Take Five With Willie Oteri

Willie Oteri By

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Meet Willie Oteri:
An anomaly in the music world having survived tragedy and financial hardship that forced him to quit music as a profession during the early part of his career, Willie Oteri has come back to music. With a small budget he released two well-received blues/rock albums in the late '90s before moving to Austin, Texas where he befriended some of Austin's top jazz musicians. Wanting to pursue the freedom of electric jazz and improvisation, Oteri contracted producer Ronan Chris Murphy to produce Spiral Out (DIW, 2003), a progressive jazz album featuring King Crimson and Frank Zappa alums like Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto, and Mike Keneally, along with the help of Austin trumpeter Ephraim Owens.

In 2003, Oteri relocated to Italy where he lived for four years before returning back to Austin to working with trumpeter Dave Laczko. In 2009, Oteri and Laczko released WD- 41 (Self Produced), followed by WD- 41+2 Temi Per Cinema (Self Produced, 2010), which also involves Dino J.A., Deane Amendola, and Scott Amendola. Oteri's latest release is Shrunken Head Shop (Self Produced, 2013).

Guitar, flute, and a bit of sax.

Teachers and/or influences?
Anyone I ever enjoyed and performed with has been an influence to me. I think this is true for all musicians. I'm pretty much self-taught with the exception of a few classes here and there in my early days.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
Seven, I wanted to be a jazz singer.

Your sound and approach to music:
Today it's total improvisation. In the past it's been blues, rock, jazz, and prog. But I was always experimenting.

Your teaching approach:
I've only had a few private students over the years, but I think that everyone is a student of each other when it comes to improvising because it's a constant learning experience. I would like to teach seminars on improvisation and the music business. I'll be looking into that more next year.

Your dream band:
A dream is a dream and most often not the same when awake. I think my last four recordings are close to what I had in mind. Having big name players does not always produce the best records. Great players are great players, so regardless of fame or name you can get a good product. That being said, I would like to work with Bill Laswell someday just to see.

Road story: Your best or worst experience:
Wow, so many! My last drive through Switzerland in 2012 with bassist Alex Arcurri to Freiburg, Germany to record the live tracks for Shrunken Head Shop was quite a joy.

Worst cases was getting to countries where you thought you had gigs only to find out you may only have one. Having my guitar shipped to Copenhagen when I was flying to Venice is another story, but I've been pretty lucky compared to some horror stories I've heard.

Favorite venue:
Pit Inn in Tokyo. I've also really enjoyed the last two residencies at Kenny Dorham's Backyard in Austin, Texas. There's many more and a favorite venue is hard to say—any live performance is fun for me.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
Any of the last four because they started from totally improvised tracks.

The first Jazz album I bought was:
Don't recall, my mother had a lot of jazz albums from the '30s to the '60s. Most likely, the first one I bought was something from John Coltrane.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
That's really up to the listener, but I hope it's a magic that comes from improvisation and various moods that are created at the time.

Did you know...
I have vivid dreams that are like sci-fi short stories. I never really focused on guitar until much later in life. I played bass, pedal steel, and flute first.

CDs you are listening to now:
Mahavishnu Orchestra, Birds of Fire (Columbia, 1973);
Bruce Saunders, Drift (Strange Planet, 2013);
Sonny Sharrock, Ask the Ages (Axiom, 1991).

Desert Island picks:
Still working on that one— too many.

How would you describe the state of jazz today?
Seems to be pretty alive, a bit stale in some areas but breaking out more. Not many venues for experimental and improvisation but things change. More young people, at least in Austin, are getting behind jazz.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?
Get the word out. Let people know it's not just some guys and gals playing and singing standards. Jazz can cover so much as far as sound and style. Get it to the people! Go to your local clubs and tell them what you want to hear.

What is in the near future?
Setting up tour dates for Europe next year. First will be spring in Italy. Planning to record those shows and release a new album late in 2014. Just released Shrunken Head Shop Live in Germany last August.

What's your greatest fear when you perform?
The bar running out of scotch! My biggest fear is to pick up a player who just does not work, but so far it's been pretty good—fingers crossed.

What song would you like played at your funeral?
"God Save the Queen." No, just throw my ashes in the sea and let it be.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:
If I weren't a musician, I'd be a sad man.

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