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Achille Succi: Nuances and Articulations

Glenn Astarita By

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Every day I find some wonderful sounds coming from every part of the world. It might seem like poor planning, but I could be very happy if in my future I could keep discovering music and musicians, experiment, and enjoy playing the way I've done 'til now.
Saxophonist and bass clarinetist Achille Succi has recently been singled out as "one of the European musicians to keep an eye on in the next ten years" by (Bill Schoemaker in Giornale Della Musica (January 2010), while journalist Mario Gamba defines him as a "genius of Italian Jazz" in Alias (March 20th, 2010).

Born in Modena, Italy, in 1971, he began his career as a self-taught musician and later won several scholarships that gave him the chance to study in some of the most important schools and workshops in the world: Berklee College of Music, Dave Liebman master classes, and Kopenhagen Rhythmic conservatory, Siena Jazz.

Among the many artists he has collaborated with are Uri Caine, Louis Sclavis, Ernst Reijseger, Pierre Dorge and Franco DAndrea; he has also participated in the recording of many CDs and performs on a global basis.

As a leader, Succi has recorded two CDs: Shiva's Dance (Artesuonor, 2003) and Terra (Splasc(h), 2006), amid a duo session with bassist Salvatore Maiore: Pequenas flores do inferno (El Gallo Rojo, 2006). Together with pianist Fabrizio Puglisi and guitarist Alberto Capelli, he founded the group, Atman. He has also Fresh Frozen (El Gallo Rojo, 2010), with pianist Christopher Culpo, also featuring tubaist Oren Marshall.

Succi teaches music ensemble in Nonantola (in Modena), and holds improvisation workshops and master classes in several Italian cities. He has been a faculty member of the eminent summer workshop Siena Jazz since 2001, and recently taught at the In-Jam master classes. Since 2006, he also teaches clarinet improvisation techniques at the Ferrara Conservatory.

Succi is a prominent artist who appears on legendary jazz record labels such as Soul Note, Leo Records, Splasc(h), and a host of others that largely focus on elegance through the voices of originality and improvisation, touching the outer realm of possibilities. Succi's recording for Italy's Splasc(h), and 2010 alignments with pianist Nobu Stowe, percussionist Andrea Centazzo and other genre-bending artists serves as a testament to his versatility, and a broad jazz vernacular amid his increasing stature as a session man who brings quite a bit to the forefront. Succi is comfortable in most any setting, and sports a complex style, highlighting his cunning improvisation acumen. He transmits a commanding musical presence, whether hammering out gruff and explosive phrasings on bass clarinet, or tempering flows and ideas via sweet-toned melodies or when rocketing to the boundaries of reason on alto sax.

All About Jazz: You play many instruments, including alto sax, bass clarinet, clarinet, and shakuhachi. How and why did you decide to play these instruments? Who were your influences?

Achille Succi: The choice of the instrument was not contemplated at first. I just started with clarinet because the town's marching band needed it. I was 11 years old, and eventually I switched to alto saxophone for the same reason at about 14, but then I went to a music shop to check some alto saxophone players, and I bought a Charlie Parker record (live, 1949) without any idea of who he was. I came home, put the record on the player and that changed my life!

I was always interested in the bass clarinet since I heard it in a cartoon on TV, but I had to wait until I was 18 years old to buy one, and of course by that time I was already into Eric Dolphy a lot.

The shakuhachi is another instrument I fell in love at "first sight." But I'm a real beginner on that instrument.

AAJ: What was the jazz scene like in Modena, Italy, where you grew up? Did your family encourage you to become a musician?

AS: I was lucky because when I was studying music I had the chance to play with some musicians much older and more experienced than me. I used to rehearse a lot with a couple of jazz combos, but also some R&B. I learned a lot from those experiences. Also, I used to go to practice to a music school, where some more advanced students used to attend. It was like a continuous lesson listening to what they were practicing.

Eventually, I expanded my scene becoming more involved in the jazz life of Bologna that, at that time, was still very happening in Italy, with many jazz musicians coming to play there.

My parents are not musicians; at the beginning, they liked the idea of me playing some instruments, but they become very worried when I told them I wanted to be a musician. I always tried to keep my school grades very high for them letting me do what I really wanted to do. They were not so happy about my choice, and tried a lot to convince me to change my mind, but never swayed my decision.

AAJ: Who would be the musicians in your dream band?

AS: That a big question...if I had to call all the musicians I'd like to play with, it would end up as a double big band!

The list is very long, and consists of musicians that I have recently performed with: Vijay Iyer, Steve Lehman, Marc Ducret, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Miguel Zenon and Ralph Alessi, but also Katsuya Yokoyama, Nana Caymmi, Cassandra Wilson....and a couple of dozen more.

I think that there's no such thing like "dream band" for me, since I really think every combo is special in itself since music will come out in as many different ways as the possible combination of musicians involved. That's the good thing about it.


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