We would say the jobdesk of a singer is to make sure that they sing well, in tune with emotion attached inside. That’s not wrong, of course. However, we tend to look at it with too narrow perspective, so narrow until we forget how far a voice, as one of the greatest gifts from above, can do in transcribing our feelings. Most of the singers just try to ‘sing’ the song as good as possible, but how many of them know that a voice can actually do much more than just that? In this case we should take a look at an awe-inspiring voice artist from the Northern part of Italy, the Maestro Della Voce (Master of Voice), Boris Savoldelli.
This man is rarely different. He has the kind of ‘tool’ that actually we all have, the voice, but look at how far he stretch it beyond believe. He doesn’t need any ensemble or band to back him up, because he already has one big orchestra inside his voice. He doesn’t care of the genre he’s at, nor that he care about what kind of voice range he has. His goal is simple: He only wants people to know that he has fun in his performance and then send the happiness straight to his audience’s hearts. It may sound simple, but what he does on stage is unbelievable. Imagine a man standing alone on stage, producing many vocal layers by himself resulting something that might be too far to imagine before. If you wonder where he could have it all, it could come from the combination of three most important idols of his: Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa, not to mention that he does have the special gift but most importantly he knows how to utilize it to create magic.
His very first album ‘Insanology’ received many critical acclaims from all around the world. For the ‘insanity’ of Boris yet served beautifully, this album has shocked many people and set up a new perspective of being a singer. He carried on with two projects (‘Protoplasmic’ with Elliot Sharp and ‘S.A.D.O’) before releasing his second self-project ‘Biocosmopolitan’ last year featuring trumpeter/flugelhorn player Paolo Fresu and one of his heroes, Jimmy Haslip of Yellowjackets. The success story appears like a romance, but believe us he’s not over yet. This is the man that can surprise you with his limitless creativity by nature.
Lucky for us he came to perform at the JakJazz Festival 2012 in Jakarta under the show called One Man A Capella, Indonesia. We didn’t want to loose the opportunity, so we set up an intimate one on one interview with him just a while before he performed on stage on the first day of the festival. In a session which turned out to be more like chatting between friends than a formal interview, we digged what’s on his mind, his goal, ideas, passion, how he look at the music, what he’s actually doing, even about what he learned from his sources of inspiration, Miles, Jimi and Frank and many, many more. Happy reading!
Hi Boris, welcome to Jakarta!
Finally here I am in Indonesia! This is my very first time. They have told me so much about Indonesia, Jakarta. I’m excited!
I was really glad when I spotted your name on the list of JakJazz Festival 2012. Since I’ve listened to your album such as ‘Insanology’ and ‘Biocosmopolitan’, I’m happy that finally I’ll be able to see how you do all those insane stuff.
Great! So you can see now how I’m performing live!
Yes, finally. Where do you live in Italy?
It’s up on the North. Leonardo (Leonardo Pavkovic of MoonJune Records) came to visit me one month ago while he was doing the recording with the Soft Machine. I have small house in front of the lake in a place called Pisogne which is a very, very small town with a small lake up to the north, exactly between Milan and Venice.
The scenery must be very beautiful up there.
Yeah, it has a very good scenery and it’s very quiet, everything is very slow. You can have a very quiet life. Since I’m not fooling around and work in the studio, it’s very good.
First of all, let me know how your story started.
It was kind of crazy, the story is like a romance… everything was happened in 2007. I was recording my very fist album “Insanology” by myself in the studio with my friend. At that time I was out from music for more than 10 years. After those years I said “No, I can’t live without my music.” So I decided to come back with this crazy solo project. I thought it was the time for me just to try something new, something different and put that in a recording session.
Since you’re in MoonJune label, I think it’s really a perfect match between you and Leonardo. What you do is rare and different, then Leo is the kind of brave, ground-breaking man with strong nose when he smells talents. How did you guys meet ?
As usual when I had that kind of promo, I started to contact some labels around the world, asking whether they are interested or not. Some of them didn’t answer at all, some of them answered that they were not interested or said maybe we can be, let us see or whatever. But I received a mail back from Leonardo, written in Italian, and he answered me and said, “Man, I love your album. I think your album is fantastic. But at the moment I can’t afford with my small label your album.” He was very clear from the very beginning and I like the way he did. And after that he said “but I think this is a great album. So, believe me, I’m a businessman in music, do it by yourself, produce this album and I promise you I’m going to help you find some journalists and critics to let your name be known. And I trust him. It was like a good feeling (snaps his finger).
