A Gypsy Jazz Conversation With Myself: The Interview

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Who is Nuno Marinho, after all? Nuno is a guitarist, composer, Portuguese Gypsy Jazz promoter, researcher, journalist, pedagogue, NBA-Chess-Cosmos lover… and Peaceful Warrior.

My new mantra is: I just want you to be happy 🙂

I can only hope the effort I’ve invested in world-class contents may bring you joy and fulfillment. Thank you for your support, appreciation and respect.

1 – What have inspired you to start playing music? Tell us about your influences and what was going on around you at the time.

I started listening to my older sister’s cassettes. Back then Guns N’ Roses, Nirvana and Metallica really made an impact on me, especially Slash’s ability to make the guitar sing so strongly.

It was the 90’s, the world was a different place, an era of social mutation, people were affirming their rights, their feelings, their wants and needs. We were heading towards the Technological Era. Music books were rare so we needed to search and share them and the closest we could get to a guitar was by looking at them on the only local store in town.

Looking back at my teens the Rock and Roll lifestyle and what it represented – the Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll thing – mixed with Mr. Miyagi’s Karate Masterful teachings and the possibility of time travelling in a DeLorean at 88 miles per hour completely sparkled my imagination.

I started playing with my left hand broken. I was at a friend’s house and I still had the casket on my arm. I had the opportunity to pick it up and a few months later, when I turned 14 years old, my mom bought me a Classical Guitar.

Right away I felt this was going to be a lifetime experience.

www.nunomarinho.bandcamp.com

2 – What motivated you to keep practicing?

My practice days only started in 2006 when I moved from Coimbra to Lisbon. I was 25 years old and a graduated lawyer with a very promising criminal carer ahead of me.

My main motivation was to be a better musician, to understand music, to study harmony and to meet people and form bands. I always had the tendency to write songs. It came natural to me. Also teaching was something I really liked so it all made sense.

I felt there could be so many possibilities to play music that I just needed to understand them all. That’s my biggest motivation: to accomplish musical mastery.

3 – What were the biggest challenges you have faced in order to progress in your practice, performance and musical career?

Prejudice, misunderstandings, impairments, apathy and incompetence in the music business were (still are) very hard for me to handle. I used to think I didn’t quit my stable life as an attorney for “this”.

It’s hard to feel the pressure to catch up the lost years. It can wear you down and in the end you’re not building healthy and respectful relationships with the musicians and pub owners.

Growing apart from a harmful community takes its toll. But we’re always learning and Peace eventually settles in.

4 – Do you remember your practice process when you started playing? How much did it change through the years?

Looking back it is pretty clear to me that the biggest missing part of my musical progress was the lack of a practice process. How to study? What is the process? How to accomplish goals? How to develop and grow skills?

This has made me dedicate my life to pursuing the best methods and practices to develop creative musical habits. The process has grown hugely and it is a constant working process based on measurements, experience and lots of practice.

5 – Tell us about your routines. How does a regular day in your life looks like? 

Since I teach a lot (guitar, music for kids, music for grown ups, English class, Pilates and Yoga class) and perform in the afternoon or in the evening, my days hardly look the same. I’m being able to keep some level of consistency, which I find very important to keep me on track. Unconsciously and intriguingly the clock keeps me sharp. Check this out:

09:09h – Wake up, read the news, have breakfast, personal hygiene (which always includes meditation after brushing my teeth).

10:10h – Start practicing (two “Pomodoros”, 25minutes each with a 5 minute break)

11:11h – Take a break, resume my daily mental exercises (chess puzzles included) and take care of any appointments for the day (rehearsals, classes, repertoires, etc)

12:12h – Keep practicing (two more “Pomodoros”, 25minutes each with a 5 minute break)

13:13h – Lunch break

14:14h – Back to practice mode (back to my Pomodor Technique 😉 )

15:15 – Short breathing break and time to prepare leaving home

16:16h – Look at the clock and say to myself: “I got to go to school, my students are waiting… 5 more minutes… Ten minute latter I’m still with the guitar on my hand 🙂

17:17h – Prepare to end the kids class and start preparing my individual students classes.

18:18h – Go to the gig.

19:19h – Intermission and resume the gig.

20:20h – Go home, have dinner with my wife and catch up.

