The magic of Prime Numbers
An interview to Gianni Serino
Hi Gianni, in this conversation we’d like to chat with you about Music in general and your own past experiences and future plans. Let’s start from your hometown, Genoa: what’s your opinion on its scene?
I believe in ghosts. Genoa’s scene is a nice kind of ectoplasm – barely existing.
The Genoese musician, if he/she is serious about making a career (in the music industry), typically takes up his lock, stock and instrument and goes looking for better opportunities somewhere else.
My town keeps spawning some excellent performers, but some mechanisms have a lot more to do with politics than with music….for instance, this summer they had just a handful of high profile shows at the central arena of Porto Antico (the Old Harbour); I do think Genoa has a huge potential – and I mean at business level too – but no one seems to care!
Actually some people, mostly young amateur musicians, are trying to get together and change things just out of their passion and hard work; they have been able to get some nice results, but it’s still a very long way.
However, in Sori (a small town just a few km east of Genoa), the Sori Jazz Festival reached its 23rd season, featuring world famous artists who are never to be seen in the capital…
The Proloco (tourist office) of Sori has a passion towards Jazz: they took the decision of constantly investing on the Festival a while ago. Thanks to them, we’ve been able to listen to Rilok Gurtu, Randy Brecker, Frank Gambale, Billy Cobham, Emilio Soana, Jeff Berlin, Rodney Holmes, Bill Evans, Omar Hakim, Hiram Bullock, Paul Wertigo, Peter Erskine, Scott Henderson among the others, which have made Sori an internationally recognised event in the jazz scene. Most of the credits for this go to the stage manager Adriano Mondini.
You mentioned pro and amateur players: what is the contact point – if any - between the two categories? What kind of relationship can develop between a pro and an amateur performer?
Before the Internet got big, those two categories rarely had the chance to discuss and exchange views: each of the two scenes was evolving on its direction. Then the web made it possible to get together and know each other.
I mean, thanks to the Net you can get around the world in just a few seconds; it’s an amazing tool, although, as in every revolution, you get both positive and negative effects: for instance I’m worried about how in some discussion forums you find negative prejudices – and even plain insults - against professional musicians and their work.
The Internet allows everyone to express their opinion freely and anonymously: and by everyone I mean from the pro musician looking for a communication to the unfiltered 14-year-old kid.
While in real life…
Rooms – and any space in general – can be a place for meeting, although, unfortunately, sometimes they turn into a battlefield.
Hobby players lack places where they can just let it out: this need is what spawned more casual sets such as squats and the various clubs.
Pro players are going through more and more difficulties with clubs: you’re not dealing with a person (the club owner) anymore; you have to deal with cash, the money one gets from the gig.
As absurd as it may seem, a club might prefer a band of young inexperienced people (even at risk of misuse and damage to the PA) if they bring a lot of friends: if the club will make money out of it, the gig will be a success, regardless of quality.
Luckily, when one wants to bring on a different evening, a more enjoyable and lively one, with people dancing etc., the owner has to follow a different strategy in order to succeed: in this case, turning to expert musicians is the solution. I can bring as an example a band I’ve been playing with for the last 8 years, in the same club in greater Genoa: Aria. It’s not easy to find such long-living and stable projects around!
Another prejudice I frequently stumble into in forums: musicians covering other artists’ songs lack in fantasy or creativity, compared to the ones playing their own music, regardless of its quality. What’s your opinion?
Bach said that “everyone’s a God, in front of a beer”!
The late great of the past have been able to break with tradition, steering abruptly towards a new direction, far from established schemes. I could cite the Beatles, the Sex Pistols, or more recently Nirvana. Most of those guys were not musicians with an academic background, but they were able to get together and create something innovative. Nowadays I find this approach has been depleted of its original meaning: I see more a lack of motivation in the way some guys approach to music.
If – as you mentioned before – it is so hard to get a good gig, how are you able to make a living out of music? Do your family’s support play a role?
I owe a lot to family, under many respects. I’ll tell you an anecdote that may seem unimportant, but it exemplifies the strength and determination at the beginning of my path.
