Saturday, June 1, 2013

Jiannis Pavlidis interview

Guitarist Jiannis Pavlidis first picked up guitar at age 15 in Sweden and quickly began his musical education at the Kulturama Music Institute in Stockholm. After graduating from Berklee College of Music he moved to Greece where he was involved in a number of professional engagements. Throughout his illustrious career he has performed and recorded with, amongst others American saxophonist and flautist David Liebman and drummer Adam Nussbaum. He presently teaches at the Leeds College of Music and Leeds University, as well as performing in the UK and Greece with his trio and continues his work with Liebman and Nussbaum. Over tea in the handsome surroundings of the Turkish “Duran” cafe in Leeds, Jazz Goes to Leeds asked what his main influences were when he first picked up the guitar in Sweden. It seems that when he first picked up the guitar but he didn’t know how to play it or what to play, “A cousin of mine started playing some Pink Floyd, that’s when I started seeing the guitar as a guitar. When I was a kid Elvis died and I was like who was that guy? My dad did me a tape of music that was smart because it had the original stuff, not Elvis, (like Big mama Thorton), that was my first musical interest. Then playing to Beatles records, I was fascinated with 12-bar blues sound, playing with one finger on the two top strings, that pentatonic sort of thing this would be about age 9. I started lessons quite late at 14 when I had a teacher in Sweden, I started doing classical, reading, but I was still fascinated by the blues, he showed me a bluesy riff that I think I played for months”. So, when did he first start getting into jazz? In the early 80’s, he explains,  in Sweden there was a Greek community, and on Saturday and Sundays there were teachers teaching kids guitar, his father took him there, and from there he was introduced to guitar music; John McLaughlin, Paco de Lucia, Al Di Meola, through friends there. One of the friends, who he eventually went to Berklee with, was already playing flamenco and blues and he started to get into jazz and became part of the “clan” getting into players like Joe Pass, but the first major influence was Pat Martino. What was the jazz scene like in Sweden at that time? Sweden had always been informed in jazz, he feels, but there were not a lot of places to play in Sweden. There were clubs that played trad jazz, but when he got into jazz there was only one club where he would see people like the John Abercrombie Trio and the American Jazz Quartet in Stockholm, maybe because of the wealth, money was available from the state to research or record. Sweden was (and still is) very art friendly, there was no major need to get out and earn a living , or it was so back then, he points out. Sweden still has a lot of input in world jazz. I asked him how he got to study in Berklee? “That was the place to be” he explains, some of his teachers in Sweden came from Berklee. Through them they got some information on courses, and then eventually thought they should continue their studies further. In Berklee, Jiannis remembers, you pay a lot of money to study, but because they had some background they could get credit, so because they knew harmony they saved a lot of money, as he did two years of harmony in one semester. He recalls being there with Kurt Rosenwinkel who was, “ good as he is now, a bit different but just as good, everyone was talking about him”. He fondly remembers classes with Matt Garrison, son of Jimmy Garrison. Seamus Blake was there and Scott Kinsey among others.
So how did this latest trio come about? Adam (Nussbaum), he feels, is someone he would listen to, with John Abercrombie and early Schofield records. Through Liebman he asked for his contact, he sent him an e-mail, Nussbaum replied saying send some music and they ended up doing the first tour together, “He has a certain “feel””. Do you have any plans for this trio in the future? Jiannis would like to do a small tour after Christmas in England, but feels he can’t really set it up by himself, although the college apparently is already interested in a masterclass, so that could be the beginning, “If we get something from them, maybe we could start setting up the tour around that date?”. What does he think of the jazz scene in Leeds at the moment? “It’s great, there is a lot of good music in Leeds”, he believes, “The students are very active... they set up venues and are involved with the scene... like Sela, Heart…..and there is Seven Art….”. Does he think there is a crossover with the DIY music scene and jazz in Leeds, with bands like trio VD and Roller Trio for example? “Leeds is a university city which keeps the city alive...the youth keep the city vibrant”. It is hard for jazz, he feels, as it is something you need to get introduced to. For rock music the path is harder as jazz is part of the academy, like classical, and there is a lot of support, “We give pop music pathways at the college...people are starting I think it’s just a matter of time. Who is he listening to at the moment? “I always like the older guys, John Abercrombie, Bill Frissell... from the new guys I particularly like Rosenwinkel...I’m making an effort not to listen to a lot of guitar players... yesterday I was listening to Walter Norris”. He feels happier; it appears, when listening to other instruments. “I don’t think anybody cannot be a fan of John Hendrix, it’s impossible NOT to be influenced by him”.
What is jazz scene like in Greece? “A great scene in Athens...players like George, phenomenal organ player... I tried to set up a tour with Nussbaum in England, I was trying to set up a trio with him and Steve Swallow, I think it was 2008-2009...and I couldn’t get anyone interested ...The tour with Nussbaum was easier to set up in Greece, maybe there is more competition here, more groups to book...The second tour we did was 10 gigs in a row, you rarely get that in jazz now..”.... Any students at the college in Leeds now we should keep an eye on? He recommends Adam Taylor, who, he feels, is very much into Holdsworth and Kurt (Rosenwinkel), Jack Gillen who has a great understanding of the idiom, John Brown who is a uniqe player,  and Jamie Holdroyd who also runs a jazz blog. Also Will Howard, a talanted upcoming saxophonist. How do you think the internet and social networking are changing the way we are exposed to music? “It makes things harder sometimes as there is so can become can jump around”, he fondly remembers playing vinyl albums and actively “listening”. The conversation meandered into   the intimacy of jazz recordings and how releases now feature false starts, incomplete versions and studio talk, “I got sent “Freedom Jazz Dance” by Miles Davis Quintet (Complete Columbia Studio Recordings 1965-1968)... they almost sound like novices when they start...they almost seem to learn their instruments there... you see how these top guys played out of nothing and get to the final take and blow your mind away”.  We reflected on how players like Coltrane brought a scale or three notes into the studio to build on. “Who has the money now to do that? ...walk into the studio with nothing, spend hours.” He argues, “Yet I don’t like saying it was better then, it’s different times, the attitude, technology, interest, the end of the day it’s improvisation.” Does he ever feel an improvisation doesn’t get off the ground or really work? “...Yes, but we just keep doing it”. He remembers coming across an interview with Pat Metheny, who played around 250 gigs a year back in the 80’s and 90’s, and claimed that out of all the gigs, he enjoyed about three, and maybe one was really happening, “What you feel doesn’t mean that’s what’s coming across. It’s just a different path. When working with Liebman and Nussbaum, “...they come and play out of nothing and that’s a great state...whatever happens is a resolve and you embrace it better. ” Is there ever such a thing as a finished performance? “There are some nights when you feel better, but you do mess up, but even when that does happens it’s happy times. Talking about the trio with Adam Nussbaum and George Kontrafouris,…. that group is a comfortable group...there is something strange when there is chemistry...the way those guys swings, you can’t manufacture that”. The conversation then broadened into the power of music, particularly free improvisation, to physically move you in a live setting, and that is one enduring sentiment that one feels when talking to Jiannis, his passion for the music, despite the hurdles in jazz, and the emotions it can suggest. 

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