Rockpages – Y.F. interview

Rockpages has become a boundaries breaker. Beyond Rock and Metal, beyond the “kinds of music” we like and fancy, there are other things, too. There is what we call “Third wave”, the marriage of two different waves. Rock and Classical music, Fusion and Jazz, Metal and Classical… Infinite combinations, as all that is actually music. And music is simply one. We started by interviewing Dave Weckl. Next to the supernova drummer we feature a bass guitarist of equal size…

I met Yiorgos Fakanas when I went to interview Weckl. He was playing at the Athena Live, the stage inside Art Music School, the conservatoire founded by Yiorgos. We chatted a bit, I told him about the magazine, about the things we do and try to do and it seems he liked the concept. When the Weckl interview was up I sent him the link and wrote him a few words. “If you are interested in doing such a feature, give me a call”. The answer was almost direct. We set up a date for a Friday afternoon. Sonia Hatzi took care of this whole arrangement and I thank her a lot.

I could talk about Yiorgos for two days and nights without stop. He’s participated in more than six hundred albums, he’s played in every big stage in Greece, he’s so well-known abroad… The biggest bass guitarist today, Anthony Jackson, thinks the world of him, he trusted him to create the songs for his album… “Bass Player”, bass guitarists’ bible, has published a seven-page feature… He’s so huge yet he’s so down to earth. When he’s talking about bass, he’s simply talking about his life. He laughs, he’s angry, he’s happy, he gets passionate. He hits against white collars that ignore real musicians. He hits against so called “journalists” who consider Jazz as their own field. He loves Rock and he’s currently working on Purple and Zeppelin songs. He likes Metal and he would love to write Metal music and work with a Metal band… He’s the man who could release eleven albums tomorrow! This is the spot I stopped typing admiration marks; I decided to admire the musician instead… The great Greek musician, who’s leading the third wave through the twentieth first century.

Interview by Costas Koulis. Photos taken from Yiorgos Fakanas’ archives. : Your album “ΝΤΟΜΙΝΟ” – with a really cool cover, featuring each syllable underneath the other – was released in 2005. Very nice! However, how about the new album?

Yiorgos Fakanas : The new album… First of all, I have to tell you that the new album is actually… three new albums! It may seem “heavy”, yet I’m a person who writes a lot of music and I also write quite often. Composition is very important to me, apart from playing bass. Orchestration as well. Because I like to orchestrate everyeverything I compose. I enjoy doing all that, it’s a great pleasure. Naturally we are not going to release these albums altogether. The first one is called “Interspirit”. This album will be released on December 5 and 6 at Athena Live (e.n. the live stage inside the Art Odeon). This is actually the debut album of Anthony Jackson, one of the greatest bass guitarist ever to walk this earth! The bass guitarist who invented five-string and six-string bass. We are talking about three thousand recordings (e.n. !!!), with every big name in the area. A living legend of bass, who’s honored me by assigning me the task to write the songs for his debut, after refusing so to huge musicians. We are both playing in there. These compositions are mine, yet we play together. Dave Weckl on drums, Frank Gambale on guitar, Mitch Forman on keyboards, horns by Tony Lakatos, Michail Iossifov, Paterelis, Andreou and Sam Marlieri, Enrique Bu is on percussion and we have the stringed instruments of the “Orchestra of Colours” (e.n. one of the most well-known and finest symphonic orchestras in Greece) play as well. It’s a super production – a dream team, too – and this album will be released all over the world. That’s “Interspirit”. Currently I’m recording the “next” CD, which is this one (e.n. he’s showing me a rather big book, full of partitures). These are the notes. We’ll name it “Maestro”… It’s being recorded with Alex Acuna on drums, Bireli Lagrene on guitar, some amazing Greek musicians again, plus two famous American horn players, Bob Francheschini and Eric Marienthal… “Maestro” is a project I’ve done in 1996, an order given to me in Thessaloniki, for a play entitled “Dimitris Mitropoulos”. I wrote the music for this play. Now I’m making a CD out of it, adding some more stuff. The third album carries the title “Acrobat”, it will be released in February next year, with huge Dennis Chambers on drums. These tracks were written according to Chambers’ wish to work with me. Scott Henderson and Greg Howe are going to play, too. : That’s a lot of material…

Yiorgos Fakanas : If I had studio time I could have recorded eleven albums straight (e.n. !!!!!!!!!!!!! – you can put some more if you like), for the simple reason I also have music ordered to me, I write several stuff… As I said earlier, it’s something which completely entertains me. : So I guess it’s pretty entertaining the fact that you’ve played in more than six hundred albums!

