Lunch with Paolo Profeti

Talking with Paolo Profeti was very easy. An hour or so passed, and I already had a lot of material to write. Maybe I was in luck because of his Italian roots and his probably innate talent for speaking without getting everybody bored, but after hearing his story I  realized it's not a matter of ethnicity, he just has a lot of stuff to tell. You just have to manage to digest quickly all his recollections, and keep up with his WPM speed. (words per minute) :) And the result is this very substantial, very effective interview. Among many projects, including one recorded album with the Mamud Band, with its "Afro Future Funk" (which Paolo was very kind to bring it at the interview, so we all listened to it during our talk), he teaches tango classes, he studied music a lot, after finishing a totally opposite discipline, and he travels between Italy and Romania for music and love. In this short time that has passed since he began "exploring" our country, he made a lot of friends, that are not coincidentally the best jazz musicians we have nowadays. (Iuliana Briceag)

I first saw you during a great evening at a recently opened club, where more than 10 musicians, Romanian and from abroad, played together, doing solos with lots of instruments: piano, saxophone, guitar, drums, bass, and congas. The crowd went crazy then, everybody was enthusiastic, and they remained in that stage of craziness up until the end.  How was it for you?

On stage, I knew just Raul Kusak at piano, the bass player Sheby (Joo Sandor Sebestyen) and the guitarist Liviu Negru. The rest of the musicians I didn’t know. It was a very qualitative play, and a little hard because of the volume on stage. But we communicated so well. Raul Kusak was great and the guitar player AG Weinberger also. I saw for the first time the American blues singer Clay Windham – he was very good. When the Cubans came on stage, it became even greater. Everybody did their best.

How did you start playing the saxophone?

I’m a researcher; I started playing when I was 13. I listened to a recording of John Coltrane with Rashied Ali, from the album Interstellar Space. It was one of Coltrane’s last album, during his free period. Just saxophone and drums, just two instruments. I listened to that at some friends of mine. In my family we usually listened to classic Italian music (mostly pop songs, I knew all of them). I felt something in my soul when first listening to that. So I decided to play music. I studied the flute at school. I even participated at some competitions. But I decided to play saxophone.

"When I was fifteen, in Sicilia (my mother is Sicilian) where my family and I often went during summer, I found out from a newspaper about a live concert: the Oliver Lake Quintet. I didn’t know about him, but I just felt like I want to go there. My parents agreed, so we went together. During the concert, seeing Oliver Lake playing gave me such energy, I understood that I want to be a saxophone player."

So did you study music?

I told you I am a researcher. So, after school I studied agronomy (laughing). But I never worked like an agronomist, but I finished the studies. After graduating, I felt something was wrong, I was not an agronomist.  I studied for 5 years, there were lots of exams, more then 30, and the 27th exam I decided at:  STOP, I don’t want this, I want to be a musician.

I read a book of Luigi Pirandello, an Italian dramatist, a Sicilian. That book, “Uno, nessuno e centomila” (One, No one and One Hundred Thousand), it broke me, it hurt me, my opinion of myself in front of the mirror. I knew that I wanted to be something different. I always liked music, but I got the consciousness of a musician around 23 years old. When I was younger, it was just a feeling about wanting to be a musician. At 23 years old, I went to Civic Jazz School of Milan. I finished it after having a great experience. I played in a band, after that I lived a period in France, near Paris, studying at Centre des Musiques Didier Lockwood, and after that I graduated from Conservatorio di Musica "G. Verdi" in Milano. I studied with a lot of teachers that were great musicians, like Mauro Negri. He played the first alto in Vienna Art Orchestra, one of the most important orchestras in Europe. Another teacher was Rosario Giuliani, one of the most important European saxophone players. I also studied with Billy Harper, an American jazz saxophonist and Jesse Davis. They were for me the most important teachers of saxophone in my life.
 
So they taught you the theory, what about the philosophy, the inspiration? Where did you get it?
 
