Culture in Spain is developing faster than other countries.

Jill Arcaro Gordon
lunes, 11 de junio de 2001
0,0005552 They call him the 'human orchestra' because he plays the cello, the saxophone, the guitar, the keyboards, the clarinet and the flute. William Gibbs has been Artistic Director of the television program Lo más plus on Canal Plus in Spain since 1997 and news broadcaster for the Sunday morning news program, Sin Fronteras on Telemadrid for the past year and a half. The wave of success and subsequent media buzz has not compromised his pleasant personality, good humour and simplicity. We spoke to him about the many facets of his talent and the world of music and television in Spain.Question Can you tell us a little bit about your upbringing and how it led up to your professional career path?Answer. My mother was an orchestral violinist and my grandmother was a composer. So, at the age of six they encouraged me to take up a string instrument and I began with the cello and the typical classical music education, Mozart, string quartets, what have you. We lived in Somerset, the West Country in England and when I was 4 we moved to Portugal for a year and then we went to live in the lovely rural part of southern England called Bristol. We ended up in London when I was about 7. I preferred to play football when I was young and didn't take up music, classical and jazz guitar, really seriously until I was about 17. I read music and fine arts at Sussex University which is in the great seaside town of Brighton. There I switched from classical guitar, which was too much of a taskmaster, to the saxophone.Q. How did you end up in Spain?A. Well, when I was at university I met some Spanish people in Brighton that were doing a language course, as Spanish people often do, and their descriptions of Madrid sounded incredibly romantic to me, long hot summer nights, crazy and creative people. My family is full of creative people, musicians and painters. There was a girl that I liked which was also an incentive, so I decided to find out for myself about Spain. I came here in 1986 for my summer holidays in August for a month. Within a year I had returned to stay for what I planned to be another year, but it has been 13 years now and it has gone very well. I started off teaching in the British Council School where I stayed 9 years, running the choir and orchestra with Rafael Villanueva. As soon as I arrived in Madrid, I started playing the saxophone professionally. In 1997, when I felt I needed a break from teaching and had planned to return to England, the work on television appeared precisely on the day I left the British Council School. There was a message on my answering phone saying that they were doing some auditions and that I should give the chap a ring. I don't really believe in destiny but one can make oneself available. It was a fluke, a major chance. One can spend years in the music world sort of banging your head against the brick wall. It's tough. Now, it's been about 20 years since I began working in music.Q. Who was the person who has had the most influence in your musical life?A. Well, my mother, obviously, she was the musician in the family. I wouldn't say there was just one teacher but many. When I was young I had one of the top cello teachers and performers in England, Jennifer Ward Clarke. I studied with her until I was 13. She was a young and trendy musician role model, active in the contemporary music scene. I also had two really good guitar teachers. When I took up the sax, I was at university and didn't have much time so I am pretty much self-taught.Although I can appreciate strident or discordant music, as a musician I really enjoy beautiful music especially when I am alone. It could be a Mozart clarinet concerto or David Sanborn. I wouldn't say it has to be any particular style but I do appreciate music you can chill out to, lyrical music. If I had to choose some records to take to a desert island I suppose I would take a Mozart quintet, Miles Davis blues and some jazz.Q. There is a quote by Yeats that says; "Education is not filling a bucket but lighting a fire." In your opinion what are the characteristics of a good teacher? What place does teaching have in your own career, practical or visceral? Do you see a music teacher as a dictator or a mentor? Can they be a little of both? To what extent?A. For now, I have left the educational part of my career in the background after having taught 9 years in Spain and 4 in England. However, I don't discard the idea of returning someday at a higher level. When I did teach, I tried to create a desire or the motivation to play and practice in the student because one cannot be there forever "filling the bucket". It's a tall order at times because young people have a lot of other stimuli. Also, it is the long route around since the easiest way is just to force the pupil to practice several hours a day and within 5 years they will be playing very well. As a teacher, with a modern approach one hopes not to use much force but there is the element of balance between the carrot and the stick. In an ideal world the student would play for love, not because of pressure. I think the balance in the real world though would be about 40% obligation to 60% motivation.Q. Where does your motivation and