Charles Pasi: inside jazz rules you can do whatever you want

Inserted: 26.06.2023

Charles Pasi: inside jazz rules you can do whatever you want

On July 6 Rīgas Ritmi Festival will invite every true jazz and blues fan to the Riga Cathedral Garden. The reason? The one on the other side of the phone line for this conversation – charismatic singer, guitarist and harmonica player Charles Pasi.
Charles was born to an Italian father and a French mother, but lived on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, bringing a deep understanding of the blues from the United States to Europe. Mixing it together with jazz improvisation, Pasi became an artist of the legendary label Blue Note Records in 2015. By collaborating with musicians of various genres, Pasi has created his unique style, which has no boundaries, but there is a lot of artistic creativity, at the same time felt fragility and exciting dynamics. His performance is like a real journey both geographically and emotionally.
What drives you more – jazz or blues, and why?
I would say blues. I've started listening to a lot of blues when I was a teenager and I felt like it was the discovery of everything. It's actually the roots. The blues is pretty much the roots of every music of the century. Even though I'm also a jazz fan, I would go with the blues.
You are half-Italian and half-French but in music you sound pretty American. Or do you disagree with that?
It's true that I sing in English and a lot of my influences are mostly Afro-American. That's what I've been listening to a lot. But I'm very eclectic, so I love a lot of different kinds of music. I love Italian songs, I love tango. I love music from Eastern Europe. I love African music. Of course, I have a lot of American influences, but I'm not doing a typical kind of American music, meaning that I'm not doing pure blues. I'm not doing jazz. I'm just writing songs with all my influences in it. 
Which one is harder to learn – guitar or harmonica?
Oh, I don't know. I'm not a very good guitar player, I play the guitar mostly to compose and write songs. But I've been working a lot more on the harmonica. Sometimes when you see harmonica you can see a toy you know for kids but it's actually has it’s difficulty as pretty much every other instrument.
How many of those you have?
Maybe now 200, but a lot of them are dead. It's not an instrument that you can keep like for years and years. It breaks. And when it breaks you have to change it.
I have sawn the harmonic players with a belt on. It's like a military belt with a lot of harmonicas around. How many instruments you have on stage?
On stage I have like six or seven depending on the key of the tone of the music.
Do you try to develop your unique style in music?
Well, I guess everyone is trying to bring something personal to the music. When you start writing music, it's because you're looking for yourself, you want to know who you are, and it's a good way to learn about yourself – to write songs. So yes, I guess, I've got to know myself a lot by writing songs. I don't know if in the end I do have my original sound, but that's what I was aiming for.
You seem to be spontaneous. How difficult is it to play with you? Nobody complained?
(A good laugh). I'm not sure about that. I might not be the right person to ask! I would say I'm not always easy for different reasons. What I can tell you is that I'm not a diva. But sometimes I talk a lot. I make a lot of jokes. Sometimes maybe they want some quiet time… That's a good question. I'm going to ask my team for that and I'll tell you the next time I see you.
Alright, that will be in Riga then! What's the main message in your music?
I don't really have a message. The thing I'm trying to do is to put up my moods, all my moods in my music, and I'm someone that can change. Like a lot of people, my life is not like completely plain. So sometimes I'm happy, sometimes I'm down, sometimes I have something to say, sometimes I'm romantic, sometimes I'm angry. I guess I'm just trying to put everything in my music. So that's why my albums are pretty different. If you listen to one of my albums, you won't get one style or one kind of music. It gets very different because I'm changing, but I don't have one big message. No, I'm not that kind of writer.
Are there political messages as well sometimes or you are not going into that territory?
I'm not. I'm not really fond of political messages in music. Because if you put politics in music, it's not music anymore. It's politics. Music should remain music. Of course, you can talk about whatever you want in music. But I'm not willing to do a political speech and to tell you the truth, even the great artists that have tried to do some really political songs were not really good at that. I’m thinking about Stevie Wonder, maybe Nina Simone. When they came up with the political song, the song wasn't really good. For me, it wasn't their best song. So I tried to avoid political speech, direct political speech. Someone can say that everything is political. I guess, you can say that as well. You can learn about some of my ideas through my songs, but it's not something that I want to do, you know. It's not something that I mean to do.