Yiorgos Fakanas : Might even be seven hundred… : You never say no when you are asked to play, right?

Yiorgos Fakanas : I tell you what… I started in 1979-80, playing for the album “Lilipoupoli” by M. Hatzidakis. That was the first time I saw the inside of a studio. Since then a lot of people started requesting me to play in the studio. Playing in the studio was a huge experience. Even playing in an album which I’d never buy, I wanted to have the experience, mostly because I was very young at the time. All these albums you mentioned feature my studio playing until 1992. If I remember correctly, my last “commercial” project was the “Grammes ton orizonton” album by Th. Mikroutsikos. From that year onwards I chose the album I play in. And I must say I have never been to a folk night stage (e.n. the “famous” bouzoukia places in Greece). I believe that musicians believing in themselves are capable of making an extraordinary career by playing an instrument. Greece is included. Let’s underline that. They don’t have to chose the ugly side of nightlife. Don’t forget we are the only country with that awful feature. Don’t forget that Dutch and Italian musicians have to live, too. : I think you are about to open Pandora’s box now…

Yiorgos Fakanas : It doesn’t matter… Maybe that’s the most important thing… There’s talent, there’s work. Talent might prove to be a turnover at the end. One may have talent and ends up sitting all day, waiting for things to happen by themselves. Talent is 2-3% in order to succeed. The rest 97-98% is hard work. : Why bass guitar?

Yiorgos Fakanas : I gotta tell you… That was completely coincidental. It’s one of these accidental facts that change your life for ever. I started playing the guitar… Classical guitar… At that point you couldn’t even dream of pursuing contemporary studies in a big conservatoire, like this one. I switched from classical guitar to electric guitar and joined the neighborhood Rock band. The older boys were playing the guitar, so they “demoted” me to bass playing, cuz I was younger… And they saved my life! Bass is the instrument which so much binds with my personality, with my character. It’s because I’m into organizing, I’m a person who likes to control the environment he is in… : You like being the “bridge”? Cuz bass is the bridge in music.

Yiorgos Fakanas : As I say to my students, bass is the glue, binding music with melody and rhythm, the three basic music elements. It’s located somewhere in the foundation, the base of the music construction. : You write music for the theater, the cinema… How much does this intrigue you? In comparison with doing music for your next album?

Yiorgos Fakanas : I’m more free, regarding the “next album” thing… I have nobody near me saying “That’s not good, I don’t like this one”. It’s entirely personal. In the process of making music for a movie or a play, one has to face other factors… The director for instance… Your music must serve the play. Yet, this is your big wager. To be able to win your personal freedom through the compromises of such an “order”. Let’s not forget that the history of music was built upon these orders. Because music makers had to live, too. Thus they were taking orders. Once they were taking orders from the kings and the church. Today, we are taking orders from the producers of a film or a play. Yet, it’s one of my beloved projects, to do music for the cinema and the theater. I wrote this Rock opera last year, for the Theater of Spring. Yiannis Margaritis gave me the libretto and said to me “It’s gonna kick off in February”. It was December… I say to him “Cool, you mean next February”… And he goes “No, this one”! So I wrote 135 minutes of music, based on his lyrics, within 42 days. You can imagine the pleasure I worked with. Now I want to do the same for a Rock Group and Orchestra, featuring the Orchestra of Colours. : Apart from the studio thing, you are a live musician. You have played numerous gigs… When you get on that stage… is it like the very first time?

Yiorgos Fakanas : Oh, yeah… Well, you always feel a lil’ concerned about the outcome. You want to do well up there, you don’t want to do anything that will make feel bad. Naturally, there is not such a thing like the perfect concert. The stage is our home of course. One can never be reassured, as you always aim for the best. Yet, by studying, one can improve the minimum performance. Your minimum must be satisfactory. Your maximum will show up sometime… : Is there any stage you would like to play?

Yiorgos Fakanas : I have played on every honoring stage in Greece and I thank my good luck for that. I have played at the Athens Music Megaron, presenting my own stuff, doing eighteen presentations in there! I have played at the Herodion. I have conducted Jazz Fusion orchestras… I simply want, for the stage of Athena Live, to be the stage where everybody can find me. That’s why we present such big names. That’s why we want to go abroad. I want to play in Montreux, on a stage in New York – where I’m invited to go – to play in Blue Note, to play at the festival in Perugia. : What does Rock mean to you? Are you into it?

