The first question is always the classic one: how does it start your love and interest for guitar and what instruments do you play or have you played?
My love for the guitar started when I was around 11 years old with two fairly accidental but powerful incidents. I used to take bike rides all over town with my friends. One day we rode to the neighboring town to be adventurous and we saw a music store so we went in. The first thing I saw was a pointy shaped zebra striped guitar, which I thought was the coolest thing ever. The store owner must have noticed me staring at it, so he took that guitar down, and he played through all of his best licks. I was in awe, I remember going home after that and begging my parents for a guitar.
Later that month, I remember going food shopping with my parents and back in those days you could buy cassettes at the supermarket. Guns and Roses Appetite for Destruction had just released and thought the cover art looked really cool. So, I threw it in the shopping cart, got home and after listening to that, I was hooked! The guitars and the attitude of the music really spoke to me.
I also play oud, bass, and drums.
What was your musical training, with which teachers have you studied and what impression they left in your music?
I started lessons at a local music store where I studied mostly rock and heavy metal. And, like many of the teachers at local music stores , my first guitar teacher was actually a really skilled jazz player. He had an incredible ear and he started in his own way to introduce me to more complex sounds, most likely to just keep himself interested. But, the more I studied the more I fell in love with the instrument, and I went from wanting to play rock/metal tunes to wanting to play in the moment, to improvise.
So, my deep curiosity about the instrument lead me to jazz. And, in New Jersey, where I grew up, there is a large community of jazz musicians because of the close proximity to NYC. I ended up studying extensively with Chris Buono, who is an incredible player of many styles and educator with an ability to communicate concepts in a very clear and thorough way. Chris eventually referred me to jazz guitar great, Vic Juris. Vic focused my attention on being a complete musician. I continued my studies with Vic from my teen years through my studies at the New School, where I earned a BFA in Jazz Performance. At the New School I also had the great privilege of studying with Reggie Workman, Andrew Cyrille, Junior Mance, Jamey Haddad, and many others. The New School has a huge and incredibly talented faculty that includes jazz as well as world music musicians. While there I also became really interested in Middle Eastern music, because the sounds were so fresh and intriguing to me. I began to play the oud and had the great luck of studying with Simone Shaheen and his brother Najeeb Shaheen.
All of the great people I studied with instilled in me the idea that as musicians we always serve the music with our curiosity, humility, and hard work. We are always growing.
How was born the idea about your last record “Roundabout” and why did you decide to make a standards solo record?
The idea to make Roundabout came from my interest in solo instrumental music – largely piano music. Over the past few years I have been listening to a lot of solo piano playing by great players like Cecil Taylor, Matthew Shipp, Connie Crothers, Jackie Byard, Ran Blake and Bill Evans. What I absolutely love about
these players is their voraciously expansive approach to playing their instrument.
Each of these players, and others who I love, take lots of chances and have very unique voices. They inspired my approach on Roundabout.
In terms of choosing standards, I have lots of respect for the compositional integrity of these older tunes. But, I’m not so drawn to playing them with a fixed view of tradition, genre, or even the predictability of time. I wanted to take a personal and somewhat pianistic approach to these standards by deconstructing, recomposing, and releasing myself from the expectations of genre.
What does improvisation mean for your music research? Do you think it’s possible to talk about improvisation for classical music or we have to turn to other repertories like jazz, contemporary music, etc.?
For me, improvisation is everything. It influences the way I play, compose, and even teach. I feel that everything in music is interactive – either between me and my own ideas, me and other players, or me and the musical ideas that another composer shares with me.
The question of improvisation in classical music is interesting because I’ve had the experience of listening to classical music that feels improvised. For example, recently I was listening to Bela Bartok’s Music for Piano played by Noel Lee and it sounded to me like a Cecil Taylor record. Though it sounded improvised, it’s not,
which is amazing, actually.
On the other side, classical composers use motivic development as a compositional device. And many jazz improvisers use motifs as a way to develop improvised music.
Ultimately, I’m not a classical musician so I don’t feel I can speak to the potential for how improvisation can be used in the classical world. But, I do know that these musical worlds influence one another.
What’s the role of the “Error” in your musical vision? For “error” I mean an incorrect procedure, an irregularity in the normal operation of a mechanism, a discontinuity on an otherwise uniform surface that can lead to new developments and unexpected surprises…
I am always faced with my own limitations and with trying to find opportunities for growth inside of error and failure. An error is a discovery, an opening to something I didn’t know before. It tells me where there is potential for growth, how I can hear things differently, or how I can change my approach.
Please tell us five essential records, to have always with you .. the classic five discs for the desert island …
Honestly, I don’t have five essential records. It would be a very long list of many important records that have influenced me. And, If I was on a desert island, I think I would listen to the music in my head and try to figure out how to make an instrument to play it!
What are your five favorite scores?
I don’t really think about scores so much. I mean I have looked at and analyzed scores but like the five essential records question, I have no favorites. I guess I don’t play favorites!
With who would you like to play? What kind of music do you listen to usually?
I look forward to continued collaborations with many of my musical friends and to new collaborations.
As far as listening goes, I’m all over the map. The world is a big place and music is in every corner, I want to hear it.
Your next projects? When we will see you playing in Italy?
I have a trio album coming out winter/spring of 2016. It is a collection of original tunes that I wrote for guitar, drums, and violin. The sounds is very different than Roundabout. It is quite aggressive and hard-hitting. It combines improvisation and composed sections.
I hope to tour Italy one day, there’s so much I would like to see.
Thank you, Andrea!