Was it a huge surprise getting an invitation to sign a contract with the legendary Blue Note label?
It was really a surprise because they didn't know that, but my first album that I did was called Mainly Blue. I wanted blue, the name blue, and the title and the cover was all blue. You know it was a picture of me with blue, because I wanted to do an imitation of blue notes. So when actually Blue Note really called me, I was really amazed. And I didn't even want to see the contract. I wanted to sign right away because I was afraid of them to have second thoughts and maybe tell me – no, we’ve been thinking about this and we’ll not gonna sign you. But my manager told me – let's have a look at the contract and see and check this point and that point. I was really, really excited. It's stupid to say but it was really a dream. 
What we will hear in Riga – songs from the latest album Zebra or some other stuff?
Yes, you're gonna get a lot of Zebra because it's the current album, but I do mix in a lot from my old albums. But you will hear everything live. I mean, it's not going to be the songs to be played like on the records. We do a lot of arrangement stuff for the live show. So there are different songs and also some surprises that I'm not going to tell you right away, but there are some funny stuff going on on stage.
You will hold a workshop in Riga as well. What to expect from that and are you doing those often? 
I never do that. It's gonna be the first time! So, to tell the truth, I don't know what to expect on my part and I don't know what people should expect from me because I don't really know what I'm going to say, what I'm going to do. So as you said before, I'm gonna try to be spontaneous and I'm just gonna go with the flow and see what happens.
Who are your musical heroes? Something like all-time TOP 5?
OK. It would be the TOP 5 of today because tomorrow it might be a different one. I will go with Dinah Washington. Stevie Wonder. I just mentioned him. I will go with also Etta James, Ray Charles and Chet Baker. You like it?
Yeah, a great jukebox! Could listen to that for a whole day. Which is the best audience?
The best audience is the one that's show up, the others that stayed at home, I don't like them!
But I believe that you have played in very many different places. That's always the case with jazz and blues musicians.
OK, let me tell you something! I'm from Paris and I don't know if in Riga we have also this reputation but pretty much around the world everyone told me that Paris is a beautiful city, but it's a shame because of the Parisian people. I started playing in little cafes in Paris with the Parisian audience. And what I can tell you is when you start playing music in front of the Parisian audience, you're pretty much happy anywhere else. Everywhere else is a good surprise. So, I've been taught in a hard way because I was playing in bars and cafes where it wasn't meant to be music. It was like people eating and so sometimes tell you to shut up and tell you to slow down. But I've been traveling a lot with the music around the world and I've never been disappointed. It's always a good surprise.
At the end – what's the best thing about jazz?
The freedom. I think that's what define this music. Of course it's written, you have words, you have a structure, but inside of that, it's up to you. It's you do what you want. It's like the workshop I'm going to do. It's going to be blues and jazz and I'm going to improvise. I don't know what I'm doing but I think it's a good thing, it's even a good thing for life. A good philosophy. OK, you have rules, you know that there are rules, but inside those rules you can do absolutely whatever you want. And that's the thing that defined really blues and jazz. Improvisation is a big part of it and what you're going to say as an improviser is really what's going to define you and how much heart you can put into it. And it's really a moving music. If you come in a bad day, it will be a bad concert. If the guy is not inspired or something. And maybe the night before it was great. So that's what I like about this music and improvised music in general. It's really a music that should be discovered live!
Music journalist Kaspars Zaviļeiskis

< Back to news

Upcoming events









LR Kultūras Ministrija Valsts kultūrkapitāla fonds Latvijas Gāze Rīgas Dome Tele2 Latvijas Radio Adverts Santa