Yiorgos Fakanas : Not only into it… I started off Rock music! I have many favorite bands coming from the 70’s and the 80’s… : 70’s… Purple, Zeppelin…

Yiorgos Fakanas : These two groups you mentioned… I have taken 23 Zeppelin and Purple songs and I’m arranging them for a big band. I owe to these bands when it comes to music elements. I’m listening to Rock and Metal music, even today. There are many amazing ideas in there. Just one thing, for the kids listening to Rock and Metal. They should study music. It’s not enough to grab a guitar and play. You need to learn. Don’t pose as a musicians, be a musician. I adore Rock and Metal, even though I have moved to other styles… : Let’s assume that this Rock/Metal bands approaches you and wants to work with you.

Yiorgos Fakanas : That would be awesome. Although I don’t know if they would actually come to me. There is this prejudice about me… “Fakanas plays Jazz music. Get over it”! These thoughts have to stop. I would gladly play. Beyond than gladly. I would love to compose music and give it to a Metal band to play it. My own pieces. As far as they know music. Otherwise we’ll both be tired. : So, if they ask you “Dude, where’s the tamplature”?

Γιώργος Φακανάς : No, no tamplatures! Tamplature is the drug in music. It makes you head sleepy, it’s just a pill. Musicians should listen to everything. I don’t get, who sets the limits in music? These are just journalistic terms. Differentiation in music, over the years, has become for two reasons. One, for the music historians to be able to classify and two, for the media to be able to transmit something they are not aware of. Because journalists don’t know about music. They just listen. Thus they have to find a way to pass the info further. So, down with tags! No more borders, in order to make music altogether! : “Bass Player” magazine has done a seven-page feature on you, you happen to be the only European bass guitarist to achieve that. You are amongst the ten best players in the world for 2008, you are the only Greek who’s ever played with the Eurojazz orchestra… Foreign people honour you and I’m wondering if such is happening in Greece as well, with the common people and the specialists…

Yiorgos Fakanas : Could it be the other way around? : You mean people know whilst the “specialists” don’t?

Yiorgos Fakanas : Due to Facebook and Myspace, we get thousands of hits every day. Many Greek among them, coming from every part of Greece. Don’t forget that my music books have sold more than 30.000 copies. : That’s a huge figure…

Yiorgos Fakanas : Thus we enter the “in charge” area… : And the “specialists”?

Yiorgos Fakanas : Well… Let’s not talk about them. I’ve got a big problem with these people. Basically we have a big problem with those dealing with “Jazz journalism” in Greece. Greek Jazz scene has been so much underrated by those “Jazz journalists”… : Pure journalistic anti-professional attitude…

Yiorgos Fakanas : There is a huge problem. To go back to what you were saying… We lack governmental support here. Jazz is something we can export, too. Jazz is international, like Rock music, like classical music. It’s time to start appreciating Greek musicians who have honored our country abroad. What “Bass Player” did for me equals an Olympic medal (e.n. I’d say a gold Olympic medal escorted by world record). Because “Bass Player” puts a Greek flag as a header to the article, saying “A major voice from the Aegean”. And we are talking about an American magazine! Is there someone from the Ministry of Culture, to deal with such a thing? : I should assume then that this conservatoire is your own creation…

Yiorgos Fakanas : Yes! Without any governmental support. Let me tell you something, as we are talking about Rock. Paul McCartney… The Queen of England invited him again, when he went to Liverpool, if I’m not mistaken, to create a music school, with money from the British public funds. : And not his own, although his fortune is huge.

Yiorgos Fakanas : Precisely! He’s the richest artist by far! And he got to make a music school of a thousand square meters. I run a 2.500 square meters school! And the Queen of England called for him, because of that. I have given my soul’s blood to support the school. I could easily indulge like others, yet I’ve chosen to stand for what I believe. And other people become Sirs for the same reason! : What should we expect from you in the future?

Yiorgos Fakanas : The YFG (Yiorgos Fakanas Group), that’s been around for eighteen years, having cooperated with every good Greek Jazz musician. This year the band features Paterelis, Andreou, Ktistakiis, Sevdalis and me. Let’s talk about the other four. These are four big names in Jazz music. We also cooperate with huge artists. The drummers I was telling you about earlier, Mike Miller (e.n. guitar, he’s played with Chick Corea – Rockpages met with him and you’ll soon read the interview) and, of course, Anthony Jackson. All those people playing bass should come and watch him play. They will see the best of the best. The man who invented bass. Then we’re gonna take YFG on tour. Anthony Jackson and I will visit some countries in Central Europe, in April, with Dave Weckl on drums and the rest of the Greek group – naturally.