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Conversation With Yiorgos Fakanas

Meet Editor, Jake Kot –

I first heard about Yiorgos through Anthony Jackson’s manager, and after some investigation I quickly discovered that this particular individual had all the components of a world class musician. Sporting a very “unique” voice on his instrument (always a challenge) is just part of his musical makeup. His strength as a composer and arranger is an equal match to his undeniable virtuosity as a player. Quotes like these can easily obtain legitimacy by giving a close listen to his CD Domino which features Mike Stern, Dave Weckl, and one seriously talented bassist/composer. Further acknowledgement of this man’s depth as an artist is realized by Yiorgos being asked by bass legend Anthony Jackson to compose the music for his first solo CD under his own name, which Yiorgos himself will be the first to tell you what an honor it was taking on that responsibility. Acknowledgement like that from a peer of this stature speaks volumes. Displaying obviously sharpened compositional skills, a wonderfully melodic and seasoned voice on his instrument, and a keen eye on his future as an artist will most assuredly draw attention to this 21st century musician that embraces a passion for taking the music to another place, and beyond his personal musical prowess makes it a point to “keep” the music first and foremost on that journey.

Jake: Let’s first step back historically with you. Your work with the big band Eurojazz was a bit of a turning point in your evolution as a bassist. Tell me about what happened for you in that particular time period.

Yiorgos: Actually, this was in 1980. The European community decided to create a band for young jazz players in Europe, up to the age of 23. They asked me to represent Greece in this particular endeavor. I had to pass an audition, and it was a great honor to be involved with this project. It consisted of 30 musicians that were considered to be the best young musicians in Europe. I played with that band for three years touring all over Europe. It was actually the first time in my life that I had the opportunity to play with a big band, because at that time Greece had virtually no “big bands” to speak of. That was a beginning for me, not only for my bass playing, but for the development of my composing and arranging skills as well. I had the opportunity to see, and listen, and learn about the compositional skills needed for a band like this.

Jake: Did your career as a composer more or less start after this particular musical experience?

Yiorgos: Actually, I started composing at the age of fifteen. I always loved the sound of big orchestras, and in my first compositions I was trying to arrange for three horns, and I wasn’t really sure how to do that. So I was experimenting with different ideas at that point, and at that time there was really no jazz happening in Greece. So not only did I have to learn to play my instrument by myself, I had to learn about arranging, and jazz in general for that matter on my own.

Jake: The evolution of the solo bass artist has gone through many changes since the days of Jaco and Stanley. Tell me some of your aspirations, and what you’re hoping to achieve as a quote unquote solo bass artist in today’s music culture.

Yiorgos: There were many bassists who influenced me as I started considering putting out my own music. There was of course Jaco, and Anthony Jackson, who is actually sitting next to me as we speak, and is curious about what I’m going to say. (laughs) I was very influenced by both of these players, as they were two completely different personalities on their instrument—-two different sounds, two different mentalities. And I think if someone hears my playing today, they would hear the influence of both of these players within my style, and I see their influences definitely more or less shaping my future. I’m looking to be able to successfully fulfill the responsibilities that any bass player would have, and I also want to continue to compose my own music and become better compositionally as an artist because I believe that this is the way to excel in the future. I believe that a bassist has all the inherent elements needed to be a good composer and arranger because the bass is the foundation of everything that happens musically. The bass is the first thing in my mind, and many times that evolves into a composition, and that opens the door to be able to share my musical ideas with other musicians.

Jake: I’d like to talk about a recent quote of yours I read, that being, “I always go for those points where musicality supersedes exhibitionism”. As a composer, do you find it challenging to bring that philosophy to your compositional work as well?

Yiorgos: Absolutely, and I follow that same philosophy as a writer. I’m a teacher, and I have a lot of younger students. Most of them have been listening a lot to players that are focusing on the slap techniques and seem to feel they need to have these techniques available to them. Knowing these techniques can be useful, but I don’t feel it’s what they should be centering the focus of their studies around. As far as my quote goes, I choose to look more in depth at being a “total” bassist, for lack of a better word, understanding the importance of harmony, and phrasing, and interplay among fellow players. I believe when someone focuses purely on technique they’re missing the greater picture, and their playing becomes more exhibitionism than musicality, as I mentioned.

Don’t misunderstand me, those techniques can certainly be used in a musical way, but it shouldn’t be the center of attention from first note to last. And all these concepts apply to the compositional process as well. As a writer, I choose to use compositional techniques in the same manner that I would as a bassist, with a greater purpose in mind. I employ these methods whether I’m writing for a small ensemble, or a big band, or a string ensemble, or an orchestra, and I’m currently writing for all of these different musical situations. I try to write in a variety of, I guess I’ll say musical moods. I also do arrangements for other people’s material, and throughout all of this I try to keep that same philosophy we spoke of, and focus on being able to express musically what’s happening in the moment.

