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21 Nov

Sami Amiris Interview

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The renowned pianist, Sami Amiris, share the stage of Onassis Cultural Center with the virtuoso trumpeter, Rex Richardson and three outstanding musicians at his side (Panagiotopoulos, Trivolis, Ladopoulos). Jazzonline had a little chat with him.

1- What were your musical influence and what lead you to jazz & which jazz musicians had or have a great influence on you, and why ?
I started off with Indian and arabic music from records of my father when I was pretty little, along with all the songs sung by little kids and songs my mom used to sing (she has a very good voice). Indian music used to scare me back then! Then one of my cousin gave me a cassette tape of Beethoven's symphonies, and I got hooked. Then my mom got me a piano, and I started learning classical music. As a teenager I started playing the electric guitar, and due to the piano and a good set of ears, I could transcribe pretty much anything I heard. I passed through a rock and a metal phase - which I still am into , once a metalhead, always a metalhead! - while never stopping adoring classical music or the arabic and indian stuff I heard as a kid. One thing led to another, and I was lead to neoclassical shred guitar, Yngwie Malmsteen, Vinnie Moore, Tony McAlpine, Paul, Gilbert, etc. and this led me to three different directions. One direction was the - then - new breed of players like Greg Howe - who still is a huge influence on how I play the blues -, Richie Kotzen etc. The other was a great appreciation of phenomenal players like Gary Moore, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and a huge appreciation of the blues, and with this came funk. The third direction was the "discovery" of Frank Gambale and Alan Holdsworth, two people that are some of my hugest influences. Yes, on the way I play the piano. Gambale led me to a huge Chick Corea phase, and Holdsworth led me to John Coltrane. Corea led me to two different directions: one was to explore fusion, and the other led me to yet another milestone in my musical life: Richie Beirach. He, along with Dave Liebman and Corea, led me to 20th century classical music, as well as a diverse group of people like Claire Fischer, Cecil Taylor or Gonzalo Rubalcaba - all of them harmonically complex. Of course, Coltrane sent me to bebop, Bird, Miles, Dizzy, Bud Powell, Rollins, Stitt, Johnny Griffin - my fave btw. From there I went to Red Garland and Oscar Peterson, and through them I discovered God (Art Tatum). Also I found out about Wynton Marsalis, who led me to two great pianists: Marcus Roberts and Kenny Kirkland. Roberts showed me that older jazz is as contemporary as anything out there, and Kenny Kirkland showed me how you can make compositions that border with 20th century music and still swing as hard as ever! And of course he was a phenomenal soloist. And of course he led me to one of my greatest musical influences: Branford Marsalis Quartet. At that time I also discovered the genius of Keith Jarrett, which totally hooked me. Then came Jason Moran, ViJjay Iyer, Brad Mehldau, and the contemporary scene. I am pretty sure I have left some people that would be very worthy of mention, but -  forgetfullness comes with age...
Apart from all that, I heard at a record store some incredible stuff which I though was 20th century classical, but in reality it was Maori. I couldn't believe it! So I started exploring the music of the world, more arabic, indian, all kinds of african, mongolian, japanese, chinese, persian, etc... And then another revelation: Evrypides stasimon, "Katolofeiromai", which totally got me into ancient Greek Music.
A few people that musically changed my life are, in no particular order:
-Dimitri Toufexis, one of the greatest classical pianists and conductors out there, who tought me how to play the piano and so much more that I cannot even mention here,
-Zach Pinakoulakis, the rhythmic genius, who got me started on the right foot on jazz and all kinds of complex rhythms and also gave me solid bases on how to deal with this music, not just musically, but conceptually and as a state of mind, -Mal Waldron, for being extremely influencial on my vision of jazz piano playing,
-Yukis Uotila, for shaking me up to really appreciate the aspect of changes playing in jazz. He brought me down to Earth at a time I thought I was the king of the world, and really got me thinking about what is truly important in this music. That changed everything for me.
 -Chico Freeman, for his invaluable pieces of advice, and -Ron McClure, for many hours of great jazz stories, and lots of advice.
And my current musical partners,
-Yannis Stavropoulos, one of the most ingenius all-around musicians, and a great friend, who let me be free to explore myself musically in the power jazz piano trio NUKeLEUS that we founded with Periklis Trivolis in May 2006, one of the most important chapters of my musical life,
-Periklis Trivolis, the great bass player of NUKeLEUS and of this gig, who, apart from being a great friend, he has also been a constant source of support, as well as a very willing test subject for all the crazy stuff that comes his way from yours truly, and of course
-Antonis Ladopoulos, a phenomenal musician and one of the greatest people anywhere. Together we have Phos, a very interactive sax-piano duo, one of the most important and demanding projects I have ever had the luck of participating in.
I have to mention 5 people that have to be mentioned. My mom, who helped and supported me through difficult times. My wife, that has endured many years of key bashing with all the love that a truly great person can. And my children, the lights of my life. They are what its all about.

