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Enrico Rava and Tomasz Stanko: Elective Affinities


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In memory of Tomasz Stanko. This article was first published at All About Jazz on October 18, 2017.

Enrico Rava and Tomasz Stańko have recently launched an ECM super-group with which in July they toured all over Europe, performing in Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and Romania, as well as in their native countries, Italy and Poland. All About Jazz seized the opportunity to ask the two European trumpet masters to set aside some time during their hectic tour and interview each-other, in the spirit of the "Musician 2 Musician" column. What follows is the transcription of their cross-interview, conducted before their concert in Rome, which clearly reveals the sources of their elective affinities.

Enrico Rava: At what age did you start playing the trumpet?

Tomasz Stanko: My father was a judge, but also a musician, like many other members of my family, so I was surrounded by music from the very beginning. I first studied violin and piano in music school. I started with classical music, which I did not like. So I took a break and I went through a phase when I was very much into philosophy, literature and art in general. In particular, I liked to paint and I would go to many exhibitions. After some time I got back to music because I fell in love with Jazz and that persuaded me to go back to music school. I owe everything that happened from that moment onwards to my love for Jazz. I heard something in it. At that time in Poland there was a very famous Jazz radio programme. I would listen to it every day... So, to answer your question, I started playing the trumpet quite late, when I was seventeen.

ER: You grew up in Poland, which at the time was still under the communist regime. It must have been difficult to get hold of Jazz records at the time...

TS: That was almost impossible. Everything I heard was through radio programmes. However, we also had tape recordings. I still remember when, after my first gig in Copenhagen at the Montmartre Jazz Club with Krzysztof Komeda, I bought a very good tape recorder, made by the Norwegian company Tandberg.

ER: Who were you inspired by when you started playing the trumpet?

TS: The very first inspiration was definitely Chet Baker. Miles Davis followed shortly after. Very typical I would say. And I guess that these influences are also why you and I like eachother's music. We certainly share an "aesthetic connection." But enough about me. Let me ask how did you start?

ER: I was born in 1939. So I was six years old when the Second World War ended. American troops were in Italy. With them came freedom, chocolate, lifesavers candies, Coca Cola, Boogie Woogie... and, of course, Jazz. So, from the beginning, Jazz had a special meaning for me. My brother had some Jazz 78 RPM records and I fell in love with the music of both Bix Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong. I literally absorbed all the trumpet, clarinet and and trombone solos on those records. I used to sing them by heart and I still remember them note by note. I could play them to you now. At that time I was just a kid who was starting to play the piano. Then, after some time, I joined a Dixieland band and started playing the trombone. Around the age of 14 I got into more modern Jazz. I started with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet featuring Chet Baker, which is still one of my favorite bands. From there I got into Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, whose music I really loved. In 1956, when I was 17 years old, Miles Davis came to Turin, my hometown, together with Lester Young, the Modern Jazz Quartet and Bud Powell. It was fantastic and I just freaked out. Two weeks later I bought a trumpet and I tried to learn how to play it by listening to Miles' early albums, like Walkin', Bags Groove and Blue Haze.

TS: It was the same for me. Generally, looking back, I realize how difficult it was for us. It's as if there were filters around us. We had only had access to good movies, which I was very much into when I was young: Italian Realism, directors like Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini, early Federico Fellini, movies featuring Anna Magnani... Those were really strong works I felt a connection with. The same connection happened with the music of Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker.

ER: When I meet young musicians at seminars and workshops around the world I am always surprised when I discover that they don't know the music of Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker, they have never listened to it! They don't know what they are missing. For me, their music opened the door to understand and get into modern jazz, because, it is easy to understand but, at the same time, it contains deep emotions, just like the music of Bach...

TS: And it swings too!

ER: It swings a lot! From their music I got to Bird, Dizzy, and everything else.

TS: Do you remember how we met?

ER: I thought that we had met in 1963, but you recently told me it was 1965.

TS: Yes, it was in 1965.

ER: You were playing with Krzysztof Komeda. It was quite peculiar because we followed two very different, yet quite parallel, paths and we both ended up recording for ECM.

TS: Yes, but that was a few years later.

ER: I did it first, in 1975, with John Abercrombie and Palle Danielsson. I remember when I listened to your first CD for ECM, Balladyna, I thought "Wow! I want to meet Tomasz Stanko!."

TS: Then we both played with Cecil Taylor and his Two Continents Orchestra.

ER: Yes. That was heavy. And it was fun, because Cecil idea was so over the top. But it was also quite expensive, in all senses. The contract included a clause stating that "all expenses" would be covered. And boy, did he take that clause literally! On the last night of the tour, in Koln, Germany, he threw a lavish party in the suite of Hotel Dom, with tons of caviar and champagne, and he kept calling friends in New York from the suite's phone line, just to say hi... I noticed his manager, Gabi Kleinschmidt, sitting in a corner of the suite. I asked her why she was crying. She answered: "because I will have to pay for all this!." It was a very tiring tour, wasn't it?

