Against the superstition, I felt really lucky last Friday, March 13th, because I had the pleasure to interview a group of musicians from different parts of the world with two things in common: the passion for music and Barcelona. Biel Ballester from Mallorca (Spain), Leandro Hipaucha from Cayafate (Argentina) and Dave Mitchell from Kansas (USA) came to Tallinn to perform in Winter Jazz Festival and Iberofest. These humble and close people make an excellent and successful trio.
Pilarica Martín: How did you discover jazz music?
Dave Mitchell: My father was a guitar player and he taught me how to play the guitar when I was 11 years old. He also told me about jazz music.
Biel Ballester: I started to study classic guitar, but my professor in Mallorca was a jazz guitar player and he told me about that kind of music. He showed me a lot of CDs of jazz music, it was quite trendy to play jazz by that time.
Leandro Hipaucha: I owe everything to my father: jazz music and shyness.
PM: Dave Mitchell, you are from Kansas, but you have been living for 25 years in Barcelona, why did you decide to move to Spain? How did you meet Biel?
DM: Before moving to Barcelona, I lived in New York for 3 years, but I wanted to travel around Europe and thought if there’s any city that I’d like to live in, I will move. And that was it, I visited Barcelona, fell in love with the city and now I’ve been living there for almost 26 years and I can live as a musician.
Biel and I have been playing together for 10 years in different events and last year we had a TV project to play jazz music. After all the repertoire that we already had, which was Biel’s compositions, we decided to record a CD and tour after that TV project. And here we are.
PM: Biel Ballester, how was the collaboration for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” with your themes “When I was a boy” and “Your shining eyes”? How did Woody Allen contact you? How did you feel when you played with him?
BB: We had friends in common in New York, and I didn’t know it (laughs). I played with some musicians there and when Woody Allen had to film in Barcelona, he asked his close musicians and friends if somebody knew any band or musician in Spain that he could include in the soundtrack. As he also likes Django Reinhardt, one of my friends told him that he knew a band which he could like because of the Django Reinhardt influence, but with a Mediterranean touch, and gave him some of my records. Seven months later they called us, saying that they liked our music and that they wanted us to create something for the film.
Woody Allen usually travels with one or two musicians with whom he plays in New York to play in cities where he goes. First of all, we met those musicians and we got on well quickly. Then Woody Allen used to call, saying what time he was going to turn up, so we were ready to play with him. He is a person who lives for the music, almost every day he hangs out with someone to play, wherever he goes.
PM: You are coming from Java Jazz Festival, how was it? Was it the most exotic place you have ever played? If not, which has been the most exotic one?
BB: The Festival was great, well organized, a lot of musicians. But the city is quite chaotic, with a lot of traffic jams. And the most exotic place where I have ever played would be Thailand.
DM: For me, the most exotic places have been Thailand and Laos. I also did there a Guitar Master Class in a Music School.
LH: I would say that Melilla was the most exotic place I’ve ever played. We played in the University Auditorium, which is a really nice building. We also went to wander the city, discovering the contrasting parts of it. I remember that the mint tea we tried was delicious.
PM: Biel Ballester, Django Reindhardt is your inspiration, how did you discover his music? You also played in a memorial in Augsburg, how was it?
BB: I discovered Django Reinhardt when I was 18 years old and I fell in love with his music. My compositions were influenced by his music. There are a lot of memorials in his honour around the world as his music is recognized and well known. As we have that colour in our music we usually play in those memorials. Augsburg was great, we know that people attend the concert because they like that music, so we play more confidently. It’s like playing for the family.
PM: You are presenting your new album in Estonia called “Lower and East Combo”, why that title and why New York City as an inspiration? Any fun stories while you the recording?
BB: (Thinking) No, it was recorded really fast. The only story is that we wanted to do it as a live, we didn’t want to be a week in the studio, recording. We did it in one morning, then in the afternoon we recorded a few tracks more and that was all. All of us remember that as an easy process with not struggles and overthinking, just “pam!”, “Hey dude! We already have a record!”.
“Lower and East Combo” is a funny title. People usually associate it with Lower and East Side of New York, and as Dave said before, it is a mix of European Jazz based on Django Reinhardt and the American jazz based on all the American traditions. But there’s a style in New York which is called guitar jazz-blues and there are a lot of guitar players found in and associated with that city.
PM: What are your opinions about the obstacles that musicians have at the moment? Could you compare it to Spain and other countries you have been?
BB: We are living tough moments in Spain and it is a difficult time for art there, it’s not a priority. To be honest and critic, we come from a country and culture, where the artistic culture is denigrated if you compare it to different countries in Europe and the world.
However, there are so many countries where things are different. I’d say that a Spaniard who is an artist is struggling a lot to make ends meet because they don’t have any support from the government. They are soldiering on as they can.
A city that works better in the field of music and art is New York. There you can have a career as a musician and your work is kind of old school: tonight I play here, tomorrow there and so on. But in Spain, there isn’t club culture. In France, for example, they take care of their musicians, they are not dying of hunger as it can happen in Spain. So if one day I had to choose, I would pick one of them: New York of France.
DM: In Spain with the financial crisis, there’s no support for concerts and music in general anymore. There were some festivals that used to receive some money from the government and since they don’t receive it anymore, these festivals have been canceled. So it’s not the best time to be a musician in Spain. If I compare it to United States, there are a lot of jobs for musicians, but you have to be a really good one to get a gig as the competition is high. That happens in cities such as Portland (Oregon) or New York.
LH: Just to make you understand how it’s going in Spain, artists pay 21% of their salary in taxes, if we compare it to Europe, you won’t find a country with such high taxes for artists. I’ll repeat it: we pay 21%.
PM: Would you like to add something? Any clarifications, messages, feelings?
BB: This is the first time that I don’t know what to say (laughs).
All: (Watching each other) We only want to perform as good as we can and make the audience enjoy it, as this is our first time in Estonia.