giovedì 16 aprile 2015

Interview with Stefano Zabeo by Andrea Aguzzi


Hello Stefano, I try to play a game with you ... in 1987, in February issue of the italian magazine Chitarre appeared your interview. I try to ask you again some of these questions, you answered .. 28 years ago, let's see what has changed since then? Then I add some questions of my own.

How did you approach your guitar?

Guitar was undoubtedly the instrument that more than any other has fascinated me, but it was not the only one in my personal musical journey. You see, in the days when I started (it was still in mid 60s), it was important to be part of a band, or a "group" as it was then called; then which instrument you played was often decided based on the vacancies in the group that you wanted to join. In reality, however, the very first instrument that I approached was the harmonium because my parents, when I was 10 years old, I had given me a very small and very simple one with the electric motor to blow air into the reeds. But with the advent of the Beat era the collective imagination of an entire generation underwent a drastic change: the music suddenly became the vehicle of redemption, of rebellion and a hope of success in life.
The Beatles, and the Rolling Stones and all groups of that time were not simply admired for the music they produced, but considered true masters of life, the "first" that had managed to get to where we all hoped to arrive ... so that the sense of belonging to the "group" was before the same music. Sure, we were terribly naive, and we did not realize how miserable were our attempts nor what our myths were trying to make us understand between the lines. Only a few of us indeed understood the English language at those times beacause at school you primary learned  French, and so, we were singing in a kind of awkward grammelot or dialect but we took it very seriously, we did not realize that maybe the true original text played "The I'm a loser, and I'm not what I appear to be "... anyway the truth was that a band with of two guitars, bass and drums became the standard and, like many others, I began to learn that instrument, because guitarists were always on display. In time, however, things changed and I played other instruments primarily based on the needs of the musical trends. I went from guitar to bass, then on keyboards, tenor sax and flute. It was only in the 70s that I returned to the guitar and then I never abandoned it.

Who were the guitarists who have influenced you the most?

I could name countless, but for very different reasons among them I would say especially Keith Richards, Johnny Winter and Freddie King. The first for his concept about the rhythm guitar, the second for the elegance of phrasing and the third for the enormous emotionalism of his notes. But it is very simplistic to stop only 3 names!

How much is important guitar's technique for a blues guitarist?

Technique is useful only as it allows you to better express your emotions, but in the blues can even become a handicap if let it carry you away. I know it's could be a bit strange idea in an age of acrobatic guitar hero that can play all speeds! But it is the same with blues often go against corrent... "less is more" is the phrase that best describes the way you play the blues. Alexis Korner once told me: "The real blues musician is the one that plays JUST really indispensable notes." You see, it's a matter of vocabulary and register exactly like in the spoken language. If you want to describe a dialogue between two longshoremen in Marseille, you can not use terms that are too refined and complex and evolved syntax, because the registry would sound wrong. The blues is a bit '"ignorant", I hope you will accept this term, and the most important thing is the message it brings, emotional immediacy of what you express. There is no room in it for the virtuosity, because they can not be immediate because by their very nature require long preparation and exhausting exercises. I'm not saying that the virtuosity itself is wrong, God forbid me! But the blues is the other way, that's for sure!

What is your relationship with guitar?

I love guitar because I express myself with it, but I never forget the nature of "instrument": that is used to get to the music and not vice versa.


Currently how many guitars do you have?

18 :-D :-D :-D

Do you think is possible to live in Italy only playing the Blues?

I would love to tell you so, but I would be insincere! Nobody has never managed it, and even the few who play blues full time actually have other resources that give them the opportunity to live that way. Basically I think there are two major obstacles to prevent that a musician can live playing only blues here in Italy. The first and most important is the lack of credibility that we attach ourselves to our own bluesman. An Italian who plays blues looks almost like a Japanese singing "'O sole mio". No matter if from so many years the blues language had such a spread to become universal: for the people it continues to be a music exclusive heritage of African Americans. But also ourselves that we are in the industry are always ready to run to see  the first American, while hardly we move for somebody who is not coming from the promised land! And the second obstacle, related to the first, is the language: the public does not follow easily the English texts, there is little things to do! This causes tthat he blues music is a forcibly niche and therefore the market is what it is ...

What amp do you use? Do you use some effect?

For years, I almost exclusively use Fender amps (I have 5 of them), the only exception is a small 15-watt Ampeg. As effects I play only a delay, especially for the slide parts, and sometimes an overdrive if the room does not allow to increase the volume of the amplifier. In the past I used sporadically a chorus, but lately I've abandoned it.

You know .. several years passed since Guido Toffoletti died, you have played a lot with him, do you want to talk about him? What kind of person he was?

