Paolo Conte, the Italian jazz poet, live at the Barbican

Paolo Conte foto di Alessandro Menegatti

If you have to ask what jazz is, you will never know’, said Louis Armstrong.

Despite the temptation, interviewing Paolo Conte, the master of jazz and the poet of imaginary love affairs, on his next performance in London I tried to keep up with him, avoiding the question.
The Italian multi awarded jazz musician, singer and songwriter, returns with an exclusive concert the 16th of October at the Barbican Centre, for a charming evening of music.

Two years after the standing ovation that welcomed you at The Royal Festival Hall in Southbank, for the London Jazz festival, you are coming back to enchant this city with your music. With more than 50 years of successful career, what is your feeling before each performance?
I always feel the honour of being in front of a sensitive audience.

The international press usually depicts your artistic character mentioning Tom Waits’ voice, the big band swing of Duke Ellington, and the nostalgic atmosphere of Jacques Brel songs.
Which different aspects of your art would you like to be highlighted to describe better the complex world of Paolo Conte?
Any comparison with other artists is still a cliché, which does not include the whole truth. My style has been built over the years on my flaws. The awareness that I could not reach the art of the great masters, each one sovereign on its solitude, has become the dignity of a small but real master, sovereign on the same way.

After ‘Volare’, one of the most well known Italian song abroad is ‘Azzurro’, which has been written by you. What do you feel knowing that your own words have gone through many generation and countries, to create the collective idea of Italian character?
That is a great satisfaction. Some songs, more than others, create in the imagination their own identity.

In your lyrics you create, as a modern poet, real and deliciously refined images of love affairs, with a twist of irony. If you should give a definition of love, what would it be?
A great magic spell.

Most of your lyrics contain references to objects or atmospheres of a typical Italian province. The unique combination of jazz sounds, recalling the roots of the genre and an imaginary of blue bathrobes, coffee shops in Mocambo, and dusty roads in the countryside create a poetic atmosphere. What value do you think have the little  of the Italian province, characterizing the way we see life as Italians?
Technically, according to the philosophy, we said: ‘Subsume the universal to the particular’. The little things, with their name, their smell, their colour can explain the general sentiment. For us, as Italians, I think it is perhaps a reminder of the Latin language.

Speaking about your next performance in London, you will be on stage with your great orchestra. However, as many jazz artists, you have started your career from a piano and your only voice. What are the pros of both experiences and why?
When performing with an orchestra, it is possible to focus more on the musical aspect, giving more details to the music, but the solo concert has definitely much more drive.

If you should choose a jazz piece to identify London, which would it be and why?
I would say “Mr Jelly Lord” di J.R. Morton. But, outside from the jazz field, I would also say the masterpiece of Sir Edward Elgar, Enigma Variation.

An evening with Paolo Conte
Barbican Centre
16th of October 19.30


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