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Paolo Rustichelli: Mystic Man

By Published: August 9, 2007
AAJ: What did you learn through playing with Miles? Working with him must have left an amazing mark on your creativity?


PR: My final thoughts on him are that he was extremely open, as I am, to experience new musical paths which, for me, is the seal of a brave and honest musician. I disagree when people look to artists that change from one style to another as not linear or not serious artists. I really think the opposite—that a truly talented artist can eventually challenge himself within various genres.

AAJ: A great opportunity came about when you met with Wayne Shorter who happened to be good friends with Carlos Santana. What was it like to work with Santana?

PR: Following my recordings with Miles, I went to Los Angeles to complete my album, Mystic Jazz, in 1989. While in Italy I had tried unsuccessfully to contact Santana's management; in order to invite Carlos as a guest artist on Mystic Jazz. The other artists on my list were Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Andy Summers. It turned out that Wayne and Santana were really good friends and, coincidentally, after Wayne and I recorded together, I was invited to a private party at the Shorter house.

During the party I had access to Wayne's private studio where there was a Grand Coda Steinway piano. I composed very quickly and played my song, "Full Moon, for Wayne and his wife Anna Maria. They loved the tune and when I told them I would like this song to be played by Carlos Santana, Anna Maria blew me away by calling Carlos immediately. I tried, again, to contact Santana's management but I was always told that I needed to be called back and to send a demo of "Full Moon. I didn't receive any callback.

After a month, I went to see Carlos play at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. Can you imagine my surprise when in the middle of the show he starts playing "Full Moon? It didn't take me long to go back stage and meet him. We embraced literally as old friends and he overwhelmed me with accolades, especially mentioning that he loved my work with Miles. Then he asked me to record the song "Full Moon in San Francisco at Record Plant Studios. The recordings went so well that the song was included on his album Spirits Dancing in the Flesh (Columbia, 1990). The song has become an evergreen that you can find on many of Santana's compilations.

After "Full Moon, Carlos was really excited to take me onboard to his new label Guts and Grace. I was signed, and since the label was distributed by Polygram, we entered a special deal with Chris Blackwell's Island Records. The single "Paisa, from the album Mystic Man (Island, 1996), went to number one on the smooth jazz radio stations after a few months.

Carlos and I toured successfully worldwide, until Universal Records bought Polygram. I remember when we played at the Beacon Theater in New York in June of 1996 for a hot audience which included George Benson as a guest, and George Harrison and Lou Reed, who were spying on us from the backstage. Following the gig, in the dressing room Carlos and I met Chris Blackwell, the legendary owner of Island Records. Carlos and Chris got into a disagreement and I felt there was some kind of impending change. In fact, after a month, Seagram started the purchase of Polygram Group, creating Universal Records. Subsequently, I decided to go independent because Island Records was in a frozen status due to the traumatic change of ownership. Carlos then signed with Arista Records and I started my own label, Next Age Music.

We still randomly play together, like we did in Europe and in US in Santa Barbara, the summer of 2006. The most amazing attitude of Carlos is his creative energy—always open to explore new musical paths and his own peculiar sound that makes him a living legend.


Carlos and I are really connected not only in terms of our music, but we share similar mystical visions.

AAJ: I can definitely see that. So Carlos having signed you to his label, was it a surprise to you that "Paisa was such a hit from the very beginning? Although it was released eleven years ago, it still garners a lot of airplay. Were you surprised at how well that song was received here in the United States, and are you pleased to see its continued success?

PR: I had no idea that the song would fit in so nicely in the smooth jazz genre, because it was honestly not composed with that result in my mind. I had no idea that it would become a smooth jazz hit. I wasn't trying to make a hit.

AAJ: That is true, especially with the record industry as it stands presently. You never know what is going to be a definite hit. You really have to stand by the music that you want to make and hope that that is acknowledged and well-received by the public.

PR: Exactly, and if you have a distinct melody then the song has a greater chance of becoming a hit.

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