I remember talking to Rosario Giuliani. He told me, in English, not Italian, even if we both can talk Italian: “Man, it’s a hard, hard work. Never stop. If you want to reach something you have to grow up each day. “I think that this matters in order to get better. You should always be focused. You can lose this focus, because life is not regular, it can turn around at any time. But only with practice you can grow up, no matter what troubles you have in life.
Jesse Davis taught me a lesson about bebop and hard bop. He gave me the importance of transcribing. Doing solos. There are two schools: the one that improvises, like Mauro Negri - he has a more artistic approach. Every each solo that he does is completely new, something that you never heard before. He gives me that approach to the music. On contrary, referring to the other school, Jessee Davis gave me some rules for improvisation: take a sheet and in some standard tune write your improvisation. It’s not necessary to play exactly what you wrote at home, but at least you have a form. For example in bebop style you have to do something at home, to exercise in order to reach that focus. This is, in my opinion, the school of Sonny Stitt. He was a follower of Charlie Parker, but he did something new. This is my opinion; I’ve never read this in a book. He played with the idea of having patters, in a very good way, with the speed of 300 bpm, with a great language.
Mauro Negri is more associated with Sonny Rollins or Joe Henderson. When I listen to these two, I cannot recognize a pattern. Also Julian "Cannonball" Adderley was a big inspiration for me. He also didn’t have patterns, he was just blowing.
Is it better to have a pattern, to be recognized for something specific, or being a surprise for the public?
I think the public reacts to the un-expectable better. I prefer without patterns, with a wider horizon. Like a story from a Hitchcock or Kubrick movie. You never know what will happen. It’s always un-expectable. It’s something always new. Like now, I don’t know what you’ll ask me in two minutes. I prefer this stuff. Also am an adept of mannerism. But I prefer the un-expectable. From nowadays musicians, Kenny Garrett inspires me a lot.
 
Have you played in other countries?
 
Yes, I lived in Salonika, Greece, and I played there. I also played in Switzerland and in Spain.
Is the public different? Is there something specific, depending on the nation?
It depends of the music. I never played the same music in these countries. It matters more if you are present on the stage, if you feel the music. It doesn’t matter where you are or who the public is. They understand the truth, if you speak naturally. The public feels your soul, fells your presence. It doesn’t matter even if they listen to this music at home. When you are on stage, you have to be true, and they will sense it.
 
Do you compose?
 
I have different periods; it depends on how I feel. Sometimes I feel like composing something new. I don’t have an album, but I have material for that. I have an idea to get a quintet here in Romania. With musicians like Sorin Romanescu. We became friends; my first concert was with him in Romania. Also with Florian Radu at trombone, Michael Acker at contrabass, and Vlad Popescu at drums. I met Vlad at Vocea Romaniei, where I worked in last December in their orchestra. Vlad is a great drummer.
 
I know you collaborate with Virgil Ianţu & Bucharest Jazz Orchestra. Tell me about it.
 
It’s led by the Sebastian Burneci, it’s a very interesting project. They mix pop Romanian songs, very well known here, with jazz. It was hard at first for me, because I didn’t know the lyrics, the original music. There took songs like “Ce bine că eşti”, “Dacă ai şti”, “Vreau o minune”. We actually have a tour now, starting on the first of March in Timisoara, the town of Virgil Ianţu. After that I’ll play with them in Iaşi and Bacău.
 
When was your first visit to Romania?
 
I visited Romania in October 2012, but not for music, I came here for love. My girlfriend is Romanian, we met in Bulgaria. We often visited each other. It was a time when I tried to come to Romania each weekend. But my first Romanian gig was on the 24th of March 2013, and the second one was here, at Jazz Book. Both with Sorin Romanescu.
What do you think about live music here?
 I remember an evening at Godot, we went there just to listen to music and have a drink, and I saw Nicholas Simion with Sorin Romanescu. I never heard them before and I was impressed. I, especially, resonated with Sorin Romanescu. Usually I prefer the guitar in rock music, but that time it was really exciting to hear his guitar in jazz. We never spoke after the concert, I met just Nicholas. When I returned to Italy, I wrote to Sorin Romanescu, I wanted to collaborate with him. And after a while we met here during a rehearsal, and we connected immediately. I remember he took the phone and he called Darius Rus, without even listening to me playing, he just set up a date for a concert. Since then we started a good friendship in playing music. We had a nice concert with Adi Stoenescu at the hammond and Ana Cristina Leonte as the voice. The biggest human and musical connection I felt, was with Sorin. I also played with Viorica Pintilie, Ciprian Pop, Mihai Iordache, Catrinel Bejenariu from Iasi, Liviu Negru.
"There are not so many jazz clubs here, created especially for jazz. But there are amazing places like different “mansarde” or “grădine” that can host live concerts. The town is open to music, you have a receptive audience. I even have some fans here that usually come at my concerts."
Girls?
No. I won’t say more :)
 