2-You will share tha stage on December 7  at Onassis Cultural Centre with Rex Richardson. Could you tell us a few words about  this concert and your collaboration with Rex Richardson.
I have known Rex for many years, we had performed together with the Athens Big Band. He is such an incredible musician on all levels, and one of the very best human beings out there. And he is also among the most positive people one can find, anywhere. So, a collaboration with him was always a dream for me, and now, thanks to SGT and the great people there, it has become a reality! I am so eager for this project that I wrote some music just for this concert! Many of the pieces that will be heard will be premierred there!
My greek colleagues are all top-notch musicians. Antonis and Periklis, I spoke about before. Spyros Panayiotopoulos is the father of swing here in the Greek Jazz scene, he swings so beautifully. And, surprisingly to some people here who only know him as a more "mainstream" drummer, he can really be very aggressive and highly interactive drummer, but still not lose the sweetness to his playing. I think that the people who know him from before and hear him at THIS concert, will be surprised with the way he plays - they probably are not used to hearing him like this! -, the material that he has tackled and how masterfully he has done it all. A deep, soulful, simply great musician.
All in all, I am a very happy man with this concert!

3. You have released last year a cd Phos with Antonis Ladopoulos, which was describe as : “The “Phos” project is for both Antonis Ladopoulos and Sami Amiris is an intuitive process of creativity and exploration. It's improvising at its best.” Would you like to say some more about it.
Well, Phos is an ever-expanding vehicle for self-exploration for both Antonis and myself. We formed it becaused we really liked each other's playing, and felt a deep need to try and create something which we would try to make bigger than the sum of the parts. We decided early on that we would not let any compexity issue hold us back, and any stylistic prejudice to limit our possible sonic worlds. Phos is about creating original music without stylistic barriers. Also, taking any piece of music from any genre and making it our own. So, improvising for us is something that we not only see as a solo feature, but also as a collective effort.
Our ultimate goal is to always develop. We want to be deeper, wider and with higher standards every time. And more in sync with our bare souls when we express ourselves. One cannot afford to let the cry be silenced; that is the only reason why we play music.

4. What are your plans for the next months ?
The new Phos and NUKeLEUS albums will be recorded in the next few months. Symmetries I and II for Phos, Greek Jazz for NUKeLEUS. And a surprise album with a friend from the USA that I will elaborate upon when the time comes. I also have a very happilly surprising collaboration with drummer extraordinaire George Kollias from Nile, which will probably turn a few heads! Something truly different! Also, a collaboration with guitarist extraordinaire Michael Angelo Toumanidis is being planned. And I have a concert with a great sax player and friend of mine, Dimitris Kolias, with some modern classical stuff, as well as cross-over material.

Interview Patricia Graire - November 2013

More about Sami Amiris http://www.jazzonline.gr/en/musicians/item/91-amiris-sami.html

Last modified on Thursday, 21 November 2013 10:56