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Arti & Mestieri

With: Amy, Furio & Gigi



Richard Hawey - March 2018

First of all I would like to thank Arti & Mestieri for agreeing to participate in this interview. Also I would like to acknowledge the generous contribution of Amy Ida of Sfera Entertainment.

Arti & Mestieri - Thank you for asking.

Amy Ida/SFERA entertainment: Thanks indeed. For this wonderful interview opportunity, the two principal historical members of Arti & Mestieri, Furio Chirico as the artistic director and Gigi Venegoni as the musical producer of the band, would like to answer the questions.

Profilprog (PP) – It's now 44 years since the band was created in 1974 and you're still active. What do you think is the reason for your longevity?

Furio Chirico (FC) - Although we went through many changes all those long years especially for the band’s composition, Arti & Mestieri have never forgotten being a band of prog and jazz rock, and never became commercialized or subverted. Maybe the band did not release many albums, but when the band did, it was always really nice ones, with a selection of very inspired songs. I mean we are very satisfied both at the emotional and artistic level. This is the reason for our longevity and strength.

Gigi Venegoni (GV) - Every musician in Arti & Mestieri has made also his own musical career for 44 years, and, from time to time, everyone returned to the band to record and perform live. This “open environment” has guaranteed a fresh approach from all the musicians involved. You can find a huge individual discography for all members of Arti & Mestieri. For example, I have recorded 9 CDs with my band “Venegoni & Co.” and performed in more than 250 concerts.

PP – The years 2000 have made you travel a lot; you have participated in several renowned progressive festivals. Back in 2015 you released "Universi Paralleli" which received a very positive welcome. Can you talk about this album briefly? Is the positive reception by the crowd at the shows in the festivals the reason that prompted you to put out “Universi Paralleli"?

FC - Playing the live is extremely important for Arti & Mestieri and is the best way to express and appreciate the band (this is natural for any good jazz rock band). “Universi Paralleli” is an album born under a lucky star, not only for celebrating our long music activities but also the return of one of the founders and original members of the band: the guitarist and composer, Gigi (Luigi) Venegoni, and the arrival of new composer and pianist as well as accordionist, Piero Mortara. When the production manager Amy Ida suggested this album project and restarting again by releasing the album and playing live in Japan we were all enthusiastic about opening a new chapter of the band, and additionally, I would say that the music critics spoke very highly of this new album [Universi Paralleli].

GV - The interest in the band, especially in Japan, has been high for the last forty years so we all wanted to compose and record a new album that could be up to expectations! Every fan of Arti & Mestieri evaluate “Tilt” as our best album, so we wanted to give a fine collection of music to compete with our renowned first recording. I think that all the hard work put into the making of “Universi Paralleli” has helped to raise interest in the band.

PP – So it is correct to say that you have developed a special link with Japan? How is Japan special for you?

GV - I suppose Japan is something special for every musician who has the luck to perform in this magic country. The respect, the care for musicians, the religious silence during performances and the enthusiastic appreciation from Japanese audience is a blessing for any musician involved. Arti & Mestieri has a loyal niche of hard fans that allow us to go and play in Tokyo, as long as we have fresh new projects to present.

FC - Arti & Mestieri were invited three times so far to perform in Japan, the first time in 2005, then in 2011, and the most recently in 2015. And the band is enthusiastic about this country. The audience has a great respect for the Artists with a great sensibility and originality which facilitate communication with that audience, and their appreciation honour us very much.

PP – Now let's talk about the Deluxe Box "Live in Japan, the Best of Italian Rock" recorded on July 5, 2015 in Tokyo and released at the end of 2017. This box set released on the King Records label contains two CDs (BLU-SPEC) and one DVD. This historical document gives us three hours of music. Can you briefly describe how this evening happened and how you felt?

FC - I must say, it rarely happened in my entire concert life that although an only one-night concert that went along for so many long hours, all turned out smooth as bathing in oil: no technical problem, musicians in great shape, an audience who listened carefully and kept their eyes on our performance. It was simply wonderful, we could never celebrate our 40th anniversary of music better. So, when we re-listened to our live original material in our mixing room, we immediately understood that the live performance came out as extraordinary and gave us an exceptional result, thanks to all concert technical staff who supported us.