It’s like having an intuition I guess.. you felt it and chose to listen to it, which is actually good.
You know I’m a very impulsive person, and I think the most important thing is human relation. That’s what I want first of all. I don’t care being a millionaire, it’s not my problem to get millions or billions of dollars, I think I want to have a good life and good relation with people. So I produced the CD by myself and Leonardo was fantastic since he immidiately sent me a very long list of journalists from all around the world and told me: “Just write to these guys, be in touch and let’s see what happen.” What happened was very good, because I received a lot of good reviews from them. So after that he said to me: “I like the way you play, I like the way you work. Do you want to play with me for my label?” I said why not. Okay. After that it was like magic.
In just two days after we decided to deal, without any contract, just ‘shaking hands’, not literally because he was in New York and I was in Italy, he received a call from Russia from a guy named Iouri Lnogradski, a jazz writer for jazz.ru, a very important journalist who said “I love this guy. Do you mind to come to Russia for Muzenergo Festival in Dubna?” I said okay! So I went there, I never met Iouri before in person, and my adventure in Russia was very fruitful because now I have done more than one hundred concerts in Russia, in around 60 different cities, such an incredible place for me.
Interestingly, it all happened since 2007, which is not that long time ago.
Yeah! Actually after the Jakarta trip I have to go back probably Monday morning because on Wednesday I have to go back to Russia for another 15 days concert, all the way to reach Siberia. I have this great relation with Russian guys, so everything happened like this with Leonardo.
What about the project you made with Elliot Sharp, Protoplasmic?
After that stories with Leonardo, I was invited by John Zorn to play at The Stone, a venue owned by him. I played there and in that period I met Elliot Sharp. He’s always one of my heroes. He knew me because Marc Ribot (the senior guitarist featured in ‘Insanology’) told him about me. I called him and said “Why don’t we play together at The Stone?” He said, “Wow, that’s a good idea! Let’s do it!” And we also decided to record something. Just tried to record something, he got a great studio in New York, and we just tried to improvise whole day. We did and we actually recorded more than 6 hours of music. The day after, I remember it was Tuesday, Leonardo was there and that was when I met him for the first time, and he said to me, “Wow, a lot of music. Do you have anything to do on Thursday morning?” I said, “no, why?” He said because he wanted me to come to his office and talked about producing this as an album. So I went to him and he decided to produce my album. After that he also agreed to produce my last album ‘Biocosmopolitan’ and we agreed to re-release the Insanology, because all the copy sold out, and many people asked me and Leonardo about the new copy of this album.
That album was fantastic for many reasons. Not only there you show your wide range of vocal but also for the variety and madness inside. Speaking of vocal range, how wide do you have actually?
It’s something more of four and a half octaves.
That’s like the range of Mariah Carey or Minnie Riperton.
Yeah, it’s funny. I used to teach not too many students and I always hate it when a teacher wants to split voices into bass, tenor, soprano and so on. I have always been the kind of weird. I have this tone that sometimes is a baritone, sometimes it’s tenor, sometimes it’s soprano, so different. I think you have to try to use your voice the best you can. That’s the most important thing! You don’t have to care too much about you’re a bass, a tenor or whatever.
Well this is interesting and I want to continue asking you this. Many singer just try to ‘sing’ the song, but you do a lot more than that.
Thank you. I guess the main reason is that I really love music. I started as a horrible piano player when I was a young guy, then I tried to play a little bass, then a trumpet, then a drum. So I grew up thinking as a musician. I started singing seriously at the age of fourteen when I studied with classical teacher and everything was very good. My teacher was so happy as he said I improved day by day. But I always think about singing as something more instrumental than a voice. You’re right. Usually singers are considered for melody. I love melody. But I think a voice can be much more than a melody. There are some cultural areas of musicology who said great things, and it was one of the station of the great Demetrio Stratos, he said that instrument is nothing else than the imitation of the human voice. They said that when our fathers started singing and started creating instruments, the first time they listened to voice then they tried to imitate. The percussions, then flute and so on.. this is a very fascinating idea.
