Touch of excellence

Lorenzo Tucci's Wisdom on Life and Music.

Lorenzo Tucci © Andrea Boccalini
Lorenzo Tucci © Andrea Boccalini
29 JUN 2013

Jazz is a philosophy of life.

Seeing Lorenzo Tucci “Touch” in his favorite striking yellow jacket tasted almost like bread and butter―an absolutely inseparable combination, just like him and his beloved Zildjian cymbals. Having entertained enthusiastic crowds in Japan for more than twenty times (roughly twice a year) since around 2002 when he first came to this enigmatic city with Nicola Conte for Nicola’s debut release of Other Directions, Lorenzo once again stunned Cotton Club and Blue Note Tokyo last May 26-28 with his immeasurable passion and energy, together with legendary trumpeter Fabrizio Bosso, captivating pianist Claudio Filippini and magnetic contrabassist Rosario Bonaccorso. Unforgettable melodies ranged from the fast beat Dubai, Black Spirit, rhythmical Il Gattopardo, Body and Soul, Dizzy’s Blues, to ballads Wide Green Eyes and Ivre a Paris, and more―this last piece, capturing Fabrizio’s fantastic trumpet solo whose magical range of notes hits the heart in doubtless proportions. Claudio and Rosario each rendered their own unique plights of tender expression, side by side with Lorenzo’s indescribable drum performance. Here is the man who hardly plays the drum with his eyes open (Tucci style), and once he strikes his snare drums and cymbals, there is no knowing when he will ever stop.

Lorenzo owns more than six or more snare drums, tom-toms, floor toms, and Zildjian cymbals. Like many successful musicians, his inclination to music shone upon him at the early age of 3 to 4 when he fancied singing Italian songs while listening to the radio. He grew up learning to play the guitar from his father.

LT: My father gave me a guitar as a present. So, I sang and played the guitar. Then, I learned the piano, and finally, the drums. I continued playing the piano at home. But, the first time I played the drums, I thought, ‘Wow!’ It was like lightning. I knew this was going to be my instrument.

AR: What is so special about the drums for Lorenzo?

LT: I could use it to make all kinds of sounds, and when I play it, it is easy for me to jive with other musicians. All instruments are equal―piano, drums, trumpet…it is a matter of technique. If you have music inside you, you can play anything.

AR: Sitting in the audience, we watch jazz musicians on stage with fervor, imagining how every note, rhythm and beat is synchronized in an orderly fashion, when in fact, most of what we actually see before our eyes is largely improvisation.

LT: Each time I play is always different; same tune, different interpretation; same instrument, different sound. Usually, we decide in the backstage what piece we will play. And, sometimes, we even decide right on the stage. We look at each other and say, okay, Blues in F, and then, we can change the song list, always depending on the particular mood of the moment. This is jazz. That is why I am a jazz man. And, this is very exciting for me because I never know what is going to happen next. Not only in music, but also in my life, it is the same thing. I can drink wine, later, maybe vodka or water, or nothing… Jazz is not just a style of music; it’s a philosophy of life.

AR: This natural call for spontaneity in music as much as in his personal life had already been reflected in Lorenzo’s music educational years. Comparable perhaps to the ingenuity of Leonardo da Vinci, learning the drums came to Lorenzo without the need for formal education, but merely honing himself by instinct and pure dedication to study.

LT: Classical music is different; it has no change. But, I needed to be to be able to transform something into something else. I had no classical training in music. I did not go to any conservatory. I was self-learned. I studied drums from about 10-12 years old, and since then, I always knew I wanted to be a drummer; it came naturally to me. Sometimes, I think of playing other instruments, but only to try. I play the piano at home. The piano is very important for me, for any musician, because the piano produces the melody, harmony, and you can write music with it. I was autodidactic, but I had many teachers since I was small―a teacher for the drums, a teacher for music reading, etc. I learned everything by reading, studying, and of course, watching musicians.

AR: These musicians who lifted the torch in Lorenzo’s life were the likes of Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Philly Joe Jones, Max Roach, Buddy Rich, Jimmy Cobb, to name just a few. But, certainly, Lorenzo’s unique style of drum play only belongs to him.

LT: My style is not a question of technique. It is emotion. When you listen to me play, you will know, “Ahh...that’s Tucci…”

AR: And, how does one exactly decipher a Tucci style?

LT: That is for the audience to decide. It is important for me that when you see me play, you can see the Tucci style, but more so when you are blindfolded, you know the Tucci style by just listening. This is important. I close my eyes when I play the drums because I listen. I don’t need to see. That is my style.