GV - Having finished to record and mix “Universi Paralleli” in April 2015, we were ready to perform new and classic material from the last 40 years, so we were looking for gigs and promotion. The management and the promoter of “Teatro Città” in Kawasaki asked us to celebrate “40 years of Arti & Mestieri Story” with a true special event. So we reunited four of the original elements from 1974 lineup, Chirico, Crovella, Venegoni and Vitale, to perform an almost complete rendition of out two classic LPs “Tilt” and “Giro Di Valzer”. Also, King Records asked for a complete performance of “Universi Paralleli”, that was released in Japan three weeks before the concert. So, we prepared a massive three and a half hours performance to fulfill the management and audience expectations. It was a huge success! We could not believe that almost eight hundred people would have paid such an expensive ticket to attend our concert.

PP – The band line-up is impressive, but what surprises me most is to find on stage four of the original members of Arti e Mestieri. Was it easy to get back together for this occasion?

GV - Not quite easy, but a joy however! Everyone of us has moved in different directions. Chirico is always the driving force behind the drums, Crovella is busy with prog creations and recordings, I keep on working with my acoustic fusion band “Venegoni & Co.” and Vitale is definitely a respected jazz musician. We had to rehearse a lot to refresh our earliest compositions, but obviously everyone of us took a new and original approach to our “classics”. Again, I must say that coming back to music you have not played for years was a compelling and brilliant challenge for all of us.

FC - Yeah, it was not easy at all, I mean not musically but for organizational reasons. Playing four original members back together was a great pleasure for all of us. You can witness it by watching the track called “Tilt” (1974), re-performed live by Chirico, Venegoni, Vitale and Crovella, on the bonus video on DVD.

PP – The list of tracks is also very impressive: on both CDs you play the albums "Tilt", “Giro di Valzer Per Domani” in full, plus two tracks of "Murales", not to mention the reprise of King Crimson's "Starless". Plus the whole of" Universi Paralleli "on DVD. How did you prepare the set list?

GV - It was, for artistic reasons, an imposed song list. The Management asked for “Tilt” and “Giro”. Record Company asked for “Universi Paralleli”. We also wanted to show that there has been a lot of good music between 1974 and 2015. So, we chose some songs from “Murales” and, obviously, we decided to make a heartfelt homage to our beloved King Crimson and to Mr. Mel Collins, who was so kind to join the band for this exceptional concert.

FC – To be correct, the request of this list of tracks has arrived from Amy Ida, a fine idea of the production manager and in the case of this live production she is also the artistic director of a series of event concerts held at the live theater “ClubCitta” in Japan. Her idea was to create the setlist with the repertoire presenting our three historical masterpieces in realizing the same original arrangements of early seventies, as well as an exact live realization of the last studio recording album “Universi Paralleli", with a view to recording. Interpreting “Starless” (the historic song in the King Crimson that come closest to the personality of our band) was a homage to the great saxophonist of Crimson: Mel Collins. We thank Mel very much for his artistic participation to the CD “Universi Paralleli” and the boxset “Live In Japan – THE BEST OF ITALIAN ROCK”.

PP – If we go back in time, back at the beginning of the 70’s, according to my research Italy had little or no rock tradition, young people were more attracted to classical music. What motivated the creation of Arti e Mestieri at that time?

FC – I guess it would be rather complicated for anyone who live so far from Italy to understand what exactly young Italians (including us) we’re listening to at that time in Italy. As you know, Italy is always recognizing in the world as a country of good songs, Opera and Napoli-style popular music. But the real Italian music scene was always being careful and keen about music arriving from USA, Canada, United Kingdom, as well as listening to jazz, rock, folk. Actually there were and still are many Italian artists starting from the twenties that had a good try at this musical style, and put it to the test which lead to the progressive rock in seventies, were and still are now a great bands.

GV - It was strange enough: Italy was the first country in the world to send to the top of the charts groups like Genesis, Van Der Graaf, Gentle Giant etc.! All this new prog material plus the immense inspiration coming from Davis/Fusion/Jazz Rock, were the main reasons to push us to form the band and to submit original songs to some recording companies. Chirico was leaving a renowned prog band The Trip and was looking for a new partnership. He came to listen to our previous group, Il Sogno Di Archimede, performing in a jazz canteen and decided to form the band. We called ourself “Arti”, then our recording producer, Mr. Gianni Sassi, decided to add “& Mestieri”, to quote the Paris Metro station “Arts & Métiers” .

