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Achille Succi: Nuances and Articulations

By Published: October 19, 2011
AAJ: Do you feel that economically, it is easier to survive as a jazz musician in Italy or Europe, than in the USA?

AS: Italy is experiencing big cuts in culture financing and most of the jazz musicians here do other activities to make a living, mostly teaching or playing other kinds of music. I'm doing that as well.

If there is a good balance between jazz, teachings, and pop music, I think it's good to do different things. It helps to keep an open mind on what's going on around the globe.

AAJ: What areas of jazz and improvisation would you like to pursue for future projects? For example, would you entertain integrating Middle Eastern or Asian influences into your music? Do you prefer to work within freer jazz formats, or more comfortable balancing improvisation and structure?

AS: One area in which I'm really into right now is counterpoint, and I'm trying to write music where improvisation and composition meld together in a balanced way.

Asian and Middle Eastern music interests me especially for the nuances, articulations, and different ways to approach the music.

I also like traditional northeastern Brazilian music, like Maracatú and so on, and in about one year I'm considering a project, featuring music, poetry, and composing —something "around" a Brazilian poet who I really like, Carlos Drummond De Andrade. Still I don't know what to do, but I'm thinking about.

To me every project I'm doing is a way to learn, and to develop some things I've been working on. In this sense I'm always in a "work in progress" mode.

AAJ: Do you prefer, or are more comfortable in small ensemble settings or does it make a difference? From a free jazz perspective, are there any rules you abide by? How do you assist with maintaining control and not letting the music become too frenetic, where dissonance and freedom overshadows theme-building initiatives?

AS: I definitely prefer small ensemble settings. I feel that in a setting from one up to five or six people, the kind of music I have in mind, either written or improvised, would come out in the best way.

Of course, I love to play in larger ensembles too (e.g. Eleven (Philology, 1999), by Franco D'Andrea), but then I feel that the rule everybody should abide by is to not to overplay, and leave much more space for the music to develop without ending up in a chaotic mood, especially when it's totally improvised. Another risk in larger ensemble setting is to lose the soft dynamics range—the tendency to play louder and louder is always around the corner.

Once I heard somebody saying that the Dutch ICP orchestra has the "rule" that not more than three improvisers should play at the same moment; whether this statement is true or not, I think that could be a good way to maintain control of the music.

Another system which I like a lot, when dealing with large ensembles, is the "conduction." With this way of working, the music is not totally under the control of the improviser only; but when I had the chance to play in an orchestra led by Butch Morris
Butch Morris
Butch Morris
1947 - 2013
, I felt great improvised music coming out.

AAJ: Do you find that European audiences and label owners welcome the avant-garde more so than any experiences you have had with American audiences, or record producers?

AS: I can't really make a comparison between Europe and USA for avant-garde because my overseas experience is too small, but I would say that it looks like European audiences are more open to avant-garde. There are more spaces to play this kind of music such as institutional venues and not just smaller clubs where you play "for the door."

For the labels, it seems to me that most of the avant-garde is self-produced by the musicians themselves, with the exceptions of Leo Records and a few others.

I, myself, am part of a small record label run by musicians, called El Gallo Rojo Records, and our policy with the artist is based on a "fifty-fifty" base. We are avant-garde oriented, but not so strict. We mostly try to listen to everything we receive and decide whether to produce, but not judge only on the music or style.

AAJ: You also supplement your artistic side as an educator, and supporting European pop musicians?

AS I'm currently teaching in some Italian conservatories, Bologna, Ferrara and Brescia, and I'm also on the faculty of the Siena Jazz international summer workshops. Those activities help to pay my bills, but I really love to do that. I feel that teaching is a necessity for a musician, not only to be more complete as a person, and to transmit knowledge, but also to help to stay in contact with the younger generations.

For almost the same reasons I also like to play different types of music, other than jazz or avant-garde. I've been playing and recording a lot with some Italian singer-songwriters—Vinicio Capossela and John de Leo, to name a couple.

Pop music, or better songwriters, requires different skills than "just" improvisers. You need to be very precise, concise and be able to express the right thing in the right place, often in the most melodic way and not to bother the voice lead part. It sounds simple but it's not easy for me. It's a great exercise of "creative writing," to express as much as possible with as little material as possible.

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