Strongly fascinated by the swing, Roberto Gervasi is a young and enterprising accordionist in constant search for innovation, a musician who loves to explore various genres of music. Through this conversation he traces some of the most significant moments of his life.
You are a self-taught accordionist. When and how was the encounter with this instrument born?
I first saw this instrument as a child, when my grandfather Giovanni was playing it. He was not my teacher, but for the choice of the accordion I was certainly influenced by him. To be honest I do not really believe in the figure of the teacher, because especially in jazz, some things cannot teach you anybody.
As for jazz, you’ve been inspired by some legends of this genre like Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Clifford Brown, and Frank Marocco, all of the great be bop exponents. In addition to this style, have you studied others?
The music that most influenced me is definitely be bop and mainstream jazz more generally. Another period that fascinates me is that of the “fathers” of various Parkers, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Powell, Wynton Kelly, Brown, Clark Terry, Frank Marocco, the age associated with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Cole Porter, Jelly Roll Morton, Django Reinhardt, Art Tatum. Swing is certainly the soul of this music and the thing that fascinates me, this perfect bounce that never tastes you.
You are deeply tied to your land, Sicily, for which you have a visceral and unconditional love. Are the sounds, colours and scents of your region influenced also from an artistic point of view?
Undoubtedly it influences me a lot. Sicily, this oasis of beauty, has been the cradle of the Euro-Mediterranean civilization, dominated by Greeks, Romanians, Arabs, Normans, Angevinians, Bourbons and Spaniards, which carries the beauty of so many peoples. This beauty is undoubtedly a source of inspiration for me and for all the artists who live here or pass us. As Goethe said, “Italy without Sicily leaves no picture in the spirit. Here is the key to everything”.
At the age of 14 you started playing in some prestigious national and international stages. How did you live and manage, as a teenager, the tension and the responsibility to perform around the world as young as fourteen?
From a young age I started playing the accordion in a folk group in Trabia, the village where I grew up. These were my first musical experiences, and I started with traditional Sicilian music. With the band I Terrazzani di Trabia, a crew formed by a Sicilian orchestra and a group of thirty dancers, I had the chance to play around Europe in prestigious ethnopopular music festivals. Even if I was fourteen, young and inexperienced, I had a good time at those moments, because they were in great joviality.
In July 2010 you shared the stage with Massimo Laguardia, in the “Heart Drum” project, in a renowned international festival in Portugal, titled “Sete Sois Sete Luas”. How can you describe this experience?
Over the years I have continued to deepen the culture of Mediterranean music alongside Massimo Laguardia, a great expert in framed drums and music. I have a beautiful memory of that period and a tour, especially in Portugal, a guest with Massimo of the “Sete Sois Sete Luas” festival, a very important review for ethnopopular music held in different parts of the world on the same days. A big party!
In February 2011, along with “D Quartet”, you created your first album project titled “Ossessa”. Always in the same year, in addition to numerous audiences and specialized critics, thanks to this record you won the First Prize Absolute at the jazz competition “Pippo Ardini”. Did you expect a similar gratification already on your first album?
The “D Quartet” was my first encounter with jazz and jam session in general. Thanks to this training I was able to experiment and search for a different sound of accordion, research work that still continues. Along with the concertist Davide Rinella, the double bass player Bino Cangemi and the drummer Fabrizio Pezzino, we recorded in 2011 “Ossessa”, a visionary project with original music. In the same year, with this project, we won the Absolute First Prize at the jazz competition “Pippo Ardini”. We were very excited and enthusiasm always moves in the right direction.
In 2012 you moved to France to deepen the jazz manouche study, where besides learning of this genre you have had the opportunity to perform alongside some of the most representative worldwide jazz musicians such as Dorado Schmitt, Tchavolo Schmitt And Stochelo Rosenberg. How did these extraordinary experiences form you?
I lived for a period in southern France, where I often and very willingly play. This is a country that has great respect for art and artists, it’s easy to understand. Along with Belgium is the only nation where the role of the artist is recognized by the state and protected by a system called “Intermittence du Spectacle”, which corresponds to regularized artists with a monthly salary of minus 1,200 euros. Or just see the large number of concert halls, the number of organized festivals and funding for art and culture. There I have been able to discover so many exceptional musicians and to share the stage with great artists, an incredible experience that continues today. In fact, traveling and living new places, new people, is the thing I possibly love the most, without which I do not want to imagine my life.
Together with your association, “Sulle orme di Django”, you organize the “Mediterranean Jazz Manouche Rally” in Sicily, an international event that has now reached its sixth year, gathering a pool of users from all over the world. Specifically, what are the main features of this kermesse?
In Sicily, Palermo, the swing passion, especially Django Reinhardt’s music, by a small number of musicians, the “Sulle Orme di Django”, was formed. Every year, from 2012, we organize Petralia Sottana, a jewel of the Madonie, this Jazz Manouche Mediterranean Rally. This is a unique event as it has become a must-have for all enthusiasts coming from all over the world. On the enthusiasm of this movement, which has grown more and more over the years, Lindy Hop dance schools in Sicily have also begun. In short, the era of prohibition and swing are lived after hundred years.
You’re only 26 years old, but you’ve already garnered a plethora of concerts from the irresistible value. By virtue of your young age, you will surely crave different dreams. So, with which musician you’ve never met, would you like to play live?
I have several dreams that then become intent. First of all, to improve myself as a person and musician, you can continue to travel, play around the world, and do my music. I then have a dream that, unfortunately, will remain so. I would have wanted to know and play with a musician who left in 2012: the great Frank Morocco. In my opinion the greatest jazz accordionist.
Are you in the mood of making new record projects in the immediate future?
My next record work already announced, but still in the early stages of processing, is “My Jazz Accordion”, but I cannot say more.
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