Marco Marconi, jazz pianist: Something Else! Interview

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Marco Marconi is a pianist with a strong head for composition, an understanding of original material and a distinctive style which he brings to his music. With his trio, he has created a small but very effective storm, got himself a record deal, an agent and interviews in major papers and on some of the more widely read music sites. Currently teaching and playing in venues like Pizza Express, this busy, affable music master paused briefly for a Something Else! Sitdown.

He comes from a small village in Umbria, the central region of Italy and his background is classical music. Marco Marconi’s family has a long tradition with music and some of his earliest and fondest memories are of when his great grandfather Francesco taught him and his brother in front of their fireplace at home. Francesco conducted the local band, played accordion and tuba and composed and arranged music. Marco’s brother went on to become first trumpet player with the Rossini Symphonic Orchestra in Pesaro, Italy.

Marco’s debut performance was in the local theatere playing a clarinet piece by Saint Saens and accompanying him that night was one Fausto Polverini — a pianist who would later become Marco’s teacher. Then, when Marco was a teenager, he played in a pop band which played up and down Italy for 3-4 years.

“When I perform,” Marco tells us, “I’m fully immersed in the music. To be honest, this happens even when I practice piano at home. Some people tell me that when I play I move my body continuously and also that I make strange facial expressions. When some people tell me that, I laugh spontaneously — as those things aren’t under my control — but if I thought consciously about changing the movements, I think my performance would be rubbish as I can’t change anything about how I play. The music an artist can play is really varied and, depending on the kind of music I am playing, it affects my brain and my heart. If I play something romantic or nostalgic or slow, I feel very relaxed — like I am in a dream — but if I play something groovy and powerful I’m automatically involved in the groove, whether it is a solo performance or with my trio so that is a good vibe for me.”

Marco Marconi listens mainly to classical music and jazz. “I am classically trained so I like any classical music, not necessarily piano,” he says. “I like symphonic music like Mahler, Beethoven and melodrama of Verdi but one of my favorite composers is Giacomo Puccini, as I think he composed the best music ever. Some of his melodies touched my heart deeply, and opera is terrifically beautiful. I listen to romantic music like Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninoff — who I studied seriously for years. I get a lot of satisfaction from playing his music.

“I also like J.S. Bach and personally consider him a true genius. Why? Because his music is fascinating. When I think about how long ago he composed that music, with few influences. Before him, music was so pedestrian — like Frescobaldi, who did influence Bach a bit, and madrigals. Well, any person today has to agree Bach was a genius. Also, Bach was the first jazz composer ever. Anyone who plays Bach can see that. Whether it is a fugue, an invention, a prelude or a dance, if you play his music with swing pronunciation and emphasis it becomes 100 percent jazz. His rhythm is so easy to swing, plus harmonically his music is a perfect rendition of what jazz is today. Now 90 percent of the jazz standards are based on sequences of II-V-I cadences major or minor, and Bach was the first person that composed music based on this type of harmony. A true genius!

I don’t just listen to classical and jazz, I also listen to blues and rock, as well. I like anything is melodic and well-structured like Pink Floyd, Queen, Dire Straits and Deep Purple. For any musician, it is important to listen to many types to gain a 360 degrees recognition of music. I really can’t forget the two countries whose music really inspires me, and they are Brazil and Cuba. Most days, I listen to some Brazilian or Cuban artist as there are a lots from Sergio Mendes to Jobim and from Elis Regina to Caetano Veloso and many others.”

On how he sees life and music, Marco Marconi says “I don’t think I have a philosophy on life but maybe I have in music. I am a romantic person. I am methodical and a perfectionist. I deeply believe in these things, as music is serious and we must have a serious approach to music. Now, perfection doesn’t exist unfortunately but we can get very close to it, practicing every day. I know that is a big sacrifice, as sometimes free time isn’t something that we have much of, but I don’t personally care. For me, music is very important in my life, and I have to play better and increase my level and my knowledge every single day.

“I usually say to all my students that music is a safari from my point of you so we need to explore it as much as we can. I think every musician, whatever instrument they play, is influenced by many other great and famous musicians who lived the in the past, but the real target is to find your own musical identity. Perhaps I am still personally chasing this, but a few years ago people started telling me I have an individual style — different from other pianists — and these comments give me a real satisfaction.

“I received some reviews of Nordik in the months after we released it, and they said my style is ‘theatrical,’ ‘melodic,’ ‘groovy,’ with ‘impeccable technique’ and other similar comments and I’m proud that very important reviewers noticed this in my playing. For me my classical background is considerably important because you can build a great technique only through several years of classical music. It is so clear to me like so many other pianists that the background training makes a huge difference.”

Marco Marconi’s musical influences come from all the above, but we also discussed current influences. “I’m currently influenced by any artist better than me,” he says. “I try to listen to everyone who is good and absorb as much as I can.  My favorite pianists are Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Keith Jarrett, Lennie Tristano, Bill Evans, Brad Mehldau, Michel Petrucciani, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Michel Camilo, but there are loads of other less well known but really good pianists. Many are important in jazz — for example Enrico Pieranunzi or Ramberto Ciammarughi, who are Italians and collaborated with many big names in the world jazz scene. I could name other 50 pianists, because each of them is unique. From each one, I get something and am still learning and transcribing segments of music to dig into their styles.”