Not many know that Guido and I were friends since adolescence and not just musical collaborators. Guido was a normal man with all his strengths and all his faults: I have never shared the idea that the traits of a person must be sublimated after his death because that is the real way to bury it for good. Guido anyway had musical patterns different than that most of the other musicians shared and this led him to play in a way that many of them, unfortunately, did not appreciate. And here we return to the discourse on the technique that we have faced before. The guitar is a very overused in our country, but perhaps anywhere. This causes the fact that the development of a highly competitive among guitar players, sometimes even decidedly excessive. If we add the widespread mentality that only those who have great technique deserves attention and success, what I call ironically "paganinism", there arose the hatred towards any person obtaining a success judged undeserved ... beyond the famous "nemo propheta in patria" all those who spent hours and hours on the instrument in the paranoid quest to be" the best "and still did not get the slightest success, could not stand that one of them who was considered of limited capacity could play in theaters and on television as well as being interviewed. Someone came to invent the story that he would bring bad luck, as often happens when you have no other available means. And he really suffered this a lot. What shall I say? Perhaps the most obvious accomplishment was his managerial ability that undoubtedly he had. But that doesn't mean he was not a real musician: he would not come to play with all the international characters that played on his records and in his concerts live! Aside from the personal relationship and friendship, I have a big debt of gratitude to him because I would never have come to meet so many important musicians  and to play along with them if it was not for him!


What is the significance of improvisation in your music research? Do you think it's possible to talk about improvisation in the classical repertoire or you're forced to leave and turn to other repertoires, jazz, contemporary, etc?

Here I think you have asked me a question that perhaps was addressed to other musicians... but improvisation is the basis of blues without a doubt! The beauty of the blues is just in the extemporaneousness of its executions that are from time to time new roads starting from the same structured code.

How does your musical methodology is influenced by the community of people (musicians or not) with which you collaborate? Do you change your approach in relation to what you directly or indirectly receive from them? If you listen to a different interpretation of a song that you already played or that you want to play, do you keep in mind this listening or do you prefer to proceed in complete independence?

Any experience life proposes you ends up influencing the way you play: this is valid about listening to other musicians. I definitely learned more listening to others bad performances then staying closed at home studying sterile things. But I also learned a lot of beautiful things made by good musicians.

A little bit provocative question about music in general, not just contemporary or avant-garde. Frank Zappa in his autobiography wrote: "If John Cage, for example, said" Now I put a contact microphone on my throat, then I drink carrot juice and this will be my composition ", then his gargling would qualify as a COMPOSITION, because he applied a frame, declaring it as such. "Take it or leave it, now I want this to be music." Do you think this could be a really good statement to define a music's genre, just say this is classical music, this is contemporary and it's done? Does it still makes sense to talk of "genre"?

The music genre is the vocabulary with which you express yourself. The lexicon is the result of rules. The real musician is the one who doesn't care about the rules just to express himself. The important thing is that there is not only an aesthetic but an emotional message in what you do: I doubt that a gargle can express emotions, but you never know ...

You play the blues from many years. I sometimes feel that in our time music history flows without a particular interest in its chronological course, in our discoteque before and after, the past and the future become interchangeable elements, shall it  present a risk for an interpreter and a composer of a uniform vision? A "globalization" of music?

The vision of "uniform" or "globalized" doesn't represent a danger to the real artists because there will never be for them the approval of their personality. Schools have always existed, and gave home to a myriad of pseudo-artists so insignificant as to be often forgotten or remembered only by geeks, which in turn have established a career placing an attempt to reduce art to a encyclopedic list without understanding its true nature and enjoying it. I think is enoght to say that the school should churn out more than any other new brilliant minds that can create innovation is called "Conservatory": In contrast the true artists have broken from the basis the same schools that they had bred. I do not consider myself a true artist, and this is why I would say these things: I'm  only one that makes the most of what he does trying to try and convey emotions, that's all!

What are you five favourite scores?

There are no scores in blues music :-D

The blog is also read by young graduates, what advice would you give to those who, after years of study, decided to start a career as a musician?

Nowadays, any job you want to get has not a real gain perspective: so I think is better to do only what you are passionate about

Who would you like to play with and who would you like to play?

I have already managed to play with many of those with whom I dreamed of being able to play, but we are always part of the myth. In reality then things do not always correspond to dreams. I'd love to play exclusively with musicians who love what they do and believe. I'd like to "play" all those who think they are very good because they make a thousand notes per second.

What are your next projects?

I'm putting back together the old Blues Society, the band of Guido in its original lineup, and I'm very excited about this thing!


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