I was talking with a musician these days and he told me that in order to get better, to grow up as a musician, you have to have your heart broken. What do you think? Being in love or being heartbroken?
 
In composing, having a heart broken inspires me. Usually I compose when I feel sad or something is wrong. Otherwise I have to find something in my soul that is not ok; I have to look inside myself. One of the last compositions was while waiting to come to Bucharest. I felt alone, I was in Milan, far away from Bucharest. Outside it was raining…
Another composition of mine was “Lost Eyes in Wonderland”, a ballad inspired from the pianist Billy Strayhorn. It took me two hours to write it, thinking about a lost love.
 
Does it happen often to get into a routine as a musician?
 
If I’m stressed, yes. I have to have self-control. It’s hard for me, because I’m very sensitive. I always try to relax, I did yoga, Pilates and other stuff that can help myself  in stressed situations. Because otherwise it’s easy for me to fall in things I don’t like, for example in patterns. Usually I prefer to play something I don’t already know.
 
Is it correct to assume that you are also a traveller, because you said you are a researcher? Are you rooted to a specific place on earth?
 
I actually look forward to stay here in Romania. I want to leave my projects in Italy, or at least to slow down with them. I want to be more concentrated here in Romania, because I feel that here there’s a lot happening in the music scene. I love what I do in Italy, but sometimes it’s really hard to combine the two countries. I have two main projects back at home: The Mamud Band, with the afro-funk music, and Artchipel Orchestra. With the second one, for example, we won in 2012 the best Italian jazz band. It’s a big band, with more than 20 elements. We are ready to release the second album now.
 
How do you feel here?
 
The only problem is the conversation. I’m Italian; I can talk for 8 hours straight. I love to talk, I love to make jokes. That is if I know the language well enough. I don’t know Romanian so good yet. So I don’t talk so much. Otherwise, the culture is different, the humor, the television, all the background. So it’s not so easy to feel a lot connected. This is when talking about the human connection.
"Speaking about music, the people here are very talented and professional. The only difference between Italy and Romania is just the number of musicians. In Italy we are a lot. In my town only, there are 15-20 good saxophone players. In Romania, not so many. There is Catalin Milea, but he lives in Netherlands, Nicholas Simion - he leaves in Germany. But for alto sax, there are not so many."
Why is that? Why are our good musicians going abroad and the European ones are coming here? Why the change of places?
 
Maybe for the girls! … I’m joking. Maybe the scholarships are better abroad. For example Sebastian Burneci studied abroad. Maybe it’s easier to study there.
For me it didn’t matter that I’m an Italian here. It doesn’t matter if you are Turkish, American or Spanish. You just have to demonstrate, wherever you are, that you can play. My advantage was that I studied in Italy with great professors. Maybe here, being that good Romanian saxophone players left the country, there are not so many saxophone teachers for the younger musicians. I mentioned earlier some of them, I would also add Cristian Soleanu as an example. But maybe I didn’t have the chance to meet all the other good saxophone players.
"We don’t have so many clubs in Milan, but musicians a lot, and very good. I did a lot of jam sessions; I got a comprehensive experience playing with so many. Here in Romania, with a 20+ million population, there are not so many musicians to experience with. Also, we have the advantage of immigration. There are a lot of nations coming to Italy, each one with its influence. From Center Africa, North Africa, Brazil. We are mixed. We listen to other kinds of music. This doesn’t happen yet in Romania. I don’t see a lot of foreigners coming here, living here as musicians."
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