21:21h – Time to shift the brain to neutral a little bit.

22:22h – Listening to music… Mindfuly (paying attention to detail)

23:23h – NBA time

24:24h – The 25th hour 😉 

6 – How do you balance work and rest? How long are your working sessions and pauses? 

I’ve been devoting these last years on the Maximizing Performance Process and particularly over the most productive strategies to be on the edge of one’s abilities.

Thus, I schedule a 4-hour mindful practice, usually divided in 4 hours (25 minute + 5 minute break each hour = 8 Pomodoros), every day, except weekends. Now I find break time extremely important in order to rejuvenate the creative flow. 

7 – What do you value the most in the music/musicians you love to listen? What key ingredients you love to hear when listening to some new album, musician or student?

Through the years I’ve come to realize that what knocks me out of my feet is the element of surprise. The spontaneity, the novelty, and the passion on interpretation can really capture my attention even when I’m distracted doing something else while music is playing in the background.

Also structure is very important to me. A sense of direction, as opposed to random ideas glued together. The music has to tell a story, has to have some drama, some intensity, some unexpected twists of faith. If it’s unpredictable, beautiful, heartfelt and passionate it will definitely catch my ears.

8 – Do you meditate?

I don’t know if I ever meditate or if I never stopped meditating. Any kind of practice or activity that pulls you towards a more focused, clear or mindful state is meditation.

Recently I’ve been investigating on the subject and I consider it to be as fundamental as personal hygiene. This is, certainly, something I’d wanted to had started sooner.

9 – What would you consider to be the most important advice, quote or reference someone ever gave to you?

I love quotes 🙂 I keep several journals of quotes from the masters and some of my own also. An original one I particularly like is this:

“If you don’t follow a Master become one.”

You know that a torch will light up quickly by the help of a flaming one. Nowadays the Internet gets you free access to whatever you think of but is still hard to personally connect with a real Master. And if that’s a meaningful thing to you – to excel, to create opportunities and to strengthen your talents, then there is no other way then to build your own level of Mastery. 

www.nunomarinhomusic.wix.com/jazz

10 – What would you like to be acknowledged for? What’s the most important aspect of your life’s journey that you’d like people to remember?

Relentless strive for mastery, righteousness and a warrior’s strength on his convictions. No human is flawless but you have your whole life to overcome your limitations.

If people remember me as a good-humoured, helpful, friendly, caregiver, relentless, hard-working, focused, driven and kind human being, then I know my life was serviceable or inspiring.

11 – What would be the record, the musician or the song that you would always refer in a conversation to Django?

I would offer him my albums. I think he would appreciate my ballads for the heartfelt character that he always put to his songs.

Regarding musicians I had to show him Biréli Lagrène for his excellence, Robin Nolan for the impact that his work had on me over the years and Pat Metheny for being one of the greatest musicians ever.

To pick a song is usually a hard task but I would definitely choose “The Truth Will Always Be” by Pat Metheny. The title says it all!

12 – What would you say to Django if you had the chance to meet him?  You are my Master and I’m your disciple. Please teach me 🙂

Zingaro Jazz: Dario Napoli Interview

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Italian Gypsy Jazz guitarist, blogger of “Diary Of a Gadjo”, teacher and composer Dario Napoli opens his heart and mind in this thoughtful, conscious and inspiring interview.

Here it is: “Cotto a puntino” 🙂

1 – What have inspired you to start playing music? Tell us about your influences and what was going on around you at the time.

My first inspiration to play music was my brother, he’s two years and a half older than me and introduced me to all the first music I listened to. At 12 he then brought me to my first live concert, which was Eric Clapton, where I absolutely decided I needed to learn how to play.

And so for the following 3 years I started by ear on a very cheap classical guitar, copying what I could from the Beatles, Eric Clapton, BB King, Jimi Hendrix, SRV, etc.

The years I began playing I was living in Milan which was very alive as a music city, and so there was a lot of inspiration from concerts, great musicians and started getting into jazz thanks to my first “real” teacher, Gianpiero Spina.

At 18 I went to college in New Orleans and immersed myself in jazz but always continued with blues, rock and fusion, and then came Django, who revolutionized my world 🙂

2 – What are your current projects and future goals?

