
December 2013
by Marco Losavio

Fai click qui per leggere la versione in italiano

cover design by Riccardo Gola, original photo by Jan Cain

Let's meet Simona Premazzi, Italian pianist living in New York, on the occasion of the publication by "Inner Circle", her third album as a leader, "The Lucid Dreamer", which reveals a surprising and pleasant musical maturity in composition and management of the trio.

Simona, let's first talk a bit of your beginnings. What is the training aspect that you still have left from your studies with Franco D'Andrea?
Franco D'Andrea was one of my earliest teachers of jazz. At that time I started to get closer to the standards, the music of Monk, Miles, Bud Powell, Coltrane, I started working on the first transcriptions. From his teachings it has certainly been left the pragmatic approach to practicing, not leaving anything to chance. We worked a lot on how to start from short rhythmic and melodic cells and process them into the development of a solo. Franco D'Andrea is a great pianist whom I respect very much: I have been fortunate to study with him at the beginning of my training.

Then the experience with the Big Band of Enrico Intra...

While still studying at the Civic Jazz courses in Milan, I had the opportunity to play with the big band directed by Enrico Intra. There were three pianists more or less in rotation. It was one of my first professional experience as a student. I found myself playing with all the teachers of the academy on stages of prestigious theaters and festivals, dealing with repertoires of the most diverse styles, from Paul Whiteman's symphonic jazz to jazz arrangements of popular Italian songs, from Rodgers and Hart tributes, to the contemporary music of Markus Stockhausen, from Leonard Bernstein's symphonic music, to the compositions of David Ruskin, Paul Newton and David Murray, and we often shared the stage with the composers themselves. It has been a very important didactic and professional experience.

Ten years ago, you went to New York and still live there where we can say, your artistic maturity has definitely forged. Which cultural, artistic and social aspects have mostly influenced your music in the last years?
My artistic maturity is a path that is constantly growing and forging, or at least I hope so. Starting from models of external inspiration, I make a pursuit of my honest aesthetic taste, developing my own language and voice. Undoubtedly what mostly influences my writing and playing is given by my listenings and what I consider to be good music. Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Andrew Hill, Monk, Greg Osby, Ahmad Jamal, just to mention what I'm working on in this specific artistic phase. Beyond the musical influences, inspiration comes from all that I like and that leads me into reflection. My music is influenced by frequent thoughts about the complexity of the human psyche, on finding a balance between the spontaneous and the unpredictable. I would say that I have models of reference to which I relate. Great personalities, not just musicians, that have reached a very high level of knowledge of their craft and have a strong artistic identity, that do not resort to strategies, and arrive to express their individuality with dedication, integrity and transparency.

European jazz has also being identifying on a worldwide level. What do you think are the main differences that can be perceived?
In my opinion in the last ten/twenty years America has come closer to Europe, in the sense that European musicians are confronted more often with American musicians. They travel more, even when students, during the training years, so there is more direct comparison. This factor has probably made the European jazz scene more competitive. Honestly though, I do not have the expertise to go into details about the differences because I am not really aware of the European music scene.

There are many Italian musicians in NYC and many others who often gravitate. Is there an Italian musicians community? Or everyone follows their own path anyway?
We all know each other more or less and it happens from time to time to collaborate with someone on the same projects. In principle, I would say that everyone follows his own artistic career, although of course we meet for social/professional events and interact with each other.

Let's talk about this third album in your name for the Inner Circle Music, Greg Osby's label. How did you meet him?
The official meeting with Greg Osby took place at a session in Brooklyn a couple of years ago. We played for a few hours "just to have fun". I remember that Melissa Aldana and Tineke Postma were also at that session. Of course, I always knew who Osby was, I knew the greatness of his genius, so I was very excited but also very nervous, it was the first time I had the chance to play with him. Then I told him about my new album and I let him listen to my compositions. Greg believed in me as an artist since the first moment he heard my music. He proposed to release "The Lucid Dreamer" with Inner Circle Music, and so it was. In "The Lucid Dreamer" Osby is a special guest on two of my compositions, "Optics", which was written together with the jazz singer Alice Ricciardi, and the title track "The Lucid Dreamer". More recently I started playing with his quartet. We also did a week at the prestigious Village Vanguard and there are other projects in the pipeline. Osby is a mentor from whom I constantly draw on knowledge. I am very fascinated by his different compositional processes and its concepts, which I often work on in my daily practice.

The opening track serves a bit as a warning: "Love is not all". A "Monkish" voice which reads a poem and the piano that accompanies doubling or intersecting the scan syllabic...the union of the two is like a song. How did you get this idea?
The voice is that of Edna St. Vincent Millay, American poet who lived in the first half of the twentieth century. The title may be deceiving. In fact, the poem for thirteen verses lists all the reasons why you cannot live on love alone, but with the last verse, Millay reconfirms the supreme importance of love, saying that she would never exchange it with anything. So in reality, an attentive listener would hear between the lines "Love is everything". The idea was born from my passion for Edna St. Vincent Millay, as an artist and as a person, she was an avant-garde woman at the beginning of the 1900, a woman with a remarkable story. When I found the audio file with Edna's voice I was so pleasantly surprised and felt a strong desire to immortalize this meeting with a composition. It was a long process, I wrote down the rhythm of the words, then I slowly worked on a melody and harmonies that would match in intensity to the passionate and dramatic Millay's voice.

