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Bobby Previte: the Art of Travelling Trustingly

Ludovico Granvassu By

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Bobby Previte has been at the forefront of the creative music scene for more than four decades. A restless aural storyteller with a knack for captivating concept albums, he has just released Rhapsody (RareNoise). This is the first album for which he has written not only the ear-opening music he is known for but also lyrics, which, courtesy of Jen Shyu's compelling delivery, take listeners to unexpected places. In this interview, Bobby Previte talks about Rhapsody, the second part of his trilogy dedicated to travel, and the impact that going to foreign places can have on all of us.

To listen to the music of Rhapsody as well as to excerpts of this interview play the archived podcast of Mondo Jazz (starting at 24:06)

All About Jazz: This is the second installment of a trilogy about the concept of travel. Travel seems to have been a common thread throughout your career like the names of some of your projects, and the titles of some of your albums or songs, seem to suggest: Latin for Travellers, Pan-Atlantic Band, Ground-truther, Too Close to the Pole, Gone, Separation, "Drive South Along the Canyon," just to name a few. What is that keeps drawing you towards the idea of travel?

Bobby Previte: Just last week somebody has told me the same thing, for the first time. This is so strange. Until then I hadn't even realized that! I thought this travel trilogy was the first time I had addressed the issue of travelling. So I guess I'm sort of obsessed with travel because as a musician I have traveled so much... I remember going to Europe for the first time, going to Italy, France, Germany, Holland and many other countries. I perfectly recall how excited I was and how different those countries felt. The first time I went to all those places was as a musician on tour, because I had not had the opportunity of travelling as a kid. I guess that travelling has become an integral part of my life.

AAJ: Travelling, and especially being in a foreign land, can also give an opportunity to reinvent onself, unconstrained by the routines and social expectactions of the place one comes from. Is that something that you have experienced as a travelling musician?

BP: Over time, I became aware of how many times I felt like a stranger. I'd look around me and I'd see people who were going out to dinner together or doing other ordinary things, but a bit differently, while I was alone in these foreign places. And that started to be fascinating to me. How does one navigate the waters of travelling? At some point I realized that one is really vulnerable when travelling. So you have to rely a lot more on other people, on the society and on the infrastructure of where you are.

Meeting people of another culture is the best thing you can do as a citizen of the world. Not everyone can travel, but everyone should. That's when you really start seeing and understanding the human drama. One of the problems in the understanding between peoples is that too many people simply don't leave home a lot. For me travelling, meeting people and seeing how differently they thought, was an eye opener. That was especially true, when, as an Italian-American I went to Italy. As Americans, we're pretty far removed now from our roots. Corny as it may sound, when you travel you discover tolerance, because you see how people live in other places. It's not always the way you live and you find out that that's OK!

AAJ: What compositional or other techniques have you used to translate into music your feelings about travelling, in the first two parts of your Travel Trilogy?

BP: I've been writing music for more than four decades now, and I still don't know the answer to that question. I don't know how the mechanism works. I'm just following my nose, all the time.

The first piece of the trilogy was entitled Terminals. The idea came to my mind while I was on a plane. I was bored, I reached into the seat pocket and I took out the airline magazine. I flipped through it and got to the back pages which contain terminal maps. This particular airline magazine had really cool maps, birds-eye views of the terminals they fly to. These maps reminded me of setups for percussion compositions, with timpani, chimes and small percussions.

Looking at those terminal maps brought me back to when I was in percussion school at the University of Buffalo. That was many, many years ago. Since then I had never returned to the world of percussion and so I decided to write a percussion piece. But I didn't want to just write another percussion piece. I felt the need to integrate it with the rest of what my life had become after I studied percussions. So I decided to integrate the percussion writing with improvisation. And the way I did it was by writing a concerto for percussions. So Percussion, one of the greatest percussion ensembles in the world, agreed to be the percussion ensemble for the piece. I treated them like an orchestra. And I got some of my favorite improvisers, Zeena Parkins, Nels Cline, John Medeski and Greg Osby, and I wrote a concerto for each of them and percussion. That was Terminals. And it all started by flipping through the pages of an airline magazine!

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