And that’s who you are.
Yes, that’s what I really want to do. You’ve said a very important thing to me. I consider myself at all, a singer. But what I want to do is to think as a musician. When I play a bassline, I don’t want my voice to be like a bass. That’s not what I care about. I want my voice to express as a bass player. So in my mind when I play bassline I think of myself as a bassist.
Fascinating, and I think you’ve proven that voice can actually do more than we thought we knew, as voice is actually one of the greatest gifts from God, don’t you think?
Yes I think so. It’s amazing. I always say that, and I think people can feel it after they watch the show whether it’s true or not, when I perform on stage and do my recording, I have fun. I have joy. That’s what I love to do. Everytime I listen to my voice I like to push the button, hear my voice and add up the other voice and so on.. it’s like playing you know.
That’s what I caught from your album too. It’s lively, fun and lovely.
Yeah! I’m very happy if you feel that, because that’s really how I feel music. I think music is about having fun. One of my idols has always been Frank Zappa. When we listen to Frank Zappa, he did very crazy stuff. But the great thing is that when you watch them on stage, those m**f**ers were playing so incredible. They played very bizzare stuffs but they were just laughing and having fun!
That’s the important point that we missed the most from the stage today. Many of them are thinking too much. They are too busy to try to suit the current trend and many other things, hence they missed the point of having fun, right?
I agree totally. You know, I work very seriously. Because if you want to have fun on stage you have to be very, very much prepared. So I work every single day for a couple or more hours because I have to construct some effects with my feet, some with my hands, I have to be able to split up my mind, I have to think what this previous one is doing, what this one is doing, what my voice is doing, what my hands and feet are doing. Everything is very, very complex. But when I’m on stage, what I like to do is to let people see that I enjoy what I’m doing. That’s the goal. When people come to me and say “Wow man, I love the things you do, everything seems so easy when you do that”, then I achieved my goal. The same with what Frank Zappa did. If you listen to some of the very complex phases from Frank Zappa, it’s not impossible. If you study, you can do that. But the great thing was when you saw them on stage, just doing ‘stupid’ sound, they played perfect.
Frank Zappa was a dictator. He wanted them to play every single day, to improve and to rehearse every single day. But then when they were on stage he said, “Okay, now it’s time to have some fun!”
While we are having like too many problems in life everyday, I think it’s very important to find a certain time and place where we can have fun right?
Absolutely agree. I think we are living in this horrible world when there’s a lot of wars, poverty, a lot of poor kids… this f**ing economy crisis around and people always sad and scared of the future. If you take a moment and come to see music, you have to enjoy.
And music is a media of expression. That’s how blues, jazz and so on came in first place.
Exactly. If you see the earliest form of blues, it was sentimental. It’s sad, but in a good way, because it moves your feeling. Why I love of the music is the feeling. You should be happy but sometimes you should be sad. I’ll perform a song tonight called “Bluechild” from my first album.
Ah, the one with a splash of Gregorian Chant in it.
Exactly. I’ve changed it a bit though, I’ll show you the rearrangement later. Strange arrangement if you’re thinking of violin, oboe, sounds like that. This song was dedicated to my grandmother. I have great relationship with my grandmother. Before I did my probably most important album Insanology and started touring around the world, my grandmother passed away, so this song is dedicated to her. It’s not a sad song, it’s a sentimental song. Of course it’s not joy because she passed away, but I wanted this song to express my love for that woman who’s so important for me. I think that’s the power of music..it’s just moving, killing us. That’s why I don’t like the kind of music…for example disco music. It’s so cold..
But wait a minute. Wasn’t Italy once famous for its disco tunes back in the 80’s.. you know, the Italo Disco?
I know! You’re probably the only journalist who knows that. I want to confess something to you. In 1988, 24 years ago I recorded a disco album. It was horrible. I was a teenager, I was 18, still in the university and this guy was in a disco project so he challenged me to record something. So this was my very first professional recording session. But again, it was horrible, horrible song.
But it was big back then, who could blame you.