Very exciting, and the result of it carries the essence of what you described. In the album there are several other ideas, not at all obvious, that flow and that are implemented by the rhythmic section. In your trios, you've always looked for modern rhythm sections, how much is your music and your writing based on the rhythmic aspect?
The rhythmic aspect, in all its nuances, is a constant presence in my way of thinking about music. In my compositions there are often sudden changes of tempo, or fragmented and angular melodies. Everything is generated from my constant search for balance - of course what for me is balance - and my constant escape from banality. Part of my practice is dedicated to dilate the phrasing and free it from the edge of the square lines, or sequences two by two, four by four. In nature there is a lot of fragmentation and inequality, no two leaves, branches or trees are exactly alike, and this inequality is perceived as authentic balance.

"One for Hunter S." is dedicated to the American journalist Hunter S. Thompson, right? What has inspired you?
Hunter S. was a man of clear ideas, with no filters, his strength of character and his being a free man are a constant source of inspiration for me. In addition to his message, I really like his writing, of high level, intellectually and creatively. "One For Hunter S." is a composition of angular rhythm and harmonies, definitely inspired by the ferocity with which this man faced life, thirsting for justice and disgusted by the bitter reality of a society that has left nothing ‘dreameable' to the "American dream". The song grows to a final collective improvisation that leads to a moment of sweet catharsis. A properly counterintuitive moment to conclude this piece, that is my very personal dedication to the eccentric life of Hunter S. Thompson, finished with an immensely dramatic gesture.

Monk's music is honored by "Trinkle, Tinkle" that you play in solo...
Monk is undoubtedly a cornerstone among my reference musicians. The greatness of his genius will never cease to give me joy. I relate to Monk's music in a very intimate and reverential way. I dealt with the material of "Trinkle, Tinkle", starting with the harmonies of the dominant cycle in the introduction, then I offered a more or less philologically faithful version of the song, where I left room for my personal harmonic and rhythmic interpretation.

It is the only explicit reference to tradition that is never missing in your concerts though. What and how much jazz tradition we find in Simona Premazzi?
I have a deep respect for tradition and all I have learned and am learning comes from there. My songs are never lacking in references of jazz language, so I would say that in Simona Premazzi there is a lot of tradition. I study the language of the pianists of the past: Fats Waller, Earl Hines, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Jaki Byard, just to name a few. I think it is essential for a contemporary jazz musician, to deal with the study of the language that has been given us, with generosity, perseverance and sacrifice by those who came before us. In my humble opinion, however, the contemporary artist has to make a personal development and use of that language in the present. In pianistic terms, for example, the use of stride piano could be used in a modern way, fragmented, extrapolated, and so also other pianistic techniques.

Melissa Aldana, Chilean, young and talented saxophonist, then the American, very expert and sought-after Ameen Saleem on bass, Jochen Rueckert, German, with already a plethora of collaborations behind. A true melting pot. Tell us about the choice of your travel companions?
First of all they are all excellent musicians. This is the band I played with in the last two years before recording "The Lucid Dreamer". My compositions have grown with them, forms and structures have become more and more solid. Ameen was one of the first bass players I've played with when I just arrived in New York years ago, so I was familiar with his musicality. Melissa, in addition to being a very talented saxophonist is a dear friend of mine. Jochen understands my music almost without guidelines and his musical creativity is always rhythmically challenging. It's a functional group, in my opinion, in which the individual musical intelligence brings benefit to all, without any selfish imbalance.

In "Simona's Moods" there are numerous changes of tempo and…moods, which is mutable and versatile at the same time. All this, unfolds very fluidly. How is the mood of Simona Premazzi today?
In "Simona's Moods" I have assembled three different rhythmic patterns: a New Orleans groove vamp, a swing pattern and a graceful waltz. I'm glad to know that everything plays smoothly to you. One of my compositional techniques is to combine different rhythms in the same composition and find a natural way of execution. The mood of Simona Premazzi today, and all the other days, is like in "Simona 's Moods", mutable, but also curious, hungry for knowledge and balance.

The title track is called "The Lucid dreamer", can a dreamer be lucid…?
Absolutely, the practice of lucid dreaming is real and it is a conscious process. Lucid dreams can be realistic and vivid and the lucid dreamer has the ability to exercise some control over their participation within the dream. Or can be able to manipulate their imaginary experiences in the context of the dream. In "The Lucid Dreamer " each composition evokes visions of subconscious inspiration and accompanies the listener on a journey of surreal imaginary.

What are your next "lucid dreams"?
Keep growing as an artist and as a human being. Give a more and more concrete sense to my artistic mission, produce a great deal of creative material that can be useful to the further development of this form of art, jazz music, BAM or how else you want to call it.

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Publishing Date: 28/12/2013

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