I owe a lot to my brothers Dario and Raffaele: it’s them who got into playing bass. When I was a young boy, in the morning as they were leaving for work, they would challenge me by saying “When we get home this evening, we want to hear you playing this Miller bit!”.
Actually, for a long while, I got completely out of sight; people were asking themselves were in the world I was: at home, practicing several hours a day.
I think motivation is even more important than application, and that’s what I try to convey to my pupils in every single lesson.
You talked about how your brothers supported you; quite often, the biggest barrier a young musician has to overcome is his parents, looking for him to get a steady job…
Instead, my parents are a non-existent problem… they always used to care for my own well-being and never bound me to any constriction… this is not mere luck, it’s parents loving their child.
I’d say the biggest barrier is represented by some negative attitude in people I run into.
What does “talent” mean to you?
Talent is… (looks around and grabs a can)… for me, it is the ability of taking this can and seeing “something else” beyond it. I see talent as the ability to get unusual meanings and non conventional uses for anything around us.
Picking comments from the demo videos you put online, I noticed most of your viewers seem to be foreigners; why?
Outside Italy, you got a completely different concept of musicianship! Here, you get a fair deal of attention only if you play with some big name. Think about fellow musicians as Saturnino, or Allevi: both were launched by Jovanotti.
I can imagine your disappointment, even your anger maybe…
Not at all. I don’t care about this. I keep on believing in myself and in any thing I do… whether I play for a big artist, or in gigs with cover bands, and when I do “my own” things. Of course, this latter activity is where I find the biggest chances of expressing myself.
Actually I didn’t choose to be a musician: it was other people’s choice.
I keep on studying and playing because I like it, I don’t focus on developing a carrier out of cooperation with famous singers… that’s too depressing! That’s what I tell my pupils all the time: my advice is to be prepared and ready in case they get “the chance of a lifetime”, but not get mad if that doesn’t happen.
And it’s not even the end of it: once you’re able to get “inside” the music industry, you have to be careful. Big singers want serious, prepared performers with them… let’s say never-failing ones, both from the side of instrumental technique and live performance. At the same time, those performers must be conscious of their role: if the singer feels like there’s competition going on, the working relationship is doomed. Thus you need to find a good compromise between showing off your ability and being at the singer’s disposal.
Another item of utter importance is developing a good reading of sheet music. I took great care of this aspect: with time, and in different occasions, my investment has paid off.
Is there any other indispensable aspect in musicianship?
Talking about characters in Italy’s star system… a difficulty one encounters is communication with some guys dealing with technical issues. Unlearned people lack the specific vocabulary, so you can hear weird requests. I remember some guy telling me “Can you get a gummier sound?”, or “this track, play it like (famous bass player’s name)”. An ability a pro musician must build is how to decipher such requests from people who are in the music industry, but still have a superficial knowledge.
As in your example here, you hear sentences as “Ah... that musician’s sound is great!”, or the like. What’s your vision of the concept of sound?
My God, that’s a difficult question! I don’t know… I see sound as a cruet, a soft sphere to dip your fingers in slowly. Music is something abstract, so it’s very hard to give you in answer.
I see the concept of sound tightly connected with the pursuit of one’s own happiness: if this happiness is shared by the audience, this “sound” will find its completeness.
Your music, the one you make with your Vertical Bass technique is an effective mix of classic and jazz: which artists could you cite as your biggest influences?
Above all Jaco Pastorius, he’s a commandment for me… then Stanley Clarke, a lot… again Chet Baker (yes, the trumpet player), Bach and Paganini, a true genius, who I could only appreciate from sheet music, unfortunately. You see how sheet reading recurs in this interview?
Talking about genius, where does your music gets its form from? How are you able to improvise a tune in Renaissance style, pop, funky, jazz, rock… in real time?
Improvisation does not exist, for me: it’s all written already, it’s in my head, it’s numbers.
I see it as if already programmed numbers were connecting everything: if you tell me now “Play me a fugue”, I’d do it, no problem, simplest thing on earth.
It’s not something mine, I don’t know how to say… I have a theory: love, this lighter falling in that precise spot, improvisation, randomness… they’re all programmed numbers, set in a row.
I see it this way, it’s all in the numbers… prime numbers: Riemann!