Fabrizio Sotti: The Key to Music

Fernando Rodriguez BY

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Invited to perform at the 16th edition of the Dominican Republic Jazz Festival, this past November, guitarist Fabrizio Sotti was sitting on the beach in Cabarete, along the country's north coast, when this interview took place.

Sottis' most recent release, Inner Dance (E1, 2010), was almost his third release, following the guitarist's This World Upside Down (BCI-Eclipse, 1999), but a hard drive crash on his computer scuttled what was to be his sophomore release, originally to be titled Against All Odds. Inner Dance features slightly different personnel, with organist Sam Barsh replacing bassist James Genus, alongside a twin-percussion salvo of drummer Victor Jones and percussionist/drummer Mino Cinelu. Moving between harder-edged, fusion-esque electric and more lyrical acoustic guitars, it may have been a tough slog getting there, but Inner Dance definitely delivers the goods.

Sotti was born in Padova, Italy. By age five, he was taking classical piano lessons, and at nine switched to the guitar as his interests in music went from Bach and Chopin to trumpeter Miles Davis, saxophonist John Coltrane, and guitarists Wes Montgomery and Jimi Hendrix. After a stay in the USA in his mid-teens, he returned to New York City permanently and launched his jazz career after a brief stint in the mid-90s in the Italian Air Force. Since then, Sotti's career has included collaborations with some of jazz's best musicians to writing/producing for hip-hop and pop superstars.

In addition to his own recordings, Sotti has produced and performed on two Blue Note albums for Grammy Award-winning vocalist Cassandra Wilson—2003's Glamoured and 2009s Closer To You: The Pop Side. He has toured extensively in the U.S. and Europe and worked with an impressive group of A-listers including trumpeters Brian Lynch and Roy Hargrove, saxophonists George Coleman and George Garzone, bassists Steve LaSpina and Mark Egan, percussionists Sammy Figueroa and Mino Cinelu, drummers Al Foster and Jeff "Tain" Watts, guitarist Mick Goodrick, and pianists Rachel Z and Andy LaVerne.

Expanding his musical palette into the world of hip-hop and R&B, Fabrizio has played with, written and produced tracks for everyone from Dead Prez, Q- Tip, Tupac (the posthumous "If I Fail") and Ghostface Killah to Jennifer Lopez, Whitney Houston, Foxy Brown and Frankie "Half Pint" Jaxon.

Sotti says that: "I agree with Duke Ellington in his assessment that there are only two kinds of music, good and bad, and I choose not to discriminate by genre."

All About Jazz: In your own words, who is Fabrizio Sotti?

Fabrizio Sotti: I'm a jazz guitarist/musician who doesn't discriminate other genres of music.

AAJ: How did you get to New York?

FS: The first time I came to New York I was 16 years old. I came to New York City because I wanted to play and learn from the best jazz musicians in the world. I told my mother I was going to the US for a short vacation, but I knew I wasn't going to go back home.

Fabrizio Sotti—Inner DanceAAJ: How and when did you start playing?

FS: I started studying classical piano at the age of five, learning from my grandmother to write and read music. At age nine I picked up the guitar and also my musical preferences started to change.

AAJ: How did you get into jazz?

FS: In Padova, where I grew up, there weren't any jazz schools when I started, so I took some private lessons from local teachers, studied American books and listened to a lot of vinyl.

AAJ: What were your studies like? Where?

FS: The majority was in Padova, with locals teachers; occasionally, I attended seminars by American guitarists visiting Italy like Joe Diorio and Mick Goodrick.

AAJ: What have your experiences been in Italy, Europe, and now in the US?

FS: In Italy, when I was a teenager, I had the opportunity to play with great musicians like [bassist] Ares Tavolazzi, [drummer] Mauro Beggio, [drummer] Francesco Lomagistro, [bassist] Christian Lisi and [bassist] Nicola Sorato. With them, I played standards and some of my original tunes. With these musicians we played all over Italy. As well as playing with jazz groups, I was also working as a session musicians for Italian pop artists to make some more money.

Because I came to the US so young, I really feel that I almost grew up there. I have discovered Europe later, being able to go there to play concerts, coming from New York City where, all of a sudden, I was basically considered to be an American musician. I came to the US at age 16, and then I left at 19 for two years to join the Italian Air force; back then the service was mandatory. Then I came back to New York City in September 1996 and never left.

AAJ: Jazz to R&B to hip hop: how do you pull off performing in such varied genres?

FS: Music for me has only two genres: good and bad. I prefer certain genres, but the key to music for me is soul and communication.

AAJ: What are your favorite genres? And who were your influences?

FS: Without a doubt jazz—or musical situations where improvisation is involved. The artists I've always loved and will always love are Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Wes Montgomery, Jimi Hendrix. Of the living ones, I have listened a lot to [pianist] Keith Jarrett and I consider Joe Diorio one of greatest guitarist/teacher ever. I still don't understand why he is so underrated. Also, I have been very influenced by Brazilian jazz.