discipline to play come from?A. I have never really stopped playing. Motivation is part of personality. In the States they call it Type A and Type B, A being ambitious, high energy and driven while B is laid back and relaxed. I would not portray myself as entirely one or the other but in order to achieve something in an artistic field one does have to be motivated to want to do it. One might say that my motivation comes from the need to create or to communicate. Sometimes music is a better mode than words.Discipline comes naturally to me and without being rigid; I am a quite disciplined person especially with my work. I don't procrastinate much because I feel a responsibility and I am fairly organized.Q. Can you define "Jazz Español"? Where does Spanish jazz stand in the world of jazz music? Is it any different from American Jazz or that in other European countries?A. Jazz in Spain is racing along. In general, culture in Spain is probably developing faster than other countries. There is a lot of time to make up for. The new generation of young jazz musicians like Perico Sanbeat plays all kinds of styles. He is a great saxophonist and one of the many musicians from the East Coast. In Alicante, Levante and Valencia there is a tradition of "blowers" which comes from the village brass bands. Every village has one for the Fallas when they compete for who can play the longest, the loudest, etc.There is also a harmonica player called Antonio Serrano who plays non-standard jazz. It's not bebop jazz. He has recorded with the Belgian National orchestra and for an Almodovar soundtrack. These musicians understand the jazz language but not in a limited way. Still they draw more from European culture than they do from America. I don't like to call what they play World Music because that sounds too ethnic to me but I do hear a certain Spanish melodic flavor that comes from arabesque, flamenco style. You could hear Antonio Serrano play a jota on his harmonica in a blues club improvising and I suppose you could call it World Music, though it is part of his own personal musical language. What they call World Music in America is a difficult category to define. Obviously, all music is from the world so what it is really, is a mixture of styles. You can say its flavor is a bit of folk, a bit of something else, but identifiable with a part of a country like Andalucia or Galicia. As jazz is such an international style, I would say that it is harder to pin it down as World Music than folk music is. It is easier to define as World Music some of the regional sounds found in folk music than in jazz.Q. Have any living Spanish jazz artists made special contributions to Jazz as a whole? Are there any that are internationally known?A. Contributions on a world level are in flamenco jazz, Paco de Lucia, Carlos Benavent on bass, Jorge Pardo, the saxophonist, Chano Domínguez on the piano. He mixes Southern Spanish musical styles with jazz. You could call it Spanish jazz fusion. Carlos Benavent plays bass and Jorge Pardo the saxophone and the flute.Q. The members of your jazz group Metrópolis are from all different parts of the world, which I am sure enriches your music. Could you consider yourself within the World Music movement in Spain? How would you define your own music: World, Spanish, Spanish-jazz, jazz, all, none, or some of the above?A. I think probably in the case of Metrópolis the main influence would be Latin, a big South American influence because you've got Fran Rubio who is Spanish from Bilbao but sometimes we play with another piano player who is South American and the drummer, José San Martín who is from Uruguay also plays with a Latin feel.Q. Which recording companies are producing the best jazz and World Music?A. There are so many. I might mention one like GRP, an American West Coast record company who started out with jazz and has broadened into World Music, though not ethnic. Dave Grusin is an American film composer and jazz musician who founded this label now for European and American talents. Record companies spring up and disappear like weeds.Q. How do you define yourself musically?A. I respect simplicity, brevity and directness in music so although I've spent years studying jazz and playing with jazz musicians, I am only to a certain extent a jazz musician. I also love playing the blues and funk and soul. The blues is a much more essential, simple and direct way of communicating emotions. I like funk for its physical, dance, and rhythmic way of expressing feeling. So, I wouldn't want to limit myself to just one, either jazz, blues, funk or soul. Really the four together are the cornerstones of African-American music and the American jazz scene now is very open. If you go to an American jazz club now, they won't just be playing Autumn Leaves but a raggae number, maybe a tango. They are diverse and playing within a complex range of scales and harmonies. It's not rock and it's not pop, but it's not jazz either in the mainstream sense. Dave Brubeck, composer of Take Five or George Gershwin, who had his 100th anniversary in 1998, were great exponents of classical jazz but in general the two (classical music and jazz) are uneasy bedfellows.Q. Can you draw any parallels between your work as a journalist and your work as a musician?A. I am not a formally trained