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Enrico Rava: Consummate Fan, Consummate Artist

By Published: December 12, 2005
"Besides playing the music, I was one of those guys. I was on the road. I didn't have a home, like a beatnik or hippie. It was a time in which we lived with no money. We didn't need any money. Wherever we go, we would go to live in somebody's house, somebody would help us. For a couple years it was like that. You don't need money to survive. It was like a big commune.

Rava remained busy throughout and has toured all over the world. He has since moved back to Italy, but roams freely through the world of music, enjoying huge popularity in his native land, as well as the respect of his peers wherever they are.

"When I started recording for ECM in 1975, my record was selling very well in Europe. I was still in New York, but with several tours in Europe. I was working a lot of the time. Then in 1978 I went back to Europe, to Italy. In Italy, I became very popular, in a way. And I still am.

"They know me even out of the jazz circuit. I'm known in Italy. I don't know why, he chuckles. "Not just by jazz fans. Normal People, they see me on TV, they see my picture in newspapers. I can't complain.

"Jazz gave me some of the most beautiful moments, as a listener and as a player. Also it gave me a good life. The music kind of saved my life, in a way, he says. He still loves to listen to great music and calmly enjoys his stature in the music community. he appreciates he life it has given him.

"The musicians I kept listening to all my life, I keep doing it, he says. "For sure, Louis Armstrong. Still now, I listen to Louis all the time and sometimes I can't believe he could play like that in 1926-27. He was so much ahead. In fact, Miles in his autobiography said whatever we played, Armstrong already played it. It's true. I agree with that 150 percent. I love Monk. I love Sonny Rollins.

"A big influence to me is a singer, who is Joao Gilberto. I'm a very good friend of Joao, but besides that, he influenced me a lot in the way I play melodies, the way I make economy of notes. When I was in New York, he lived on Central Park West, and I would go to his apartment. Sometimes we would stay up all night and play. He kept telling me, 'Why do you play so many notes? Only the notes that need to be played.' I think that's the biggest music lesson I ever got. In fact, I just wrote a book two years ago that came out in Italy. The title of it is 'La Nota Necessario,' which is in English 'The Necessary Note.' I learned that really from Joao. Miles too. Miles also was playing that way.

Rava still speaks reverently of his first influence.

"The way Miles played ballads, no one else could ever play something like that. Chet sometimes. They way the play ballads without doubling the tempo immediately. Just playing straight ahead melody. It takes enormous concentration. Even more than concentration is identification with what you are doing. You really get in touch with yourself when you make a note, and you put so much into that note that you get in contact with yourself. When the sound that comes out is your sound, and not an abstract sound. The real sound of your soul. There is a big difference."

Rava says there are still musicians who play concerts and make recordings trying to emulate people like Miles. "You hear somebody else play the same notes, maybe play the same solo ... But it is not the same thing, because it was Miles' sound. You can see that. It's something that transcends music. It becomes something that has to do with the human being, with life, with cosmic harmony. I don't know what to call it. It's something more. Something very deep, not just playing some notes.

"Listen to Billie Holiday, he says with as much feeling as a note from his horn. "Even when she was really fucked up, like 'Lady in Satin.' Her voice was gone and she was drunk, on heroin and everything. But, even like that, she sang 'You've Changed' and you just got chills all over. She goes so deep into herself. Maybe there is a thousand singers that can sing the song better, with a perfect voice. But nothing happens.

Rava believes there are many fine musicians on the scene today, but he still harkens back to the golden age. Such a period, he opines, may never be seen and heard again. Yet music moves on, and at some point there will be changes, and perhaps a group of special artists that will make their own archetypal mark.

"I think over here (jazz) has grown up enormously in the last 20 years. Now we have a level unbelievably high. Over here in Italy, we have so many good musicians, it's hard to believe. In the States, of course the level is very high. But if you compare that to what it was before, it is not too good.

"I always thought that jazz in America had this amazing period from 1925, I think, with Armstrong and his Hot Five, going until about the end of the '60s. It's a period so rich with geniuses that it would be hard to find, in any art form in the whole history of humanity, a period with so many geniuses. Maybe Italy's Renaissance. Maybe.

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