Chet Lives from the Mediterranean to the Pacific

Tasting Music with Joe Barbieri Trio

13 JUNE 2014,
Joe Barbieri Trio: Luca Aquino, Antonio Fresa, Joe Barbieri @ Pier Lanzillo
Joe Barbieri Trio: Luca Aquino, Antonio Fresa, Joe Barbieri @ Pier Lanzillo

“Chet lives in my sunny days
Each time you smile, each time you play
… I can feel it…he’s right here in my hand… ”

- lyrics from Chet Lives by Joe Barbieri

“Okaerinasai!” (Welcome home) was the ultimate greeting that saluted Joe Barbieri back in the arms of his avid music audience in Japan, after two years of anticipation when he and his versatile band first caressed them with his seductive Respiro album.

Emanating this year the same Napolitan air in the distinguished company of his multi-talented Trio members, the enthralling pianist Antonio Fresa and gallant trumpeter Luca Aquino, Joe has, once again, bravely succeeded in fusing the two cultures of Italy and Japan in music appreciation.

Simultaneously, to commemorate its 130th anniversary this year, and to celebrate this grand festivity, Bulgari Hotels & Resorts Tokyo Restaurants has embarked on a momentous journey of ushering in excellent Italian jazz musicians to its Bulgari Italian Jazz Lounge, where from May to October, fascinating performers, such as Joe Barbieri Trio, Max Ionata, Dado Moroni, Francesco Lomagistro, Berardi jazz Connection Quintet, Fabrizio Bosso, and Simona Molinari pulsate Tokyo nights with their stylish grace and vibrant rhythms.

A true Napolitan at heart, Joe Barbieri has been cradling an irresistible passion for sushi. Whether or not this exotic Japanese delicacy motivates Joe to mold his music rapport with Japan will always be a palpitating enigma—even to himself, perhaps—still, his distinct palate for such gourmet delight certainly weaves his silky voice and soft guitar strums closely to this East Asian territory.

Joe Barbieri: For me, the correlation between my passion for sushi and music lies on a plane of purity. The rawness of not just the fish itself, but the unsulliedness of its taste, the presentation, and even the imagery of colors sitting on a long plate—they are all like melodies in an orchestra, fresh to the audience’s ears, and I take each piece of sushi from my fingers to my mouth, like picking notes and emotions that I pass to my voice and my guitar play, then release them to my audience. It may sound strange to say this way, but the excitement that accompanies every single bite is like the same exciting feeling I carry when I’m about to sing a song, Italian cuisine is especially so delicate and elegant, just like Italian music, and particularly, Napolitan music. I need to feel a high sense of purity in the repertoire, the arrangement, even in the amicable collaboration with my music masters. Maybe this unique inspiration makes me feel so intimate with Japan.

So much was Joe’s relentless ardor for sushi, that he could not help feast himself with this delectable specialty practically every single day of his short sojourn in Tokyo. Moreover, he secretly discovered his best “personal” sushi bar, for a very inexpensive price, right in the heart of Ginza. What better way to enhance such gastronomical appetite than to perform live with a zestful concoction of gourmet that offers the perfect ambience for jazz lounge listening.

Joe Barbieri Trio takes pride in having been the first cream-of-the-crop musicians to honor this special musical event this year. Last May 1st, Joe, Antonio, and Luca astounded the evening listeners with the legendary trumpeter and smooth silver vocalist Chet Baker’s selected renditions that have been compiled distinctively in Joe’s heartwarming fourth album, CHET LIVES!

Joe Barbieri: It was around 2012 when I was reading a book about Chet Baker that I realized 2013 was his 25th death anniversary, so I thought of joining Antonio and Luca with me to celebrate Chet’s special anniversary. Chet was not just a fantastic jazzman, but also a singer. I like very much his way of putting together his soul as a musician and as a singer, as I try to be. He is a figure I try to watch very closely. Also, he was very active in Italy. He lived there and worked with many other musicians as well. Together with my trio, I wanted to build a small corollary, composed of some of the most beautiful tunes that Chet played while he was in Italy. Everything in the album, CHET LIVES!, was then, further filtered through the music I love: bossa nova, some inserts of classical music, and a certain all-European minimalism.

Chet Baker was always known for his depth and instinctive interpretation of songs. He was a servant of language, who could translate lyrics and notes into a reverent expression of marvel. While Joe Barbieri steps into Chet’s cloudlike shadow, he escalates a bit further in transposing softness into fragility—almost as though the ardent poetry of Chet’s voice whispers secretly through our ears, tailing a passing wind…

Joe’s captivating portrayal of the enchanting But Not For Me, I Fall in Love Too Easily, Time After Time, Arrivederci, and more, surges his beckoning presence, like a circle of smoke puffing from his mellow voice, then circulating upwards to a height of sanguine intensity and embraced maturity. There is something haunting about the particular way he tilts his head backwards intensely with profound emotion, the playful rubbing of his hands without his guitar at hand, and the easeful bow of his head in inmost meditation. Similarly, the powerful piano arrangement of Antonio Fresa that matches his raised eyebrows in yearning, and the suave trumpet delivery of Luca Aquino as he whispers notes through the piano hammers — all these combined with Joe Barbieri’s poignant and stirring aria di cantautori completed a delicate nocturne of prose.

The following night, Chet’s euphonic tunes flowed right through the Agnelli Hall of the Italian Cultural Institute in Tokyo, where more than two hundred music enthusiasts gathered in awe and admiration for Joe Barbieri Trio’s magical performance. “It was a very successful night. The audience was so delighted that they beckoned for the group to come back to Japan,” remarked Michelangiolo Severini, the Institute’s Cultural Events Director.

Chet Baker in Tokyo was Chet Baker’s live album recorded less than a year before his death, and ranks as one of his best unforgettable collections. No wonder Joe Barbieri has sealed himself in a cosmonaut’s capsule, happily traversing between the Mediterranean and the Pacific, cuddling two cultures in a soulful recipe of song and cuisine, and will continue to do so, wherever the purity of his sensibility may take him.

Joe Barbieri: I think the exchange between Italy and Naples, where I was born, and now Italy and Japan, is an exchange of poetry, sadness, joy, an embrace of the search for beauty.

With Special Gratitude to Bulgari Hotels & Resorts Tokyo Restaurants, Istituto Italiano di Cultura di Tokyo, and New Age Productions/SUONI ITALIANI.