Yeah, absolutely. But I don’t like when the music is too cold. The other thing that you’ll see if you listen to my album is that I never like to split up the different kind of genres. I think it doesn’t make any sense! Miles Davis once said, there are two kinds of music: good music and bad music. That’s all. And I’m totally agree about that. I love some rock n roll stuff, hard rock stuff, classical, jazz, fusion… everything. I think the good thing is just to mix it up.
Yeah, I digged that from your album. In Insanology you even had some Jimi Hendrix thingy on the title track. Then on Moonchild for example you put some 16 Century’s Gregorian Chant, which, correct me if I’m wrong, became the start of A Capella we know today.
Yes, that’s absolutely right.
Then in “Aria” (from Biocosmopolitan) you used some African Rhythm. Can you tell me more about this song?
I have a funny story about “Aria” and “De-toxic-hateful” (from Insanology) which both have some African. It’s funny because I have some African friend, when they listened to these songs they said “Hey man, you look like a black man..more black than we are!” I was like, Yeah! (Laughs). But that’s because I love about music. I can’t live without it.
Let’s talk more about your craft… you set the base, the rhythm, the instrument parts, then you also sing. How on earth can you do that by yourself?
It’s a kind of craziness I think. My wife used to say “you’re too crazy, you need to express yourself in some ways. You’d better be a singer.” (laughs). Again it’s a play. I think I’m very proud that all the songs that I wrote, I can play it on stage, alone. I never use any background vocals, any computers, everything is absolutely live, in real time. And that’s for two reason. First reason, the music feels alive when you do it live. And the second thing, this is why I consider myself totally as a jazz musician is because it can change, and it changes every time. I studied with the great Mark Murphy who’s to me the best living legend in pop jazz. He’s a singer from New York. what he always taught me was that a real jazz player is not concern about harmonies or whatever. The jazz player tries to do the same song every night in different way. That’s what I try to do, because this is the good thing you have. It’s really, really lovely you know…
The same thing could happen in the rock world too. Jimi Hendrix did that, the same with Led Zeppelin. Being a rock player doesn’t mean that you can’t have jazz mentality right?
Absolutely yes. You know, I have three heroes in my music. I should call them my music inspiracy: Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa. And it’s funny because people would say there’s no singer in your angle. Yeah, but Jimi actually sang in beautiful way. Miles played trumpet in perfect and very record-magical way.
None of them really cared about the specific genres too right?
Exactly! They didn’t care at all. When you listen to Miles’ autobiography when he talked about ‘Bitches Brew’ which is one of my favorite album, he said “F**k all the critics who wanted me to play Summertime or songs from those eras”, not because he didn’t like the tunes but he said “if you want to listen to me playing Summertime, just take the album, listen to it and F**k you!” (laughs). And I’m totally agree. Because at that period he was much involved in rock music, in Jimi Hendrix, so what he wanted to do is to express himself in a different way. And he was a genius because he changed the course of music four times. First he started as a normal bop player, then he changed into modal (modal jazz), because he started playing with modal in the album ‘Kind of Blue’. Then he changed it again into fusion, like in the ‘Filles De Kilimanjaro’ and ‘Bitches Brew’. And in the last albums like ‘Tutu’ he changed it again by putting some electronic stuffs, some synthetic sounds.. that’s why he’s such a genius. He still wanted to do something new, new experience… he still wanted to feel alive. That’s why I love this guy.
It was the same for Frank Zappa. He finished his career with ‘The Yellow Sharks’ which is a classic composition for orchestra. Even when he was dying he was writing music. The same for Jimi Hendrix. It was unfortunate that Jimi only left us a few albums. He was only active for a few years. But what he did in those few years is for eternity. There’s no guitarist, or more than guitarist… there’s no musician that haven’t listened to Jimi Hendrix.
And watch his memorable performance at the first Woodstock of course.
I love it! You see that performance was incredible. There were only few people because most of them were already went home. But he still played in incredible way. He got his energy. I also love his vibe and his voice. Sometimes people used to think Jimi Hendrix only as a guitarist but he was also a singer, a great one. He was perfectly in tune, and he had strange ideas. And I love the way he tried to use effects because back then we didn’t have effects. Today you open up a stupid computer that only cost 200 bucks and you can do everything you want. All those young guys said I’m a musician because I compose my music. Stop! You have to first study and then you can compose. It’s not about moving one note work or touching a button, that’s not composing music. And Jimi tried to figure out new sounds with the few things that he had. Just think about it, doing this, doing that… and the result was fantastic.
