Issue # 154, INTERVIEW with Boris Savoldelli
That cat you see below hails from Italy, and he’s one of my favorite vocalists/spoken-word artists on the planet – Boris Savoldelli! I’m truly appreciative of his taking the time to put his thoughts down for us, and giving a truly in-depth interview! I’m hoping he will be able to visit Seattle again (soon), so I can meet up with him & (maybe even) do a bit of harmonization with him myself… lol! Hope you enjoy this & will spread the word to all your friends on the net!
Zzaj: From the standpoint of “vocal experimental”, your music is at the very top of my favorites list, Boris… please give my readers an “off-the-cuff” bio sketch that tells us where you grew up, how you got into vocal music and who helped you (the most) in getting where you are today.
Boris: Well, first of all thanx very much for the compliment! I really appreciate it. I grew up in a “musical family”. Both my daddy and my uncles are musicians (my daddy in not a professional one while his brothers are a trumpet player and a saxophone player). Since I was a baby I was surrounded by different instruments, from piano to mandolins, guitars, violins, horns and accordion and I loved to play them in different ways. Then there was always music in our house, from the classical and lyrical stuf played by my daddy to my mummy’s beloved Elvis Presley and musical lps. When I was at the age of 8 it was natural for me to start studying music playing piano. I was honestly a bad pianist but these studies helped me to stay in touch more seriously with music and I started to learn how to read the music and did solfeggio which was very helpful. Growing up I studied a bit of trumpet with my uncle and then a bit of bass and drums BUT the real LOVE it happeared at the age of 14 when I had my very first vocal lesson. I loved it soooo much and, honestly, it was easier then I was expecting and my vocal teacher fell in love with me immediately and wanted me to seriously go into classical vocal stuff….that I personally didn’t like too much. SO, since my teenage years, I started my vocal experience performing in cover bands from rock to funk. My love for jazz and experimental music came a little later, ’round the age of 25. My vocal studies continued with lotsa different teachers (italians and others) since the middle of the ’90 when I had the great opportunity to meet and study with my HERO since I was 15: Mark Murphy, who was teaching in that period at the Graz (Austria) Universitat for Music. It was funny, and still is, since my vocal heroes are very different: Robert Plant, Paul Rodgers, Demetrio Stratos, Diamanda Galas, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Dean MArtin, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr just to mention a few. BUT the real GURU is still Mark Murphy!
Zzaj: You seem to be a real “globe-hopper”…. do you really dig all that travel, or is it all part of your plot to “take over the world vocally”?
Boris: ehehe, good question. I’ve always loved to travel and this opportunity to share my music around the world is something that I really love. Once you start to travel quite intensely, you realize the world is not as big as we supposed. So it’s funny for me to consider it quite normal (and totally not crazy) to be in Italy on Monday and in Beijing on Wednesday, Jakarta on Friday and back home in Italy on next Sunday. For a lot of my friends, this seems totally insane, thay always ask me: “How can you live in that way??” and I usually reply: “Well, at least I don’t have to drive the plane, so why not?”. Ahahaha. Seriously talking, I really love to meet different people, different languages, cultures, food, drink. Everything is so incredibly exciting and it helps you to stay young and always in contact with different points of view. And, probably most important, you can listen and “steal” so many ideas from different music! In these last years I had the great opportunity to play with lots of musicians around the world and work on different projects in Russia and Ukraine. In the last months I had a commission from Chinese Beishan World Music Festival to rearrange in my way 3 original chinese tunes and now I’m talking about a possible collaboration with an Indonesian band. All those are very exciting opportunities!
Zzaj: Who are some of your best jazz heroes? Vocal or otherwise? Who have you learned the most from?
Boris: Another interesting question. Believe it or not, even if my music career is 99% concentrated on vocal stuff, I consider myself much more influenced by musicians than vocalists. Of course I listened, and I still do, to thousands different vocalists, and I mentioned some I loved above, but the most influencial to me has been some musicians from different music genres. I use to call my “holy trinity” Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa and Miles Davis. These incredible musicians influenced me so much in taste, language, & approach to both improvisation and live stage. But of course I cannot forget about the Beatles, the traditional blues, the old swing (with the great Satchmo!), some classical composers like Ligeti, Stravinsky, Rachmaninov, Mozart, Cage, rock bands like Led Zeppelin, Free, Black Sabbath, Blue Cheers, Santana, The Doors, Can, Velvet Underground, The Ramones, Steely Dan. Talking more about jazz: Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman (I LOVE HIM SO MUCH!), Charlie Mingus, Thelonius Monk, Herbie Hancock, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington. My god, the list could continue for hours. If there’s something it never changed in my life, it is my deep love for cds and lps. I need to listen to them, and the more I listen the more I want to listen!