FC - I would add that after the big success of The Trip, I felt a strong need to open to a new musical direction, then I had encountered with Il Sogno Di Archimede. I immediately found that the new group had the stuff that I had been searching for, a great prog sound but also jazz rock, complete originality, which we together perfected and became the musical form of Arti & Mestieri. In the seventies in Italy, there was an avant-garde record label called Cramps Records, managed by Gianni Sassi a creative force for the graphic arts and great intellectuals. Through his label Cramps, Gianni published the contemporary classical music and experimental music of some artists like John Cage, and for prog | jazz rock, Area of Demetrio Stratos, and Arti & Mestieri. The circumstances of the true origin of the name “Arti & Mestieri” was as follows: our manager back then suggested to Gianni to listen to some of our demo materials, I and Gianni were acquaintances and Gianni became very interested in our sound. At the time we used to call ourselves “Arti”, after the suggestion of Lello Palma, our original sound engineer and the graphic artist, who saw similarities in our band formation and the Vitruvian Man of Leonardo Da Vinci, but Gianni who was very attuned to social problems and the European culture, decided to name the band “Arti & Mestieri”, taking the ideas from the European medieval corporations “Arti & Mestieri”, (means ‘Arts & Artisans’ in English) to which Paris has dedicated also a metro station.

PP - Were you influenced by the music of countries like England that offered something different and unique? If so, what were your favorite bands or artists at that time, no matter the country?

FC - Everything is born from rock ‘n’ roll and the Beatles who distorted the initial ideas and then evolved it. There is clearly another artist who completed the rock experimentation: Frank Zappa. Naturally, during all those times, there were many ways and new spaces to explore, and each of us contributed.

GV - As I wrote before, we were in love with some prog English bands. Mainly we liked King Crimson, Yes and Gentle Giant. But for me and others in the band American fusion groups like Mahavishnu, Weather Report, Return to Forever, were also an obvious inspiration. Then there were our mediterranean roots, some knowledge about classical music and Italian Opera and the driving forces expressed by southern Italy folk music like “Tarantella”, “Pizzica” and “Valzer”.

PP – Your music is very influenced by Jazz; do you have any Jazz idols that have brought you towards this musical style?

FC - The jazz has an“Italian” peculiarity, some of the first American ‘white’ jazzmen were Napolitan (from Naples). I say this because jazz is a kind of music that where individualities and improvisations are fundamental, all characteristics that Italians have by nature. Unfortunately, very often they do have a difficulty to share it with other musicians, and often a lack of experience and opportunity (Italy being a small country). Every great jazz composers have influenced the music world. Definitely when Miles Davis at the end of sixties invented the jazz-rock it inspired us a lot.

GV - I have passed 45 years to listen to every important jazz musician. Personally, as a guitarist, I have adored Wes Montgomery, McLaughlin, Metheny, Ralph Towner, but I was also strongly touched by geniuses like Davis, Zawinul, Shorter, Hancock, Zappa. To be honest, one of my main inspiration came from Saskatchewan born Joni Mitchell, one of my favorite singers and composers of all times. I was astonished when “Mingus” came out in 1979, bringing back together Joni with some of the best jazz musician available including Mingus wonderful music, too.

PP – In 1974 "Tilt" is published, followed the following year by "Giro Di Valzer Per Domani". Today these albums are considered classics. However, I would like to know how was the reception at the time of release of these albums? What were your feelings during this period?

FC - The years, from 1962 to 1977, have been years with full of novelties that I dare compare it to the period of the Italian Renaissance, especially in Italy people’s “will” to make change was so strong, that the commercial aspect was relegated behind. The most important thing was to present the art and especially the music in any way and in places where there were large number of people, their energy helped composition and many bands in that period were very inspired, Our two albums [Tilt] and [Giro Di Valzer Per Domani] were a product of this.

GV - Our first concert, in June 1974, was at “Parco Lambro Festival” in front of an audience of 47,000. We were scared to death but, strangely enough, people liked us a lot. Then we were on tour as openers for PFM, the most popular prog band in Italy. Again, people liked our performances, even if we were a new band. So, we became quite popular in the two years between ’74 and ’76. Tilt and “Giro di Valzer” gained a lot of interest in Italy, France and Japan.

PP– After the album "Children's Blue" in 1985, there was a silence until 2000 where "Murales" came out. There was the live album "Arti & Mestieri Live" in 1990 but, besides that, what happened during this break?