So what brought Marco to England? “I moved to the U.K. from Italy in 2012. I have seen in this country that the culture for music is much bigger compared to the Italian one. People are keen to listen to any music and the audience concentrate while they listen to a live performance. In Italy, it is like that sometimes, but in the U.K. it seems to be always so. For me, given that so much of Italian music is beautiful and a lot of music comes from Italy, I find it painful that Italian listeners are perhaps not so open.

“In this country, I have found what I haven’t in found Italy after many years as a performer, as the mentality isn’t open, corruption is a huge and there are real issues which I don’t see in the U.K.. Also and importantly, there are simply more opportunities in the U.K., compared to Italy. There is no comparison. In the U.K., I arranged a tour with my trio, signed to two record labels and made important contact. Though I miss Italy, I love the U.K. Life is too short to waste time, and I found moving where the music was better was the right thing. I should have maybe done it earlier.

“So, really, I moved to the U.K. because the Italian financial situation is poor and opportunities are few. Like me, many other talented musicians moved to London or Paris or Berlin because to live in Italy as a musician at the moment is impossible. Instead, northern European countries are much better work-wise, and personally I made the right choice. Here, I am happy. I’m gigging often and I have a large number of students.”

Sometimes, Marco Marconi performs as a solo artist but often he performs with his trio – with whom he recorded Nordik on 33Jazz Records. When he performs with the trio Marco says, “the interplay between the musicians I play with is really important. My conception of our trio is that it is an orchestra reduced to three pieces.
For me, rehearsals are what determines the public performance. I deeply believe in the arrangements, which I do very accurately and rehearse with the guys. The satisfaction is huge first for me as leader and composer, but also for the guys when everything we rehearsed goes to plan and is performed with the right vibe and intention. This apples to my original compositions. It is different when you play standards without rehearsals. In a jam situation, for example, the connections with the musicians has to be great, especially when you play with musicians with whom you’ve never played with before.”

So what makes a great gig? “The most important thing is to listen to each other while you play both in the middle of your improvisation or when somebody else improvises,” Marco says. “Listening and watching each other is fundamental for a great result, and I love it when I chase and hook the musical idea of one of the musicians. Sometimes that happens throughout an entire concert. My aim is to increase the number of amazing events during a performance, but this can happen only if you perform and rehearse with the same musicians for long time.”

I wondered, how did things start to happen for him musically once he arrived in the U.K.? “Since I moved I contacted many labels to see if any of them were interested in me,” he tells us. “I got interest both in U.K. and other countries in Europe but one in particular was very keen on me. That was Candid Records. The label owner, Alan Bates, was really enthusiastic about me and we re-released Mosaico, a solo album which I recorded at he Fazioli Concert Hall in Venice in 2010, but immediately afterwards his state of health became poor and we had to close our working relationship. At that point, I was frustrated and disappointed but I never gave up and after a lot of research I found another label who were interested in me. The label is 33Jazz Records, with whom we released Nordik. My producer is Paul Jolly, who is an exceptional man — very kind, very sincere and we became friends very quickly. Paul liked me as a pianist and we’re planning now to record another trio album. With a good label producer working on my behalf, things are definitely better. The digital market destroyed everything for a while and now the only opportunity to sell CDs are at concerts, but my label is helping me to find the right places and venues and festivals to let me perform for a large crowds.

I asked Marco how he saw the immediate and perhaps longer term future. “I would like to be a wizard and decide my future, but unfortunately I’m not. Thinking of the future gives me a constant strength to go ahead positively, and I always hope to get better and better. For the immediate future, I am making another trio album. I have just discussed this with my producer, and a maybe a tour just before or after the recording session. I mainly run my trio but I perform as a soloist as well, both on this country and abroad, and collaborate as sideman with other artists or bands. In the more distant future, I would like to tour in the U.S. soon with my trio – maybe by the end of this year. I am now collaborating with an agent in the U.S. — an English lady, in fact.

“She is brilliant and believes in me so much. I say this as I’ve never collaborated in the past with an agent who believed in me very much like she does. She is working hard to put together a tour in New York and Manhattan. Nothing is fixed at the present but I hope to have confirmations in a couple of weeks. I’ve already performed as a soloist in the U.S. in October 2015 in New Orleans. I did three concerts in a week and it was a great experience for me. New Orleans as is a fascinating town. If this next tour is confirmed, I’ll bring my trio — which is an amazing group with Andrea Di Biase on double bass and Enzo Zirilli on drums. We shall perform the entire album in the U.S.. For me, that would be a dream came true. We are also planning to hit Japan soon.”

So, is there a life outside music for Marco Marconi? “I like to be immersed in the nature to walk in the middle of forests or very open spaces,” he says. :I like mountains and sea, so whenever as I have the opportunity I don’t waste time and choose one of these places to relax. I have a passion for history and geography as well.”

He then sums up his experience of moving to the U.K. and his growing musical career. “For me, currently things are very good through the contacts I have made in U.K. and the people who surround me who believe and help me in my career,” he says, “so I’m looking forward to a great future ahead.”

I absolutely believe Marco is a musician to watch and one who we shall hear a great deal more of.

Sammy Stein

Sammy Stein

The Something Else! webzine, an accredited Google News affiliate, has been featured in The New York Times and NPR.com's A Blog Supreme, while our writers have also been published by USA Today, Jazz.com and UltimateClassicRock.com, among others. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Sammy Stein

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