journalist or news reporter. I read music and fine arts at the university so there was a certain amount of literature and philosophy. The world of communication, the world of words, is not alien to me and after working on the television for three years, the message that you have to project is something that you learn. Many of my friends in England are professional journalists and I try to keep in contact with the British approach to journalism, which is very different from Spain. It is much lighter and not identified so closely with writing in a literary writing. For me writing for the news and writing novels are different callings. To convey daily information in the most digestible way, with all the diversity that the Spanish culture is now offering, is what our work at Telemadrid is about. The influences from Africa, the orient, South America and the Arab world are filtering through like they have in Paris and London and New York. That is why the purity of tradition in music like jazz is not common. A jazz club in New York might have a guy from Honolulu, one from Barbados, another from Antilles all playing their bits. The result is much richer than standards and it is an entirely different thing. This is beginning to happen in Spain. It is much more international, multi-cultural, eclectic music. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next ten years because the last 10 years have been very impressive.Q. How did the opportunity to work on television arise?A. I've got a friend, Carolina Cubillo, who works in Telemadrid and she told me they were auditioning for a bilingual new program and that they wanted someone who speaks good Spanish, that can write, that had good communication skills and that doesn't look like the back end of a bus. I decided to audition although I couldn't really see myself in that role at the time. I wasn't actually nervous because the audition was Spanish style. The audition was having a beer. The Spanish are very suspicious about auditions and trails in general. Their approach is more getting to know the person and afterwards on the professional side they say, "Oh, by the way can you bring me a resume?" After they have already given you the job. So, I went around to have a beer and I told them what I had done, theater in England and all that. They did a screen test but basically they looked for someone who could fit in with the team. You can have a great resume but if you are going to be a pain no one wants you. The four of us have a good rapport and it shows that it was a good choice of people. Perhaps, we get along even better than they can imagine because we go out together. The atmosphere of the program and the way we chat, you might want to call it frivolity, comes from having 4 young people present the news. I think that within 3 months what seems to our audience as natural now will be even better because in a way we are still learning the ropes. To be able to portray and capture the spontaneity on screen is a technique. Susana Pfingsten who is the producer of the program, and the director help us a lot.Q. What have you learned from your work on television?A. I think that having a light, pleasant manner, if it's not put on because that is something that shows through, is important. Sometimes inside you might be feeling something completely different. One might be feeling grim but it's good to get into the habit of being light, airy and cheerful. Television is communication. It is light entertainment and what works best is gaiety. It's not heavy, deep-thinking, dark thoughts. That's something else and you can save it for film or another medium. Television is happiness with a light touch, playing with Celia Cruz and Phil Collins, for example. That was good fun and we enjoyed ourselves. You need enthusiasm the minute you walk into the building. Even the security people emanate it. It is a way of dealing with the tremendous stress there. Yesterday, for instance I was in Alicante in the car and I plugged in my cell phone which I hadn't had connected for a couple of days. They phoned from Tele Madrid and asked where I was. We were supposed to record in two days but they asked if I could come right then. So, I did the translations over the phone with them and drove straight to Madrid, 4 hours. I changed, made up, recorded the program in an hour and got back in the car and drove back to our concert in the Jazz Festival in Puertollano, Ciudad Real.Q. As the leader of a jazz ensemble and two bands do you have any recording plans?A. With Lo más Plus we normally play colored versions but with Metrópolis and Funk Station we play many original tunes. Funk Station is about 50% original with my songs and lyrics. We definitely have plans to record with both Funk Station and Metrópolis when we find the time. Between Telenoticias Sin Fronteras and "Lo más Plus" getting 5 or 6 musicians in a room at the same time is a very difficult task. Musicians always have a load of things going on each day. But yes, I do plan to record my own music soon and it is all ready to go, composed and arranged. It just needs to be cut. My new career on the television is opening new doors for the bands. It's helping to promote the bands and opening a lot of unforeseen doors as well.
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