An absolute “giant” in the music industry, Alfredo Paixao is a bass player, multi-instrumentalist, and composer. Born in Rio de Janeiro, Alfredo is considered a key figure in the Italian and international musical environment. Musically and professionally formed in the USA, he learned from Masters such as Bunny Brunel and Mick Goodrick. His artistic professionalism is the result of a lifetime spent playing music worldwide. Throughout his career he has won many Grammys and worked with such great artists as Julio Iglesias, Ricky Martin, Liza Minelli, Henry Salvador, Justo Almario, Alex Acuña, Joe Heredia, Eddie del Barrio Alejandro Sanz, Laura Pausini, Fiorella Mannoia, and many more. In Italy, he’s especially known for his collaboration with Pino Daniele. In this interview, he shares with us his opinion about jazz, about legends, and the situation of the Italian music industry.

Legends hold a light so strong it outshines all those around them

Alfredo Paixao

What’s happening to jazz music in terms of creativity and connection with the audience?

I think jazz music has evolved in an incredible way from a technical point of view. A big step forward, for real. On the negative side, though, it has strayed too far from its humanity, which I consider to be its true essence. In fact, the power of jazz is to bring the audience closer by immersing them in an atmosphere that varies depending on the time and moods and not the opposite. Today jazz is played very well out of context, but we forget that context is everything in jazz music. In the past, just a few musicians were considered technically avant-garde, but now everyone is a “musical scientist”, completely out of touch from reality. Where did the life recounted by jazz go?

As a multi-faceted musician with a long career, can you tell us what would you improve about the Italian music industry?

The main issue with Italian music is the absence of harmonic knowledge. The last great names that come to my mind are composers like Puccini and Verdi. A simplification process has long since begun to give more and more importance to the rhythm over the melody. Nowadays and very often everything is reduced to the usual C chords. There are great soloists who don’t feel comfortable unless they use simple chords. We should get used to undertaking deeper harmonic research, starting from school.

After studying various instruments, what drove you to the electric bass?

My dad. It’s not actually a funny story. His bassist left a week before the concert, so that was the time I had to learn how to play it. Luckily, over the years I understood how much I actually liked it. I felt a stronger connection with the electric bass than with the other instruments, I had more fun with it. Compared to a classical guitar or a contrabass, in fact, I was faced with a more open view to work and experiment.

If you could divide your artistic path into phases, which ones would you identify?

The first was certainly the Brazilian one, heavily linked to Bossa Nova, where the melody is subjected to harmony. The American period followed, Los Angeles, which I would define as revolutionary for the connection with fusion and jazz, although not in its purest form. Once I moved to France, I became aware of European jazz, which was much more “advanced” than what I was playing before. Finally, Italy, where I discovered the world of pop music that gave me perhaps the most important lessons. While jazz is for a few, or oneself, pop is made for others and for many. Understanding this taught me many things, like the importance of discipline and the necessity of respecting your role in the band. Only by setting limits, can you successfully play in harmony with other musicians. These elements, although well known, are often missing, so, some good musicians don’t know how to adapt to professional situations they are not used to. I would define my last phase as “jazz with a pop-soul” since my music is anything but exclusive.

Alfredo Paixao, Pino Daniele and Peter Erskine
Alfredo Paixao, Pino Daniele and Peter Erskine
Alfredo Paixao during a Masterclass, Artidea, 2018
Alfredo Paixao, Masterclass, 2018

Since you had the possibility of observing many artists from up close, how do you distinguish a legend from a simple artist?

I think that the average artists, even mediocre ones, need a lot of support and teamwork well organized to have the chance to reach people. The great artists instead, always reach it. Even just the way they eat or they speak, Legends have a different light, so strong it outshines all those around them. You can also quarrel, but you fall in love the same. Pop teaches that: be humble, especially in front of extraordinary talents like these. Everyone is important in their own way, respecting their roles.

Is there a character or an anecdote you are most attached to and that you can tell us about?

I’ll tell you one about the artist I feel the biggest connection with, Pino Daniele. I had a special relationship with him, and this is a story I’ll never forget. We were rehearsing before an important TV show and the drummer I chose had the great idea of not writing down any of Pino’s requests (in his work he was a perfectionist). So to avoid a foretold disaster, I used the lunch break to repeat what he should do, to leave Pino out of the problem. This time I made sure he wrote it down but he ended up doing it on the paper of the sandwich he just ate. The cleaning lady, not knowing the importance of that paper, took it and threw it in the garbage. The result was just what shouldn’t have happened: the drummer, whose name I don’t mention for professional reasons, completely screwed up the first song with the cameras on. Luckily, Pino, using his great experience, was ready to transform the track list to continue the performance in two.  This story should be told in schools to make children who aspire to become musicians understand the importance of rehearsals, discipline, and respect for work.

Give us five albums that for you, a guy who is entering the world of music today should know.

Any album from Frank Sinatra, “The Nightfly” by Donald Fagen, “Heavy Weather” by Weather Report, “Atlantis” by Wayne Shorter, and a great Italian pop album, such as “Nero a Metà” by Pino Daniele.

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