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(photo credit: Roberto Cifarelli)
How is a (non-American) novice jazz artist going to get his professional rudiments in place and pay his dues? Most would suggest spending some time studying and/or playing in the States - preferably in the music schools, clubs and bars of New York City.
Considering his highly successful career to date, it is surprising to learn that, although he considered the idea for a while, 46-year-old Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu eschews that concept. "I thought about living in the US, but it was always important to be here and be in touch with Italian jazz," says Fresu, who will perform at the Jerusalem Theater, with his Devil's Quartet, on June 1 as part of the Israel Festival.
"Italy is one of the best places to be for jazz. Sometimes I think things are better in Italy than in the US - audiences are very appreciative, and there's more respect for jazz musicians here in Europe than in the US."
Mind you, considering the number of trailblazers Italy has released on the jazz map for several decades now, Fresu's stay-at-home ethos doesn't seem too much like professional suicide after all. Pianist Enrico Pieranunzi, trumpeter Enrico Rava, saxophonist Stefano di Battista and pianist Stefano Bollani have all achieved stellar status over the past 20-30 years, and there have been a host of US jazz icons who have either lived or spent much of their working hours playing in Italy. Legendary trumpeter Chet Baker was one of the latter, and he was a major influence on Fresu during his formative years.
"I caught up with jazz around the end of '70s," Fresu recalls. "That was the era of sort of jazz-rock music. But I looked in other directions too. Chet Baker was my master, and I learned a lot from Miles Davis and Charlie Parker too, and I also studied classical music."
Fresu has eclectic musical tastes and interests, and he says it is a musician's mind-set that determines how he or she evolves. "Attitude is important; we are contemporary musicians, looking for the right direction. We don't want to play the same things, so we don't copy the past masters. I like traditional music, but I also like [avant garde jazz leader] Ornette Coleman."
According to Fresu, jazz musicians need to forge new channels while feeding off the roots of the art form and culture in general. "You need to be part of the history. We see so many different kinds of people in the world, then we go home and we have to put all these sounds and smells and influences into our music. We need to speak about all this with just one word - the word is music."
Fresu also attributes his all-embracing philosophy to his early childhood. "I don't come from a musical family at all. I am from a small village, called Berchidda, in Sardinia. My family were farmers and I grew up with animals and nature. I am sure the calm and the sounds of nature, the wind and the animals, have all found their way into my music."
Today, Berchidda is very much on the global cultural map. Since 1988 it has been home to the Time in Jazz Festival, which takes place every August. Fresu is artistic director of the festival and, naturally, takes an eclectic approach to that job too. "At the festival we try to find the best relationship between jazz and Sardinian music, jazz and food, jazz and people. Jazz is universal music, and it can be played in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, New York and Sardinia. Jazz is the music of today, and all the history of music put together."
That is also exhibited by the Devil's Quartet, and Fresu says the human element, and relationships, are very much part of the mix too. "We play about ninety percent originals, and some standards, ballads and higher energy stuff. The mix is the history of jazz and contemporary music. The band members [including acoustic and electric guitarist Bebo Ferra, bassist Paolino Dalla Porta and drummer Stephano Bagnoli] - are also very close. That's also an important part of what we are and what we do."