What was your first instrument then?
My first instrument was a cheap classical guitar; I learned to play on that and sold it to buy my first Stick, which was a ten-string ironwood model with a passive pickup (now called the Stickup). It was the only model available at the time and I still own it; I rent it to those who’d like to try the instrument but have no idea where to find one.
How exactly did you come around to the Chapman Stick?
I met the Stick for the first time in September 1985 at the Milan SIM Trade Show. A friend of mine and I knew about the instrument from an Italian music magazine; when we saw that it would be exhibited at Italy’s biggest music trade show, we went to go see it live. My favorite Stick player at the time, and still my favorite, Jim Lampi, who has since become a great friend, was playing demos at Davoli’s booth, which was the distributor. His playing was amazing; the touch and the style were highly technical, but not intrusive. I felt he was playing from his emotions and I found myself with tears in my eyes! I said to myself, “That’s my instrument.” At the end of the show, I contacted the distributor and bought the Stick right there!
At the time there were really only a few Stick players in Italy: me, my friend who came with me and the late bass player, Stefano Cerri. So my friend and I started to learn together with a couple of Jim Lampi’s lessons on cassette tape, although I mostly just played it with the “Free Hands” manual from Emmett Champman. The next year, my friend and I went back to the trade show and did the demos at Davoli’s booth – it was my first trade show demonstration ever!
Did you set out to be a professional musician?
No, I actually started veterinary school but I never finished. Studying is not my cup of tea and I was stuck with too many books! I had gone to school in Milan, so I left for Rome where I worked with horses for very little money. At one point I had to decide to either become an instructor or leave the horses, and I decided to leave. I took some courses in camera operation and audio/video communications, another love of mine, and entered the real, working world with the national TV channel, RAI. I felt like Mowgli brought into the big city, bending to the "civilizations." I worked as a broadcast assistant for eleven years, all the while playing music in bands as a hobby and growing as a Stick player.
The TV work was month to month with no permanent position and I would sometimes go six months without a job or money. Finally in 2000 I decided to sue RAI for a permanent position and the suit took five years for a final decision. During this time I became the exclusive distributor of the Stick for Italy; I did seminars and taught the Stick, while producing music with SplendoRe and working on compositions and recordings on solo Stick, fretless bass and voice. I won the suit and got a cash settlement rather than the permanent position I had originally asked for, and decided to become a full-time musician. I don't earn much and I struggle to find gigs, but I like what I do and the dimension of life is more human.
You've released a couple CDs under the band name SplendoRe. Tell us about that.
SplendoRe is the name of whatever project I start. The original duo was in 1994 with Roberto Fiorucci, a student of mine. We played together under the name SplendoRe, and made our first CD, Guilty
, together. He quit playing for a couple of years for personal reasons in 2000, and the SplendoRe band formed with Raffaele Magrone on clarinet and Andrea Moneta on the drums and MIDI Stick. We recorded the CD, Different Things
, with Roberto guesting on some songs. In 2004, Roberto came back to play and we either play as the SplendoRe duo or the SplendoRe band, depending on what is requested.
I recently formed the band Red Magma with Irene Orleansky, a Stick player and singer from Isreal, and Rodney Homes, an American drummer who has worked with Santana, Joe Zawinul and Randy Brecker.
Who have been your most important musical influences?
Well, I can say that a lot of people tell me they hear some Genesis influences in my music; others say Pat Metheny and some people say they can hear some Windham Hill [Records] influences. I've been listening to Seconds Out for ages, but never had any other Genesis records other than that. I've grown up with Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays and Michael Manring, and when I was very young, I used to listen for hours and hours to Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Dvorak, Mussorgsky, Ravel and Tchaikovsky. Then Elvis Presley came and I bought all of his LPs, and after that it was the Beatles, Yes, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd and the Police. I wore out the holes on those LPs!
Do you currently have any endorsements running?
I am an endorser for an Italian audio system manufacturer, SR Technology. They are great engineers who make really good amps. Around 15 years ago I stopped using amps for the Stick. I used to have a Carlsbro Stingray - a huge, 150-watt amp - a Fender, an Ampeg Gemini II tube amp and a Roland Jazz Chorus 55, which was the last amp I owned. But the Stick is a stereo instrument that needs to be amplified with more expensive amps and 600-watt speakers, which are too expensive and too big for me to transport. For years I've been playing live by going from my effect (at the time a ZOOM 9000) to a passive mixer and then directly into the PA system. I was still using the Roland at home.
When I heard SR Technology's Jam 120, my ears were brought back to life! I said, "This is it, I want this amp." So after ten years without amps, I went back to them. The Stick has a large range, so the lows, mids and highs all need to be well-amplified and have a good response when playing bass and melody at the same time. It's not easy with a bass or guitar amp unless you split the two sides to two separate amps. The sound on the Jam 120 was perfect - all of the frequencies were reproduced clearly and uncolored. It just sounded like the Stick. So I contacted SR Technology and became a beta tester of their prototypes, and I demo for them now at Musikmesse and the DISMA Music Trade Show in Italy.
I actually came up with an idea for a dedicated StickAmp, inspired by the Jam 120, and later the Jam 150 and Jam 150 Plus. These are combo amps with an onboard mixer that are very compact, with a powerful, punchy, clean, warm sound. I presented the Jam 150 to Emmett Champan, who liked it, and then Greg Howard, the great Stick player from Virginia. He tested the amp and suggested some changes. After two years, I tested the last prototype of the StickAmp. Emmett gave his approval and it is now with Greg for testing. Hopefully it will be in production by the middle of 2008.