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03 Oct

George Trantalidis Interview

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George Trantalidis is the living history of the Greek jazz : one of the major figures of the Greek jazz scene. He started his career playing with the rock group Socrates. In 1978, he records the first Greek Jazz music record with the “Sphinx”. He was the first to merge Greek traditional music with Jazz  in his records. Jazzonline has met him to discuss about his impressions of music, and jazz.

 George Trantalidis  played with many great musicians such as Socrates,  M. Alexiou, G. Filippidis, Lakis Zois, P. Samaras, T. Paterelis, G. Kontrafouris,  B. Lakatos, T. Lakatos, George Vukan, Kuno Schmid, Alex Foster, Attila Laszlo, Laszlo Gardony, Gilad Atzmon, Nick Gravenites, Chip Jackson, John Hicks, J. Williams, Andy Sheppard, P. Benetatos, Toto Blanke,  Rudolf Dašek,  and many others.

He is currently performing with his trio: Trilogia with George Kontrafouris on Hammond and Yiotis Samaras on guitar - an explosive contemporary jazz trio ( The three musicians have met long time ago, and given the important recordings and wealth of experience as group leaders and members of other international ensembles they each bring to the encounter, the result is always awesome ). He will be playing this month at the first Fougaro Jazz Festival in Nauplie with his special Quartet.(with Y.Samaras, P. Benetatos, P.Trivolis)

1-Sphynx was the first Jazz Album in Greece. Can you tell us few words about it ?
GT - Sphinx was   Markos Alexiou on piano,   Georges Filipidis on bass and me on   drums. For the second album, Lakis Zois was playing guitar.
George Filipidis   was for me the best bass player I have ever met, with perfect timing.   Markos Alexiou   is an accomplished musician with a deep knowledge of jazz harmony.   The recording of this album took us four hours. The studio recordings were very expensive then, so we were working always at night because it was cheaper. So one day we closed the studio for recording and we just went in and play.

2- You recorded your first jazz album in 1978 and the last one in 2011. What has changed for a musician between then and now ? There are any changes ?
G T- Back then we had a very limited audience. There were all very fanatic with jazz and because they were very few, everyone knew each other — and   they were all discussing about vinyl and debating about music and most of those people were not musician, just jazz lovers .it was a nice atmosphere .It was a small but very selective audience. At Barakos Club, in Plaka,   at the beginning sometimes there were only 10 or 15 people coming; then people find out about this place and it got so busy that you could not get inside. It was for us a very special place: it was our home….
Today, the public is a little different - they are people who understand, attend and participate, but there are less fanatic. And there is a new public. People who can come to a jazz gig and then go to busuki; this is something new.; People who listen a little bit of everything. Back then only   people who were listening to rock music were coming to listen to us , nobody else. It was a natural extension. Many musicians as well start with rock and then came to jazz just like I did. But when I was home, I always listened to jazz and only jazz.

3-Which jazz musicians had or have a great influence on you, and why ?
G T - Elvin Jones.   He was not a product of study or technique. He was much more than that. Something   to do with his soul and thoughts . And this is what impressed me when I met him. I was young and I was studying a   lot playing for hours, trying very hard, and when I sat next to him he said to me “ you do that quicker than me . you don’t need to do that”   He changed   my all philosophy . I feel very lucky   to have met him.   He was staying at a friend house in a summer and I used to stay outside and wait until he opened the window or the door and then I was literally jumping in. I was really impressed and I had a deep respect for this man. I believe   it was mutual.
When   I was playing with Socrates* sometimes I said   that it   would be great if in this track I was playing like Elvin Jones, and then they called me CRAZY. But , I read an interview of Mitch Mitchell (drummer of Jimi Hendrix) who says exactly the same thing.   He wanted   sometimes to   play like Elvin Jones.
                                              *Socrates - PHOS (Vangelis - Antonis Tourkogiorgis, John Spathas - George Trandalidis)


4-Your last CD   Global Vision received a lot of very good reviews.   That was a come back to discography - 20 years after the “am: pm” Album. Ten compositions   played by a variety of excellent Greek and foreign musicians (Tony Lakatos, Alex Foster, Barry Finnerty, Ron McClure, Fred Lipsius, Pantelis Benetatos, Panagiotis Samaras, Harris Lambrakis, Andreas Polyzogopoulos, Antonis Andreou, George Kontrafouris, Nikos Neratzopoulos, Sophia Lambropoulou, Manuel Orza, Nikos Sidirokastritis) . I read somewhere that   “The   CD Global Vision is a mosaic of Jazz and world music with elements of Meditteranean Greek Afro Latin influences”-   Is it right ?
G T - Yes. Absolutely. And   Michael Cuscuna,   producer of Blue Note Record, said about it ”it’s a very original blend of Coltrane and Elvin Jones music “  

5- You currently play with your trio Triologia? We saw you at half Note last year and few other places. It seems as you having a lot of fun with this trio. How was it born ?
G T - I met George Kontrafouris when he was 18 years old. He was playing bass when I first saw him in a Punk Band. George is a very charismatic personality. He played rock as well but he is an incredible   Jazz   player. He plays blues as very few can do it.   He is a kind of genius but you can’t tell him that he feels embarrassed. He is so low profile.  
I know Yiotis Samaras since 1976. He is a great guitar player.   We have played together so many times. We know each other so well and we are good friends. With this trio we played spontaneously what we feel in the moment - we play our experiences   . we always say that we should record a CD. So we might do it very soon. We have been asked so many times by people following us. This is something we are going to do.

6-So this go straight to the question: What is your next project ?
G T - I have also many tunes ready for another album, which I think I will record   next   year.

7- A  comment on the new generation of Greek jazz musicians?
G T - I am very happy to see that there are many  young and talented  jazz musicians. I am very optimistic. I follow them as much as  I can because for me they are a great source of inspiration.
For me when I was young, things were I think much more simple in every way and very different . When I was playing at Barako, I never asked to be paid and Barakos was looking for me to give me some money   at the end of the gig, but   I was feeling embarassed.   Specially when the place was not busy. But this guy was such a gentleman, he would not leave us like that. It was also easier to meet other great musician.

8-What advice would you give to a young jazz musician ?
G T - I will tell him to see it as an art and not as a job.
In 1990, I had to stop playing for about 10 years after an accident that I had and I could not play. I start again to play in 1999, when we did a come back with the Socrates. They all came to me and said : “come on George let’s do this “. With the Socrates we were all very good friends.   So we made this “ come back”   briefly and then we stop . it was more about us than to make a career .
For young jazz musician today, it is much easier to get instruction thanks to all those talented and devoted teacher such as Takis Paterelis, Yannis Stravropoulos, Nikos Sidirokastritis, George Kontrafouris, Yiotis Samaras, Pantelis Benetatos, Spyros Panagiotopoulos and many others . it’s   much more easy for them today than it was for people of my generation.

More about George Trantalidis   :

More about Fougaro Jazz Festival http://jazzonline.gr/en/jazznews/jazz-festival-in-greece/item/1805-1st-fougaro-jazz-festival.html

Interview by Patricia Graire - October 2013 -  

Last modified on Sunday, 24 August 2014 11:11