Stolen Moments

Small Tokyo Chat with Nicola Conte.

27 FEBRUARY 2013,
Nicola Conte, photo by Great the Kabukicho
Nicola Conte, photo by Great the Kabukicho

“Rhythm is physical and primitive. You just get it, and one day, it’s yours.”

On a chilly winter night in Tokyo, the resonating sounds of cool jazz completely belonged to world-renowned music master, Nicola Conte, who swooned Blue Note Tokyo, once again, with his captivating and rhythmical world music. Gracing four splendid nights from February 13-16, with a brilliant cast of musical talents: Till Brönner (trumpet), Magnus Lindgren (sax), Pietro Lussu (piano), Paolo Benedettini (bass), Teppo Mäkynen (drums), and the exquisitely charming Zara McFarlane (vocals), Nicola never fails to bring back the nostalgia of the spirit of jazz from his first tour to Japan in 2001, that continues to light the fire of his unique band ensemble over the years. As one of Europe’s most knowledgeable DJs, a respected composer, producer, guitarist, and poetic lyricist, Nicola has always been known for his excellent collaboration with music greats from all corners of the world - Africa, South America, Europe, US, and Japan - wherever his sharp ears and instinctive inspiration takes him from his native Bari in Italy. In Japan, Nicola has found his special musical and personal niche, where creative souls meet over infectious doses of “mizuwari” (mixed spirits and water), crisp, half-smoked cigarettes, among psychedelic street culture posters, hidden vinyl records and mild, unperturbed, mixed language exchanges in cramped, tatami rooms. Adding these as a luscious backdrop to Nicola’s spiritful repertoire, he shares “stolen moments” of his life’s joys, success, and deep insights.

On the Tokyo shows
“The number of people and kind of feeling I got for all the shows were basically the same. I’m not so concerned about the promotion of my album. My shows depend on what I would like to do for that occasion. (This time in Tokyo, for example,) the concept was based on different things taken from this album and that album, and songs we haven’t recorded yet. The samba song So Danço Samba (we did in the last part of the program) was recorded in a remix for Till Brönner. It’s in one of my albums where I have all of my remixes. We never played that before anywhere else. So, it was the first time here at Blue Note Tokyo.”

On Japan comeback
“This is my fifth time at Blue Note. I did my debut around 2000, and since then, I have come to Japan about twenty times as a DJ as well. With the live band, we also played in other cities in Japan. We’ve also been to Blue Note Osaka when Blue Note was still there, and also at Billboard Live, and maybe two to three times at Motion Blue Yokohama. I keep coming back to Japan, well, basically because the audience wants us. There are always people here who want us to be back, for us to play our music. During the years, I met so many friends, so for me, coming here is not just a matter of work, but it’s a lot more enjoyable (than that).”

On Japanese connection
“I developed a very deep connection with Japan and the Japanese people - in fact, since the very beginning when I first arrived here. For me, it is always a feeling of being completely at home. I never experienced culture shock here. Maybe just the jetlag or change in the body rhythm, but there was no culture shock for me. I never find anything strange in this country. In fact, maybe it’s much better here than in any other place I’ve been to. And, much better than Italy. The Italian system is messed up… not just politics, which is a reflection of the society.”

On Touring
“It’s not that there is something I like about the country or the culture (when I tour). First of all, I never put myself in the shape of a tourist. In every place I go to, I try to tune myself into the vibes and the feeling, and the rest depends on the degree of what type of culture there is. If I go to Istanbul or Beirut, I know where I am going, and I’m really tuned to get the best of the place. I don’t place myself as a foreigner. I do that from my attitude. So, you don’t think you are different. I don’t think I’m different in any place in the world.”

On Music concept
“My music concept is not really different - you have to be sensitive… it’s like being exposed to certain things. Maybe through reading and knowledge, you get to know about other things. When you are in the place where those things are happening, you already have knowledge of what the place or music is about. So, the only thing that matters next is to build your own personal experience. Coming to Japan, I built my personal experience. And, from the very first time I came here (around 2001), it was easy for me.”

On Music classification
“I wish I would never have one (classification for the type of music I do.). There are many influences in many things I do. Acid jazz was a term used in the 90s. Still, some people apply that to the times that they don’t understand. Lounge jazz - this had been also popular in the late 90s till early 2000 or so, but today, it doesn’t mean anything anymore. Club jazz - (could be close to dance,) but I don’t think I do anything like that. Bossa nova of course, is the biggest influence in my life. Bossa nova is classical, and not a trend of today. I don’t have a special reason for liking or doing bossa nova. At one point in your life, you feel music and you recognize yourself in that music. You don’t analyze that; you just feel it. If I have to analyze, then I have to say that bossa nova has a lot to do with the West Coast and cool jazz; that bossa nova, like Brazilian society, at that particular time, was very similar to Italian society. Bossa nova came from the middle-class society, similar to where I came from. All the lyrics were written by famous Brazilian poets, and I’m very much into poetry. Then, you cannot just define liking a rhythm. It’s physical and primitive. You just get it, and one day, it’s yours.”

On 60s and 70s Music
“Who doesn’t like the 60s and 70s? I like the aesthetics (of that genre). But, I’m also into many other things.”

On Inspiration
“When you look for inspiration, you need to focus on something. Everybody needs to focus on something for inspiration. The era of the music doesn’t matter; what matters is the content. I don’t know where I get my inspiration. It depends on each thing, and every time is different. It’s like each time flows. At one point, I feel the need for something, and at another point, after two years, I’m into something else, and they connect with the moments of my life. So, it’s difficult to define inspiration. I can spend two hours talking about that.”

On Band production
“(As a band producer, bringing together a collaboration of artists from different parts of the world), I think that to make music, you need people. For me, music is about people - getting them together, like melting. It’s not just a one-person journey. I choose my band members with my good ear. You need a certain kind of people to have a flame, then it produces fire and spirit.”

On Japanese musicians
“I have collaborated with many Japanese musicians, especially singers. I like Akiko, Sadao Watanabe, DJ Muro, UFO band, Quasimode, Soil & Pimp Sessions, Toshiko Akiyoshi… I like her a lot.”

On Italian musicians
(About the active “trend” of Italian musicians coming to Japan over the recent years), there must be an interesting flourish of talent. One of them, Lorenzo Tucci, has played for me for about eight years. Many of them used to record with me, so I know almost all of them. Fabrizio (Bosso) is a fantastic guy. Lorenzo (Tucci) is a fantastic drummer. Lorenzo and I recorded together for 8-9 years. He came with me to Japan for the first time. I was with him as my drummer, for two to three years when we came here between 2005-2008. We played at Blue Note Osaka then, Nagoya, and at Tokyo festival, at that time with Tatsuo Sunaga, and also at Billboard Live. These people were also part of my big band - Lorenzo, Fabrizio, Daniele Scannapieco… then Mario (Biondi) took over that band, so I changed my band.”

On Next project
“My next project is always there. I’m always working on something new. I plan to do another album on remixes. I’m also working on an electronic project, then producing a record for a singer, touring… ”

On Direction of Jazz
(“I cannot define about “Italian jazz” or “European jazz”- I don’t think there is such a thing.) It’s so wide and different. Everybody has his own thing to say. It’s many different things everywhere. Now is not a particularly good time for jazz actually; not a great time for un-commercial art, because the world is in crisis. People have less money. The whole record industry is going down. Things are really changing very, very fast. There may have been a reason for something before. Now, it changes. And, how do I cope wit this? I just get along.”

For upcoming shows at Blue Note Tokyo:
www.bluenote.co.jp