Jake: Your improvisational skills, which I enjoy by the way, are a strong part of your makeup. Rather than asking what you studied to get there, I’m going to ask what you are working on right now to yet to expand your improvisational voice.

Yiorgos: I remember when I started to improvise, I was trying to imitate what I was hearing. Gradually, I combined the knowledge I had gained from the past along with my present studies and started to conceptualize my own vocabulary. I think the secret to becoming a better improviser is to try to find your own vocabulary, and strive to be proud of all the notes that you are playing—-trust yourself, and your instincts. After a period of time you begin to see a maturity in your playing. And this is what I strive for now, to take the ideas and the phrasing I had from the past and work them into, an around the voice I have now. So I see the combination of past and present creating the future in a manner of speaking. It’s also about a combination of knowledge, and experience, and expression. On a practical level, I have books, and I’m always trying to listen to other artists solos, and as of late I’m trying to be able to sing my solos—not mimicking what I’m playing, but trying to sing the solo before I play it.

Jake: What other aspects are you working on as well within your practice routine?

Yiorgos: Some of my time is spent on transcriptions, which I try to do without my instrument. I could be in a coffee shop and I’ll hear some music that I find interesting, and I’ll try to either write it down or put it on my computer if I have it with me. This is a way I’ve found to yet further develop my skills, and my ear as well.

Jake: I know you’ve toured and recorded with guitarist Mike Stern. How has your musical relationship with him impacted you as a player?

Yiorgos: I’m glad to say that I have a great relationship with Mike. He is a fantastic guitar player and always shows great enthusiasm when putting together new music, especially when he is inspired by the music. The way he played on Domino, the last CD we put together was amazing, and he was kind enough to share with me how inspired he was about the music I wrote for him. We also did quite a few live concerts together, and that was even a better experience as far as playing with him is concerned. It’s an honor to be able to play with musicians that you have a great deal of admiration for. It seems to inspire me to work at a very high level when playing with musicians of that caliber. I also find that when you’re able to play with players on Mikes level that your self confidence, as well as your musicianship in general becomes better and better. It also bears mentioning that Mike is a very nice person, and that makes a difference as well.

Jake: Speaking of a particular players influence, I know you’ve developed a close relationship with Anthony Jackson, who ironically is sitting in the same room with you as we speak. So if you’re not too uncomfortable with speaking of him as he sits a few feet away from you, I’d like to hear how he, and the relationship you’ve developed has impacted you.

Yiorgos: I met Anthony for the first time when he came here and played with Mike Stern and Dennis Chambers. I knew of his playing through the many recordings that I had heard him on. But the first time I heard him live, I was really surprised, and moved, even though I felt I knew his playing. He had heard me on an earlier recording I had released and asked me if I had written any of the music on that particular CD, or just played bass on it. I told him I had done all the writing and arranging, and he told me how great that was because bass players were almost always fulfilling the sideman role at that point in time, and usually weren’t involved in the compositional and production end of most products. I thanked him for that, and told him what a great experience it was to hear him “live” as opposed to listening to him on a recording, as there’s always a difference involved.

After a short period of time we became very good friends and we started sharing ideas not only about bass playing, but about life in general, and music. I was then very honored with a proposal he offered me to compose some music specifically for him—-you can imagine what that made me feel like. I started writing for him immediately, which actually went very quickly, and I ended up writing about eight tunes within a three-week period.

So we started recording this project, and hearing him play on this recording was a big lesson for me. Not only because of his playing, but because of his sound, and his incredible ability as far as comping goes. When I heard Anthony’s comping on Wayne Shorters tune Footprints, which is one of the tunes that will be featured on his CD, it was one of the biggest musical lessons I’ve had so far in this lifetime. This is when I realized how much he had influenced my playing. So as I continue working on this project with Anthony, I realize what a blessing it is. I really want to say that I have great appreciation for Anthony trusting me to be responsible for the tunes, and for letting me play along with him on this particular CD as well. This is actually going to be his first personal CD after a long history of being a sideman for so many great musicians. I feel this will show a side of him that we haven’t been able to see in his typical sideman role. I truly don’t know what else to say beyond the fact that he’s an incredible musician, and person. The title of this CD will be Interspirit, as we are both looking forward to sharing our musical spirits.

Visit online at www.myspace.com/fakanas

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