Franco Cerri: the self-taught man theaches, no… tells!
Posted by Renato Catania STRUMENTI E MUSICA
I managed to get an appointment with the Maestro Franco Cerri and it was the easiest thing in the world. All it needed was a phone call and immediately his voice calm and soothing created the feeling. Later, during the interview, I understood why it had been so easy: “Thank you,” he said, “the journalists still pamper me, despite my age.” During the interview, respect, class, and sensitivity of the artist have emerged.
Maestro, tell to me about your school of jazz?
I do not agree with the word teach. Teach something to someone gives me sadness. At the boys of my school I talk about my experiences, I tell them what happened and how it happened to me. How I could be who I am now, only as self-taught musician. At the beginning of my great passion for music, I have had any teacher, because there was no money. My dad gave me a guitar and said, “This is the guitar, there isn’t a penny for a teacher, it’s up to you.”
The students at the end of the course will have a recognized diploma?
Until now, not yet, but we are waiting at any moment of the regular formalization of recognized license. Enrico Intra, Maurizio Franco and I are the founders of Milano Civica Scuola di Musica, where the courses of jazz take place. It was ready a plan of study as those of university, at first two years and later three years. The program includes the study of the instrument with that of the theory, perfectly integrated, the study of harmony and that of the analysis of the piece, in order to make understandable the jazz music in all its aspects. This activity, furthermore, includes the production of musical high-quality projects, shared between teachers and students. The courses have made important stable groups. The merger, in the composition of the groups, between students and teachers, allowing concert activities in the high-level review of the Orchestra senza confini of the Piccolo Teatro in Milan. The important educational value is also characterized by regular collaboration with famous Italian, European and American artists, that often allow to some music productions.
Your opinion on current productions of Italian music?
I start immediately with something that is bothering me: In our country there has never been a musical education. It cannot be taught from compulsory schools forward, in a serious and continuous way. The audience, in this respect, has not grown. Politicians, in general, do not raise our young people, they work better on our skin. In our small way, we’re doing our part. At this time I also do chamber music. The students know very well that I have never attend a music lesson and that I collaborated with many of the great musicians at the international level: the jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli, Wes Montgomery, Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz, Dizzy Gillespie and many others. Some years ago, at the beginning, the TV, extraordinary vehicle of information and dissemination, was much more sensitive to quality music and to musical attractive performances. Now the nothingness, it leaves space for futile debates and fruitless shows, leaving the music culture and what is worse, young people are discouraged in undertaking activities related to music. There isn’t job opportunities in the music industry.
Among the legends of jazz with whom he has collaborated, who have created new horizons in your career?
As I said before, the great privilege of working with famous artists of jazz gave me confidence and strength, but also in the national sphere I was able to work with those who are still today the founders of a style of music and life: Gorni Kramer , who always gave me courage. I remember that, when he listened me, he said: “Do not worry if you do not know the music, “you have the ear”. I also remind the Quartetto Cetra, whose members used their voices so harmoniously that they could sing without music because they could create it with great vocal harmony.
How would you define jazz music?
In general, the music comes from written “things”. In the Jazz, instead, someone started to do things without music. Perhaps for a gift of nature, he improvised mixing some harmonies, or chords. You decide what you want to play. Let’s perform a blues in B flat. Someone plays according to a theme and then he improvise and maybe for an hour he plays that piece with its intuitive and interpretive variations. But there is someone that comes off while the bass never stops. One of the members of the group stops and the other follows him and repeats until another movement is created. It is something that does not have a birth, it is not defined, it is only indicated. Around the pieces there are the variations that everyone perform. Jazz has always been a kind of freedom. We play what we want. Without obligation. There is a harmony line to follow, and the rest will follow automatically. Of course, the personal form is important, how important it is the atmosphere that surrounds us. The musician during the concert needs inspiration, participation and warmth of public.
Who was your model?
I’ve always had a great curiosity. For me everything could be music, even if I had not studied it. I had a great desire to write. I did not even know the notes. One night I awoke with a jump and I found the solution: I have to get the scores of songs that I already knew and that I have already played. I watched as they were written, and I learned that there were a quadruplet and then a quaver. Slowly, with great patience, I began to write. At the beginning I did look at Kramer what I had written and he said: “I do not believe even if you get on your knees.” He told the others: - ”This one has the ear, but he goes too far.” I had a great desire, the need to do something of my own and so I went ahead. I stole shades, I observed attitudes, sounds, emotions, until the beauty of music, hugged and possessed me. I have learn many things from many people, but what I have formed my musical disposition, was Django Reinhardt with whom I played for two weeks at night club Astoria in Milan, in a trio group, together with the violinist Stephane Grappelli. Since that moment I realized the power of interpretation in the jazz performance.