AAJ: What's it like to be on stage with all those greats?

FS: I consider being able to play with all these great musicians and being onstage or on record with them a blessing.

AAJ: Please share your thoughts about yourself as a k=jazz performer.

FS: I will always perform with my jazz groups, it's something that, no matter what, I always need in my life. I'm planning, right now, to perform much more then I have in the recent past, with both traditional jazz combos and a more accessible band, in order to be able to play for an audience that appreciates good music without necessarily being jazz fans.

AAJ: Please talk about producing, playing and working with Cassandra Wilson?

FS: Working with Cassandra is very different then working with any other singer because she is a complete musician, not just a singer. We have a real magical musical chemistry. In her projects I have been able to mix jazz guitar playing with most of my other musical influences and my pop producing sensibility. If you listen to the albums Glamoured and Another Country, you can hear a lot of different influences.

AAJ: What's it like playing and working with singer Claudia Acuna?

FS: I have known Claudia for a long time, I consider her a great musician and singer—In particular when she sings in Spanish, she really touches my soul. The first time we played together was during the recordings of one of her albums produced by [saxophonist] Branford Marsalis. After that, I invited her sing on Inner Dance; we wrote a song called "Amanecer." She will also appear in my next album, Right Now.

AAJ: What has it been like working with/for artists like Dead Prez, Q-Tip, Tupac, J-LO and Whitney Houston?

FS: Each time it is a journey inside someone else's musical world, and each time I get richer inside. I try to give my best to anyone I work with and absorb as much as I can from each experience.

AAJ: What are your present projects?

FS: I have just finished the recording on my album Right Now, which is a totally different project from anything I have done before. For the first time, on my own album, I have mixed jazz with pop, maintaining as much integrity as possible. At the core, it's a trio recording with Tony Grey on bass and Mino Cinelu on percussions/drums ,with guest vocalists from all genres of music like Shaggy, Melanie Fiona, Zucchero, Ice T, Dead Prez, Res, Algebra Blessett, Claudia Acuña and a new rising star, Isabella Lundgren. The material is composed of some timeless covers like "One" (U2), "The Wall" (Pink Floyd), "Waitin´ In Vain" (Bob Marley), "Fidjo Maguado" (Cesaria Evora) and some original compositions. The album will be released around May, 2013.

Other than that I'm working on a bunch of different projects: M1 of Dead Prez, Isabella Lundgren's debut album, a duo recording with accordion player Julien Labro and A recording with Italian pianist Alberto Pizzo.

AAJ: You are truly a man of many hats—which do you prefer and why?

FS: The hat that I prefer is "passion" and to put your heart into anything you do. Because life without passion is lifeless...

AAJ: On your last recording, Inner Dance, you dedicated it to guitarist Wes Montgomery and organist Jimmy Smith, and rightfully so. Care to share your thoughts on this?

FS: The guitar/organ sound influenced me a lot in my early years, so I dedicated Inner Dance to these great masters who have touched the lives of millions of musicians. Instead of copying what they masterfully did already, on Inner Dance I have used what I have learned from them to create my own version of the organ trio.

AAJ: It comes off as a sound reminiscent of the 1960s, but brought forward into today with warm, smooth instrumentation—was that the intention?

FS: Yes, it was. If you listen to all the tracks it moves from hard-swinging music to more relaxed and accessible stuff.

AAJ: You have just participated in the 2012 edition of the Dominican Republic Jazz festival. How do you feel about it?

FS: It felt very good and refreshing. The program had an amazing variety of great musicians. I was very surprised and proud to find out that an Italian in the Dominican Republic created the festival.

AAJ: You played in your trio format and also accompanied Chilean-born jazz vocalist Claudia Acuña—what were those experiences like? And, what were your overall impressions of the festival?

FS: It was the first time I played with these musicians, besides Claudia Acuña, so it was full of good surprises. As for the festival, I think that it's an amazing festival in a paradise-like setting.

AAJ: If you could choose, who would you like to play with and why?

FS: I would love one day to have the chance to play with Keith Jarrett because his music never ceases to inspire me.

AAJ: As a final thought, is there any particular message you would like to share with our readers? FS: Respect music and it will never let you down.

Selected Discography

Cassandra Wilson, Another Country (E1, 2009)

Fabrizio Sotti, Inner Dance (E1, 2010)

Cassandra Wilson, Closer to You: The Pop Sides (Blue Note, 2009)

Cassandra Wilson, Glamoured (Blue Note, 2003)

Fabrizio Sotti, This World Upside Down (BCI-Eclipse, 1999)

Photo Credits

Page 1: Courtesy of Fabrizio Sotti

All Other Photos: Fernando Rodriguez

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