TS: Yes, it was very hard. And it was marred by that awful accident at the beginning of the tour, in Milan.

ER: That was terrible. We were collecting our things when I heard Gunter Hampel scream "Watch Out!." I Looked up right when some of the venue's spot-lights fell down and hit the singer on her head. She was the girlfriend of the drummer. Her name escapes me now. She had to go to the hospital and her boyfriend stayed behind with her and did not continue the tour. It certainly was terrifying. You moved to New York sometime after that tour...

TS: I moved to New York in 2008. You had lived there much earlier...

ER: I moved there in 1967 and stayed for ten years. I played in several bands. With Roswell Rudd, Steve Lacy... Then I had my own band with John Abercrombie. You know how easy playing in New York can be sometimes. Despite all that, however, I was not having an easy time in New York, but fortunately, in 1975, I started recording for ECM... That allowed me to tour in Europe and my life changed completely.

TS: I had already been recording for Polish labels before ECM changed my path. I was working with Edward Vesala, who was in touch with Manfred Eicher, through Jan Garbarek. I met Manfred and things unfolded from there. How was it for you?

ER: I released my first album [Katcharpari] in 1973, for the MPS label. It featured John Abercrombie, Chip White and Bruce Johnson. It was very well received and even won some prizes, in Germany. The following year, Manfred contacted me when he came to New York because he had really liked that album. So we met and got to know each-other. He invited me to record for ECM. So I did a European tour with Palle Danielsson, Jon Christensen and John Abercrombie and then we recorded in Ludswigsburg, at Tonstudio Bauer...

TS: I also recorded at Tonstudio Bauer. I went there for my first ECM album, Balladyna.

ER: That may still be my favorite recording space. It feels like you're recording in a cathedral. It has very high ceilings and so you get a very natural reverb and you can record without wearing headphones. In addition, they have a great engineer, Martin Wieland.

TS: That's true. I also like the Rainbow, the old Oslo recording studio.

ER: Everybody loves that studio. I recorded my second album, The Plot, at the Talent Studio in Oslo, where the Rainbow Studio engineer, Jan Erik Kongshaug, was working at the time. I don't have fond memories of that experience. I didn't feel good, maybe because it was so cold outside... and it was quite small. So I much prefer Tonstudio Bauer. Where have you been recording your recent albums for ECM?

TS: Now I record in Avignon, France, with the great engineer Gérard de Haro.

ER: For a few years I have been recording at Artesuono, in Cavalicco, neard Udine, Italy. I love that studio because I feel so comfortable there. But let's now talk about our tour. How do you feel about it?

TS: The tour is going very well. We have a great rhythm section, nice concerts, but also some time to relax in between.

ER: Not only you are a fantastic musician, but also an ideal tour-mate. You never complain, even when we have several days of challenging transportation. I am sure you know what I mean. Conversely, I don't think I am a good tour-mate, but I am sure you can appreciate that I am 78 years old now, whereas you are only 75 [laughs]. After you turn 76, every year you feel 10 years older. At times, before starting a complicated tour itinerary, with tons of train and airplane commutes, I wake up thinking "oh dear, I have to call in sick and tell everybody I cannot travel." Luckily, as soon as I hit the stage I feel like I am 20 years old again, but when the concert is over I start all over again "oh dear, tomorrow we have to go back on the road..."

TS: Our concert playlists includes a few improvised pieces, a couple of your tunes, a couple of mine and some compositions by our pianist, Giovanni Guidi.

ER: We didn't even need to rehearse very much. Just a couple of hours at the beginning of the tour.

TS: I love the fact that we play the same tunes every night, in the same sequence. I think that is is the best way to go, even when we have to play two consecutive sets.

ER: Miles Davis used to do the same thing. He kept playing the same tunes year after year. Even when he had the quintet featuring Wayne Shorter. He used to record Shorter's tunes for his albums, but during his concerts he continued playing "Stella by Starlight," "My Funny Valentine," "All Blues," for years. Only when you get to know a composition that well you can play it in complete freedom, because you can cruise through it without ever having to think...

TS: I agree. The same thing is happening now during Wayne Shorter's performances. It's almost impossible to recognize the compositions thet band is playing, but they know exactly what they're doing...

ER: Wayne Shorter continues to be the most modern and interesting player around. His quartet is my favorite band today...

TS: That's the same for me.

ER: Each mamber of that band is a master in his own right, but it's the music they can play together that never fails to amaze me.

Photo credit: Marie Ferre

All About Jazz wishes to express its gratitude to Marie Ferre and Guido Gaito for having made this interview possible.

Transcription by Enrico Bettinello, Mario Calvitti, Ludovico Granvassu, Angelo Leonardi and Giuseppe Segala.



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