My main project is my solo project, Dario Napoli Modern Manouche Project, with which I have recorded 2 albums and now working on a third.

I also have various collaborations, a duo with a singer (closer to a Joe Pass-Ella Fitzgerald idea) and an electric quartet with drums and hammond/electric piano.

But gypsy jazz is my main thing and my goal is to have a successful touring and recording career.

3 – You’ve spent a lot of time and energy on transcriptions. What would you consider to be the greatest impact of transcribing regarding ear training and technique?

I’ve basically never stopped transcribing since I was 12 years old, only in the last few years I’ve been able to share my transcriptions but it’s something that I’ve been doing for myself and continue to do for myself constantly as I believe it is the more efficient way to learn.

If we think back on how we learned our own mother language, we basically copied our parents and our friends and then in school they explained the grammar, but we already knew how to speak based on whom we copied or heard.

The same in music, if we want to learn a language we have to copy and then we can develop our own vocabulary over time.

4 – You have studied “The Boss” Bireli Lagrene’s language like no other. What makes Bireli sound so distinctive and appealing to our ears? What are his trademarks and aspects one must be aware?

Well, ever since I started playing I’ve been attracted and inspired by many different kinds of music and so I’ve always tried to develop as much versatility as possible.

Bireli for me is the most amazing example of versatility and proficiency in many different styles (and actually, even many different instruments!), so I felt very naturally attracted by his style and his ability to incorporate all the music that he has listen to over the years.

The thing I really like the most of him is his timing and his rhythmical ideas (not only strictly Le Pompe rhythm which is obviously great), but his comping, where it’s always a surprise in terms of harmony and rhythmic fills and patterns, both on electric and acoustic.

5 – Jazz musicians often fear transcriptions because of the risk of loosing their own musical personality. But in Gypsy Jazz probably every note played by Django has already been transcribed. What are your thoughts on this?

Yes, I believe the best thing is a balance. Transcribing is inevitable because it’s just like learning a language: you have to copy whoever speaks that language to get started. We all do it, whether it is language of music.

As we get more proficient we will naturally develop our own unique feel and language. Even Django wasn’t born in a vacuum, he played with great accordion players and he also copied and was inspired by the great American Jazz musicians of his time, as well as Debussy and Ravel and other classical masters. Then he filtered everything through his sensibility and experience, but all those influences are very important.

6 – Regarding your online business teaching and transcribing site, how did it happened? How do you manage a successful teaching site?

It all started with the idea that it was easy with the Internet to share what I was already doing for myself.

A few years back I started studying and reading about music business and the importance of having a website and it was pretty natural to simply share all that. I was studying through the website. This got people interested and started inquiring about my teaching.

Teaching is something I’ve always enjoyed doing honestly also for selfish reasons 🙂 it makes me a better musician. It makes me focus on details and constantly review what I consider the important elements of music.

This year, here in Tuscany, from May 19-23, I will be also hosting my first gypsy jazz guitar camp and I’m very excited that several people are participating. I cannot wait to be there!

http://darionapoli.com

7 – About your guitar practice what motivates you to keep going?

I understood many years ago that you can start your path in music but there’s never an arrival point if you truly want to keep improving, so it does not scare me that I will never be truly “satisfied” 🙂

I really enjoy the process and attaining my goals on the guitar is one of the greatest satisfactions in life. Being able to share them with others then is paradise 🙂

8 – How do you balance work and rest? How long are your working sessions and pauses?

In reality I am very bad at balancing work and rest in the sense that music pretty much never makes me tired.

Of course, I have to be careful with my hands to not overplay but luckily being a musician today is not just about playing and practicing many hours a day but also being an entrepreneur and dealing with technology, website, marketing, public relations etc.

So basically, when I’m not practicing, which is still several hours a day, I’m doing all the other aspects of a musician’s life.

9 – Do you remember your practice process when you started playing? How much did it change through the years?

When I started, it was all about hearing and reproducing. Although I still do that, I also have phases when I give more importance to one aspect of music or another, it can be harmony, or rhythm, or an element of a different style or just simply, a technique.

10 – Tell us about your routines. How does a regular day in your life looks like?

So, assuming I don’t have a gig or I’m not teaching (which changes things) I will typically start out the day working on a specific technique or a series of specific techniques.