If you listen to my last version of “Crosstown Traffic” (from Biocosmopolitan album), we did a very Jimi Hendrix stuff. It’s a very technical stuff I did together with my friend Piero Villa who’s my producer and sound engineer. He’s a crazy guy. He’s one of my old friends. We did this Jimi Hendrix stuff like this. We take the voice from the microphone, then we put the voice signal into a very old Universal Audio Preamp (Vault Preamp). We put the vault at the maximum to have the natural distorsion exactly as Jimi did. Then he took the sound after the amp and we put again the sound of the amp into the room where I was recording into a very old 70’s Wah, the VOX Wah. So while I was singing I was using the Wah to make my voice sounded like a guitar. So if you listen to the song at the beginning I did a small version of ‘Purple Haze’ (singing the intro a bit).
Fantastic. In Biocosmopolitan you featured Yellowjackets’ Jimmy Haslip and amazing flugelhorn/trumpet player Paolo Fresu. Paolo was here for concert in Jakarta a couple of months ago. How was it like to work with him? Do you get some kind of interesting experience?
Yeah the experience is totally positive. Paolo Fresu is a friend of mine. I met him, again thanks to Leonardo who presented me to Paolo’s manager (Vic Albani) who’s now my manager for Italy. He presented me to Paolo and I gave him my Insanology album. Paolo called me and said “Hey man, I love this album so much!” So we met each other few times and he decided to participate in two songs.
One of the songs is “Concrete Clima”. I love the ambience sound he created behind you.
You know, we talked about feeling before, I think Paolo is one the musicians with more feeling I had never met before in my life. Technically Paolo is great, but you can probably find some more technical player than he. But the way he sound is himself. You know, the taste of melody of this guy is incredible. That’s why he’s so important. You don’t count the number of notes in a minute to consider whether a musician is good or not. It’s good if one can play fast, no problem. It should be great. But I don’t consider a musician is good only because he plays fast. And Paolo is incredible because he’s got this fantastic sound. He went to the studio, I put up the songs, in one second he was perfectly in tune. Wow. Everybody who met and listened for the first time to Paolo would look at him like wow.. His music is exactly what he has. The good person and fantastic guy he is, is the music that he plays.
Alright, now what about Jimmy Haslip?
As for Jimmy Haslip, it was one of the best moment of my life. I’ll tell you the story. Jimmy is always one of my favorite heroes. I studied so much his way of groove. The time that he had with William Kennedy in Yellowjackets was my school. So after Insanology, Leonardo helped me to send a copy of that album to Jimmy. After few days Leonardo sent me an email that said “I don’t know if you know this guy, but his name is Jimmy Haslip, he’s a bass player and he likes your album very much. And I was like, “what the hell you’re talking about, he’s my hero!” (laughs). So I asked for his email, send him a message immidiately, letting him know that I’m a fan blah, blah, blah.. He was so kind as he immidiately replied me and said “Ok, I’m in Milan next month, you can come if you want to listen to The Yellowjackets.” So I came to Milan and met him in person. My hands were shaky since he’s really my hero. After that we just chatted a little bit and I told him about my new album and asked him maybe he would like to play something in it. And he said “Wow man, I’d love it!” So he took Biocosmopolitan as the song and he did this groove in his solo. Wow..fantastic.
Aside of the wide variety you give in your albums, I also capture Italian feels either in the lyrics, melody and so on.
Yeah, sure! I’m Italian so I grew up with my culture. That’s something you can’t hide. I listen mainly to American music as every jazz, rock fans. But I also grew up with classical music with the melody of Italian songs. So it’s absolutely fundamental to have this kind of feeling. And I’m very proud of it! I also like my language (Italian) which is very melodic and I like to use it along with some English.
For me, that decision added more passion inside your music. You know, Italian is famous for being passionate.
Yes that’s real true. Passion is the thing that everybody needed. Without passion you can’t be a good musician. No way at all.
Thank you for your time, Boris, have fun with the show tonight!