FC: Throughout those changes and various points in the band’s history, I have always tried to keep the band together and make sure Arti & Mestieri never stopped playing. The eighties was a more jazz period for Arti & Mestieri and the nineties there was a first release in a more “prog” formation, thanks to the new wave of progressive happening, and so we re-started to find more concerts and, strangely and gradually we began to play at different Festivals around the world, which brought us up until today.

GV : I was working very hard as composer, producer, arranger for film scores, advertising and tv and radio broadcastings. I was segregated in my own recording studio for 12 hours a day. There was not much time left for artistic developments. I suppose the same was also true for other members of Arti & Mestieri.

PP – What do you consider to be essential to your style of music?

FC - The peculiarity of Arti & Mestieri has always been having composers who can get the band involved musically but leaving lots of interpretative spaces for participating musicians. Another hallmark of the band is to have a great energy of rhythm, that the live performance enhance it more prominently, a very harmonic structure and melodies that often reflect the Mediterranean and Balkan cultures, normally with musicians who arrive from different musical style and formation.

GV - What I insist to call “Mediterranean Flavour”. A strange brew of catchy melodies, strong rhythmic drive, unusual beats (3/4, 5/4, 7/4), peculiar sound (guitar, violin and soprano sax in unison) and sophisticated layers of chords and harmony.

PP- Italy has one of the most beautiful and original progressive rock scenes in the world. Why do you think Italy produces so many high-class artists?

GV - We Italians have our own style. Not better or worse, but an original one. I give tou an example: we were asked to compose songs in English. Japanese record companies refused to accept English versions of our songs because they loved the Italian texts, even if they could not understand the meaning. We always try to remain faithful to our Italian roots because we think that this is one of our main strengths.

FC - There is no doubt that it was the heritage of jazz and rock by Americans and Englishmen, but the main difference of the sound of prog and jazz rock from those typical Angro-Saxon bands is that Italian bands are very attentive to the good balance between the complex rhythms, seeking harmonies, above all, evocative melodies which is also special character of the Mediterranean sound itself, that makes it different from others and are essential to Arti & Mestieri in my opinion. These originalities attract also many specialized world press interest. For another Italian example we can mentioned Area and Demetrio Stratos.

PP – With all the experience you have, do you think it's easier to make progressive music today than 44 years ago, considering the time in the studio, the shows and, of course, the promotion.

FC - The end of the nineties were important for our “non typical prog or jazz rock” formation. I think that Dream Theater have drawn the new generations of musicians and listeners to a new stylistic phase of the genre. Repeating the cultural, musical, emotional movements of seventies is impossible and anachronistic, however these genres of music needed new protagonists, new ideas, but above all the recognition that prog and jazz rock always deserved.

GV - Experience helps us to compose and play better than ever , but the music scene has not improved in the last twenty years, especially in Italy. So we have some difficulties in finding new gigs and selling our music. So I would answer: “Yes and no”! But we keep on trying as hard as we can, just because we love to do it!

PP – Are there any moments (memories) that will always remain in your mind? If so, which ones?

FC - Every moment that I can feel passing on and receiving emotions through the music and sharing it with the audience!

GV - First Arti & Mestieri concert in 1974 in front of an audience of 47,000. Opening for Gentle Giant in 1975. Opening for Jethro Tull in 1999. All gigs in Japan.

PP – Now all you have to do is come to Quebec, which would be one of my dearest wishes.

GV - I have travelled to Quebec and visited for three weeks in 1989. I had the chance to visit your wonderful country and city, so nothing could make me more happy than to come back to play for some of the nicest people I met in my all life. I even dedicated one of my favourite compositions, “Bonaventura Moon” to a breathtaking panorama caught from my hotel room in Percé, Gaspé Bay.

FC - Personally, in this era, I look upon some countries in Northern Europe, Japan, Canada and Quebec particularly, which are second to none in the well-balanced living, and where exist also a great and full culture of music. We sincerely hope to perform live in your wonderful Quebec, as I already mentioned, Arti & Mestieri is a true live band, performing live is our strong point and I am sure that your beautiful Quebec audience would enjoy our live performance!

In this moment, we are looking for booking agencies for concerts, if you know any good one for Quebec or the rest of Canada that may be interested in making this happen or help in any way Arti & Mestieri, we would be so grateful.

PP- Thank you very much to all of you! And a big thank you to Amy Ida.

FC: Thanks again for this beautiful opportunity!!

GV : Deep thanks from Gigi Venegoni

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