Afterwards I would pick one standard and work on that, arranging, improving, chord solo, trying to look at it from all aspects possible, and changing keys. That usually takes up the whole morning.

Early afternoon I usually go for a walk or a bike ride or something physical and then if I have the time, I will repeat the same process of the morning or get into composing or arranging.

If I don’t have time in the day I will do the website and the music business stuff in the evening.

11 – What were the biggest challenges you have faced in order to progress in your practice, performance and musical career?

Well, although I have been playing and practicing intensely since I was 12 years old, I only accepted internally to be a full-time musician around 30. It took me a while to get over the social conditioning that music is something that is hard to live on and hard to pursue.

Once the decision was made, the hard part is to understand that music is only one element necessary to make it; just like an entrepreneur there are many things that one must do away from the instrument in order to create the foundation to continue playing the instrument for a living.

12 – Do you feel that balancing musical skills and the entrepreneur and social aspects around the music the hardest thing to handle? I mean, there’s always excellent musicians that aren’t able to persevere because they don’t know (or enjoy) how to sell their music; others are excellent businessmen lacking musical qualities.

Yes, but for me also doubts, self-doubts creep in at times, but daily practice and faith help!

If it were up to me, I would simply wake up and play guitar all day, which I still sometimes do 🙂 but the reality is that I have to carry out, or delegate tasks, and that means time away from the music and that’s not always easy.

13 – What do you value the most in the music/musicians you love to listen? What key ingredients you love to hear when listening to some new album, musician or student?

The thing that I’m most attracted to when it comes to music is actually harmony. A close second is rhythm, and so when I listen to musicians I notice I’m attracted to musicians that have an evolved sense of harmony and that are very versed and confident rhythmically.

14 – Do you meditate? Do you perform any kind of practice or activity that pulls you towards a more focused, clear or mindful state?

I feel like my meditation is my practice; when I’m on the instrument through repetition my mind stays in one place and time becomes absolutely irrelevant.

So I don’t meditate per se but I believe I can relate to the process. Otherwise, playing tennis, basketball or biking, when I have the time, are important for me mentally and physically.

15 – You’re the first GJ musician I meet that actually plays Basketball! Are you an NBA fan? Who are your top 5 players ever? My personal choice would be John Stockton, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon :p

SO COOL, I love basketball!! I played some intramural in the US but my main sport was tennis, where I played NCAA championship. When we meet I would be thrilled to shoot around and steal some tips form you!

Ah, my TOP 5: MICHAEL JORDAN, SCOTIE PIPPEN, ISIAH THOMAS, LARY BIRD, KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR 🙂

16 – What would you consider to be the most important advice someone gave to you? 

To listen carefully to the voices that comes up in your mind, to key into one’s emotions and take them seriously, and not repress them.

Also, to find the strength to believe that you can create the life that you desire and imagine for yourself.

17 – What would you like to be acknowledged for? What’s the most important aspect of your life’s journey that you’d like people to remember?

That, against all odds and contrary to popular belief, one can become an accomplished musician, jazz and gypsy jazz guitarist even later in life. That it’s not just words when they say it’s never too late to become what you were meant to become, if you truly believe (and follow with the actions) that something was meant for you.

18 – Like myself, you started as full-time musician at about the same age then I: LATE! Personally I fell there is some prejudice and/or disbelief in the Jazz community about this subject, but not so much in the Gypsy Jazz community. The preference and attention seems to go easily to young talented kids. On the other hand, there’s a lot of great, inspiring “older” musicians playing at top level with little or even no recognition at all. A penny for your thoughts on this? 🙂

 I’m really hoping you’re right on this one (for us “older” folks)!

19 – What would you say to Django if you had the chance to meet him?

First of all, if he were not aware, I would let him know that he had a much greater influence than even he probably expected on guitar and music in general, and I would thank him for that.

I would also ask him a lot of questions in terms of composition, improvisation and also life in general.

20 – What would be the song that you would always refer in a conversation with Django?

The song I would refer to would be “Melodie Au Crepuscule”.

I asked Dario if he had any “Melodie Au Crespuscule” version of his own. The next day he recorded and uploaded this tremendous video and sent it back to me. Wow! Thank you Dario, you’re fantastic!