I met Francesca in her colorful and welcoming home few days after her return from New Orleans. Enthusiastic and at the same time moved, she tells me about a wonderful place where she discovered surprises every day. Through her emotions, her memories, Francesca recalls life stories, smells, tastes, colors, music that she will never forget.
New Orleans, why did you choose it as your destination?
It’s the city where the jazz music was born, the kind of music that I play. I visited it for the first time in 2016 with Paolo, with whom I created the band Lovesick Duo in 2015. We discovered that Alberto Visentin, another musician and our friend, was leaving the day before us for for the same destination! So we met all together there. New Orleans for me and Paolo is an important city not only musically but also socially. Infant it’s also populated historically by a thousand different ethnic groups: French, American, African, Italian. In fact the Creoles were formed there, a mixed population that created all the music still widespread there. It was a beautiful adventure, a dive into the past that gave us a great inspiration to our work. I returned in October last year and I felt the same emotions and feelings, like a return home.
What kind of atmosphere was there among the musicians?
There is an atmosphere of solidarity and zero prejudice. You can walk in the heart of the city, greet everyone and if you want you can play a piece with others musician. There is a continuous possibility of exchange. We had the opportunity to play in the street and feel a lot of welcome and unity. Also both the first time and the last we organized dinners with other musicians and played pieces during their concerts. In New Orleans if you are an artist you have to put the ego aside. People come to this city because they want to share music, transmit and learn. There is a lot of simplicity in doing things. When you have little, you bring out incredible creativity. The less you have, the more you can give.
Have you met historical jazz musicians?
In 2016 we met Robert Snow, a bassist and double bass player and his father Sidney Snow, historical musician of the New Orleans scene who even played with Elvis when he passed by the city before becoming famous. Sidney has Indian and Italian origins, in fact he occasionally spoke in Sicilian dialect! He told us that he played the bass, the guitar and could sing. Now Sidney, in addition to performing every weekend at the local “Gazebo” in downtown New Orleans, is a luthier. He recovered parts of instruments that he then assembled: double bass, a violin, guitar parts from the 60s. I also met and played with Andy J. Forest, a historic musician of the blues scene. On the last trip I had the lucky to live for a month with a 69-year-old musician, Vic Shepherd, and with him I played in three historic places in New Orleans including the most exciting, Queen Creole Boat, a boat where you dine while touring the Mississippi. I played historical pieces there, all from the tradition. It was truly a great thrill. I lived with Vic in the oldest part of New Orleans, Algeries, and to go downtown every day I took the ferry. Feeling this strong connection with the river where all the tradition of jazz music started was like being part of the history of jazz and blues music.
What does this tradition look like today?
They continue to preserve and give great value to this kind of music. In the evening on Frenchment Street you can hear a band of very young African-American boys often from the Tremè neighborhood. Three trombones, three saxes, sousaphone and snare; when this band arrives everyone stops playing, everything gets stuck and they dance together. And while they play, someone cooks with a barbecue. Each week then there is the famous Second Line a parade that looks like a carnival, with floats, music and people dancing and singing on the street.
What others peculiarities are there in the French quarter?
There is a small market every night with girls who make jewelry with crocodile bones, skeletons of goats, skin. There is a hippy punk style and there are many artists, even designers. In music ambient there is meritocracy. There is a sort of collaboration between the bands as well as between the various musicians. Above all there are so many heartfelt bonds, true, not just to play together. They are a really big family. The woman not only sing but she also plays and there is so much work that as soon as they understand that you can stay in the group they call you, weekly.
And from a cultural point of view, how does the woman live?
In the French Quarter of New Orleans, time seems to have stopped. Women are mainly maids or pub owners. There is a lot of crime so those who run a restaurant must always be alert. Women are tough, they don’t let anything pass under their noses. Everything happens in the city center. In a week can happens 37 murders. Basically there is poverty and you can see that in the way that they dress. Down Town instead is more modern.
Is there a story that particularly impressed you?
Yes, the story of a musician, a gospel singer, who hosted us in 2016 for few days. She has 5 children who very often follow the online school program because there is so much bullying in the schools and she prefers not to send them. I wondered “does it protect them from what?”. In the real world then they will have to go. They only attend the music school with afro children like them. As a singer she has absurd hours, works at night and sleeps during the day. Children like this cannot be educated as regularly in our schools. For me it was very difficult to live in this family context. Sometimes it seemed to me to be in a wild, primitive dimension, with screams and food around without any rules. Other times it seemed to me that all this was perfectly organized, as if it were normal for them.
What are their typical dishes?
They have a very bitter and spicy coffee. They often eat boiled shrimps with corn on the cob with spices on them. It’s like putting the peppers here. In everything, even in food, there is this ancient tradition that comes from the intersection of various cultures. Like the Jambalaya, a Creole dish from Louisiana of Provençal origin with African, Spanish and Amerindian influences traditionally made with meat and vegetables and completed with the addition of broth and rice.
What has left you most of this journey?
In New Orleans there is never silence and people always smile. In Italy people tend to be closed despite having everything. There, however, there are so many things that do not go but there is always a momentum of life. New Orleans is a reality in itself, magical. Everyone greets you, smiles at you, asks you how you are. Everyone in his daily life can draw inspiration from this by trying to be more sunny, more open to others. Ten days earlier I had been to Japan where we prefer to stay away. In New Orleans, instead, people scream and get stuck, physical contact is normal, the embrace is normal. I visited two places at the antipodes. With all their contradictions, they both fascinated me.
In these years has there ever been a figure that guided you in your evolution as an artist?
The mentor to whom I entrusted myself to study in these years is Daisaku Ikeda, President of the Soka Gakkai International, the Buddhist organization of which I am a member. Through his encouragement he always helped me in moments of despair when I thought I couldn’t do it, I always felt it next to me, ready to support me. On a musical level there were figures that inspired me. Recently Joe Sanders is a double bass player in jazz music, while for rock’n roll and country bassist Jimmy Sutton.
What book are you reading right now?
Stories of life, Jazz and Buddhism. It is a dialogue between Daisaku Ikeda, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. They talk about their desire to convey the creative spirit and how important the artist’s inner growth is. There is a phrase from Daisaku Ikeda that I liked very much: “As far as personality differences are concerned, Toda often said:” Even the best person has flaws, just as the most difficult person has strengths. If we help everyone to strengthen their strengths, everyone can become protagonists of our movement “. In musical terms we could say that a moving performance is possible when every musician not only perfects his own sound but helps other musicians to do the same “. (Life stories, Jazz and Buddhism, Esperia Edizioni, page 80)