One of the main compliments I usually received from musicians and critics is that I cannot be “placed” into a single music genre since my music could be in some way jazz but with some rock inside, some world music and sometimes some experimental avantgarde. Well, this is a GREAT compliment in my opinion and I think it comes because of my deep love for music in general. Elton John in his early years is another composer that influenced me very much!
Zzaj: Please explain how you first hooked up with MoonJune Records, since that seems to be your “label” (at least for now).
Boris: I always say this: I really have to say thanx a lot everyday to Leonardo Pavkovic (founder and boss of the Moonjune records). He was the first one to seriously support my career in the music businness. It was 2007 when, after more the 10 years outside music business for personal reasons (but never stopped studying vocal), I decided to write and record my very first vocal solo album (supported by Mark Murphy). When a rough mix of the album was in my hand, I started out writing to some labels around the world asking if they could be interested in my work. Leonardo answered me, saying he LOVED my vocal approach and my music but he couldn’t produce my album because his budget was already over that year. BUT he also encouraged me to produce a first release by myself since the music was very good and said:”if you release your album by yourself I will help you to promote it”. And I did it! I’d never met him in person BUT I liked very much the way he talked to me and his energy. So, after I released the album he REALLY helped me a lot with journalist and to promote my music. And in 2008 my album went in the hands of John Zorn who liked it very much and invited me to perform at his venue in New York: The Stone. It was very important for me and I went there to perform a set in solo and another one in duo with the great avant garde guitarist/saxophonist/composer Elliott Sharp. Of course Leonardo (who lives in NY) came to listen to me (and promoted the event to lotsa music fans and journalists) and loved the show very much. So much that after the show he asked me for a recording session of that music and produced my first album for Moonjune titled Protoplasmic (in duo with Elliott Sharp). After Protoplasmic we decided to release a re-print of Insanology (in vocal solo, originally released by myself) and the second vocal solo chapter titled Biocosmopolitan. Funny story, isn’t it?
Zzaj: Do you write most of your words before you perform them, or do you do most of your work in “spontaneous mode”?
Boris: half and half. For my album lyrics I work mainly with a very good italian songwriter (who was my vocal student). I write all the music: harmonies, rhithm patterns and melodies, we discuss together about the plot and then he (Alessandro Ducoli is his name) writes the lyrics in both italian and english. I wrote a few lyrics by myself and of course I improvise a lot during my live performances, sometimes using some lyrics from Alessandro, sometimes using lyrics from italian, english or russian poets and sometimes improvising. It’s a very funny and interesting way of singing and improvising. In the last year I’ve worked a lot on the lyrics from great Russian poet Sergey Esenin (I’ve got a project about him in jazz with a great russian quartet led by russian pianist/composer/arranger Gennady Feelin) and I use his lyrics translated into italian and in russian (I studied a bit of russian to do it of course!). And in these last months I’ve worked on some chinese traditional tunes and the new lyrics written with Alessandro come from the original chinese ones translated into english. Then, of course, during improvisations I use a lot of scat words and “throat” sounds! Voice is one of the richest instruments ever!!
Zzaj: You’ve been awarded a lot of commendations, most notably ““Ten Best Vocal Jazz Albums of the Year 2011”; are these commendations very important, or just something nice to have? In other words, do they mean a lot to you, or are they just part of the job?
Boris: Everytime I receive a compliment for anyone it means a lot for me. Doing music, especially if you record it and you perform it live, means you want to share it with others. And if you want to share your art with others what can you expect better then a compliment? The opinion you mention on your question arrives from a very serious and important producer named Arnaldo De Souteiro, who worked with Herbie Hancock and John Mc Laughlin among others. Now, when someone who has such experiences says what he said about me and my album OF COURSE I’m happy and honored to read. I’m not that humble and I’ve got a lot of respect for myself and my music, but everytime people appreciate my music (writing to me, talking to me after a live show) it’s probably one of the best things that can happen. I’ve never trusted those who play music and say they don’t care about people opinions. If we can continue being musicians it’s because of listeners, no way!