#####AR: When Lorenzo touches the drums, one can playfully juggle the thoughts that linger through his mind.

LT: I think of nature―the sea, moon, sun… but mostly, I don’t think at all (laughs). Inspiration, yes, that is important. But, it is a great secret in life for the artist; just like for poets, writers. But, the most important thing for the musician is tranquility… space without stress. I cannot think of stress when I play. My mind has to be totally free. Like artists, poets, and writers, musicians are inspired by beauty. You can write or play anywhere. The place is not critical. It is the moment. It is the beauty. There is no fixed inspiration for me. I am always inspired…why not? I make music and it is beautiful.

AR: Jazz has transcended enormously from generation to generation; from Miles Davis to Kenny G, yet for Lorenzo, it is always the present moment that resides within his music philosophy.

LT: I do live in the digital world. I like things that progress in the present moment, and people who live in the present times, who are not stuck in the past. People often say, ‘When I was young… ’ That may be the case, but NOW is more important, and especially for musicians like me. So, when I play in a concert, I play for the moment of the present, not for the moment of twenty years ago. Certainly, I like musicians of the past very much―John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins… But, I also have to enjoy the musicians of today, for example, Eric Harland, a fantastic drummer; and of course, my jazz contemporaries―Fabrizio Bosso, Claudio Filippini, Rosario Bonaccorso, Luca Mannutza, Daniele and Tommaso Scannapieco, Pietro Lussu, Pietro Ciancaglini, Luca Bulgarelli, Mario Biondi, Stefano Bollani, and more.

AR: Art Blakely once said “Jazz washes away the dust of everyday life.” And so, it has been doing just that for over a hundred years since its birth in the early 1900s. Should we expect any change from jazz? And, how does Lorenzo adapt to these changes?

LT: Jazz is always the same. It does not change. It’s the jazz man who changes, everyday, every year. The vision of jazz changes everyday―vision of the world, of people. People change. Everything changes in this life, even nature. You change, I change. In these last fifteen to twenty years, my music has matured a lot. It changes differently each time I play. Sometimes, I add a new technique. I have discovered newer styles along the way. I must say I am very satisfied at the moment. I watch my videos sometimes and I think, they are not so bad. But, I’m sure I will keep changing again. It may look the same for the audience each time, but for me, each concert is different… because music is magic, and that is what makes it beautiful. I listen to music everyday, and I think it keeps people young. I always feel like a small child, and having his same emotion―always amazed, curious, in wonder, always excited.

AR: Japan has been like second home to Lorenzo. And, each trip blossoms into something more exhilarating than the last.

LT: I never stop appreciating Japan ever since I first came around 2002 with Nicola Conte for his debut release of Other Directions. There are many beautiful things I see in this country: the nature, the city… You may say there are no mountains in Tokyo, but I see mountains in Italy all the time. I don’t need to look for them here. But, I don’t think I can live in Japan even if I have been here more than twenty times. I believe that a person does not exist in just one place. He moves around to see the world. I don’t live here, nor in New York, Paris… but, I go to these places to explore them. I live in Rome, and Rome is a very beautiful city, just like Tokyo. But, I always imagine myself moving from one place to another. It’s about change. That is jazz. If I stay in only one place forever, I will convince myself that that is the most beautiful place in the world. But that is wrong, because the most beautiful place in the world does not exist. Every place is beautiful; every place is different. There is no such thing as Promise Land. This does not exist.

AR: As Lorenzo continues to busy himself with his High Five Quintet (with Fabrizio Bosso, Daniele Scannapieco, Pietro Ciancaglini, and Luca Mannutza), Tranety (coined from a tribute to John Coltrane, with Claudio Filippini and Luca Bulgarelli), LTC Trio (with Pietro Lussu and Pietro Ciancaglini), and Lorenzo Tucci Touch Three (with Luca Mannutza and Max Ionata), he moves on to more promising projects, one of them, a much-awaited spectacular collaboration album with Fabrizio Bosso, Drumpet, to be released this October, that expects a lot of gyrating African rhythm. Touch, his 2009 album that pushed him inevitably to high success, was named after his own pen name “Touch.”

LT: Touch is my name from Tucci. And, in jazz and in music in general, touch is very important―the touch of the drums for example, is very unique to every drummer. You have your touch, and I have my touch. We may play the same drum, but the sound I play is mine.

There is an African proverb that says, “A master drummer must have seven eyes.” Perhaps, for Lorenzo, he has more than seven to offer. And, while all of them closed, travel rapidly and passionately from one corner of the globe to the other, always in search of a newer, larger, and more breathtaking “Touch of excellence.”