An espresso with… Alex Semprevivo

Image Credits: Alex Semprevivo © Alex Semprevivo

October 19, 2020

The interview with the Italian drummer.

Alex Semprevivo is a brilliant young Italian drummer who in 2019 released his first album as a leader, Art Of The Messengers, a tribute to Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, for GleAm. We interviewed him.

> Iug Mirti

How did your love for drums come about and how did you approach jazz?
It all started thanks to my brother who is also a drummer. At the beginning, due to acoustics and space, we couldn’t afford an instrument. I remember playing with two sticks recovered from a broomstick “stolen” from my mother and to practice I played on books placed on the bed. The emotion was still great as was the passion that grew strong in me. I remember well, when for the first time, I saw a live drum kit and I sat down to play it: my friend’s parents didn’t believe I didn’t have a real one at home. It became natural for me to put into practice what I had learned by listening to audio tapes and videos seen on TV.
The drum finally reached twelve. I still remember the emotion of my first encounter with something that could be called jazz. Listening to a tape from Count Basie’s orchestra I was struck by the impetuous thrust generated by the ensemble of those musicians. When I then concentrated on the drums, a world immediately opened up. I started looking everywhere for jazz CDs and tapes but the beginnings were dramatic and confusing. I did not know the history and evolution of this music and therefore I could not imagine some of the artists, each record was a discovery. Gradually then, by studying, I made order and everything became clearer.
Your record is a tribute to the Jazz Messengers: what are the elements you have kept and which ones have you changed following your personality?
I wanted to dedicate my first work to one of my greatest influences, Art Blakey, a drummer capable of uniting the greatest musicians in jazz history in the “Jazz Messengers”: Horace Silver, Clifford Brown, Hank Mobley, Kenny Dorham, Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Johnny Griffin, Bobby Timmons, Freddy Hubbard, Winton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis and many others. Therefore, dedicating a record to Jazz Messengers meant for me to pay homage to fifty years of jazz music. It was a difficult job but at the same time very stimulating, I tried to respect a great tradition (to which I am immensely attached) but at the same time trying to add something new, such as in Calling Miss Khadija arranged in five quarter time. And with the addition of the minimaog, or in Wee Dot, with a rhythm reminiscent of the classic second line typical of New Orleans. Structural changes on the sections of some songs and the remix of the song No Problem was entrusted to producer Jolly Mare.
How did you work on the arrangements?
The harmonic and rhythmic arrangements were made in close contact with my alter ego and pianist from the Angelo Mastronardi project. A job that we have focused on for many months.
How did you choose the musicians? What is the role of the leading drummer?
Well, first of all I try to choose the musicians on the basis of a mood and a sound that I want to give to the project / record. When I talk about musicians I also include the sound engineer who works in the studio, from the first takes to the final mastering. Then assist the rehearsal work and make sure the music works in the right way. At this point, you are no longer simply the drummer of the band but the “director” and you have a great responsibility.
Then, in my opinion, the approach to the instrument also changes a bit. If we analyze precisely Art Blakey or Buddy Rich from sidemen (I think of Hank Mobley’s album “Soul Station” with Blakey, or “The Art Tatum-Lionel Hamptom-Buddy Rich trio!) We immediately notice how the solo side emerges less, giving thus greater prominence to the ensemble.

Are you working on a sequel? Will it be a revised “tribute” again or will you dedicate yourself to an even more personal project?
Yes, my second album will not be a tribute, I’m working on some original songs. A very stimulating work that finally puts me on the line from the compositional point of view; I do not want to to give away anything else, you will hear it soon!
An espresso with… Alex Semprevivo copyright Jazzespresso 2020.
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