Zzaj: How do you prepare yourself for a vocal performance? Do you have to do a lot of vocal exercises, scales, or what?
Boris: Honestly not. Everytime I’m near a live performance I say to myself: “ok Boris, remember you must go to your dressing room at least 45 minutes before the show and start your warm up”. And everytime I find myself doing other stuff, like answering questions for some interviews, talking with musicians and/or fans or talking by skype with my wife. ahahahahahah. So I used to warm up for very few minutes. But you know what? I can do this because I really study a lot everyday before my tours. With my vocal solo technique, I must work every single day to relax my throat muscles, to keep me in good shape in both vocal harmonies and vocal rhythms and to exercise me with all my crazy pedals. It’s a regular day schedule I love to do. Like a runner who knows he must run every single day. Same for me.
Zzaj: My readers, especially those who dig spoken-word/jazz, are always interested in finding out what’s coming up…. so, what do you have in the works for the next year or so? New releases, etc.
Boris: Luckily, lots of stuff. Ready to be released (this time incredibly not for Moonjune BUT in according with) with the most important italian Jazz magazine, named Musica Jazz, is a trio album with italian sax player Raffaele Casarano and italian doublebass player Marco Bardoscia titled The Great Jazz Gig In The Sky. It’s our personal jazz rendition of the Pink Floyd’s masterpiece The Dark Side Of The Moon. In july I will tour again in Russia and will record a new project dedicated to russian poet Sergey Esenin lyrics in Jazz with Gennady Feelin Quartet. I’m also working on some chinese traditional songs arrangements and hope to record these arrangements soon this year. Last but not least, I’m finishing a great duo album with italian guitarist (based in Madrid, Spain) Walter Beltrami, dedicated to jazz standard re-arranged in a very different and crazy way. These arrangements are a commission from RSI, Swiss National Radio and Tv, I’m working with a bit in these last years. I’m also working as a guest on an orchestra project here in Italy dedicated to the Jon Lord’s Concert for group and orchestra where of course I sing the songs once sang by Ian Gillan. Lotsa fun!
Zzaj: You recently completed some tours in Korea and Indonesia…. give our readers some insight into how hectic (or pleasant) the “touring life” is…. do you have new tours planned for the rest of this year, or 2016?
Boris: I must correct you a bit, because I’ve just come back from China and Indonesia, not Korea where I was last october. From september 2014 ’till now (may 2015) I toured in China (first tour in september), South Korea (October), Russia (february), China (second tour in march), China again (third tour in april) and Indonesia (april). Busy schedule. As I told you before, I love touring. Of course it’s a crazy life. Always moving (by planes, trains, cars), different hotels, crazy jet lag (I suffer it a lot when I move to Asia side….lucky me nothing when moving to the USA side), very little sleep, lotsa people, lotsa interviews. A crazy life but, hey, as I use to say everytime: “that’s better then work!!!” ahahaha. I told you. That’s my life, what I love to do, to share my music and my soul with lotsa different people. Playing night by night it’s always a kind of magic for me, and I consider myself lucky I can do it with my music! Of course sometimes it’s really crazy. I still remember one of my craziest, and most exciting tours in Russia in april 2014. Here are the REAL numbers: 19 days of tour; 17 concerts; 1 afternoon rehearsal with a big band for the night show; 16 different towns and hotels; 23.000 kms drive by planes, trains and cars. When I arrived back home I only wanted to sleep for at least 2 days!! ahahahahaha
Zzaj: Why is vocal music important in the greater scheme of “jazz things”? Is vocal as important as the jazz itself, or just part of the bigger picture?
Boris: You really think vocal music is considered important in jazz? Funny since I’ve always thought vocal music is a bit underrated in jazz music. You see, different points of view. I think vocal jazz is a part of the jazz and I’d love it to be more considered. What I try to do in my “small vocal world” is to use my voice much more like an instrument. I try to express my point of view better. I’ve always consider the use of the voice a bit too much restrictive. I mean, vocalist are deserve to sing the melody and sometimes a small solo. Why not consider and use the voice as an instrument? Why not to put vocalist together with the horn section and ask them to perform and play like an instrument. This is what I try to do when I perform in solo and with other musicians, just to use my voice like a “instrument between instruments”. It’s not up to me to say if I do ti well or not, but I like it and, since now, musicians and listeners like it too!