Jazz Saves a Soul – Life Lessons with Simone Gubbiotti

Simone Gubbiotti 2

After a football injury to the knee, professional Italian athlete Simone Gubbiotti had an existential crisis of sorts. Having to give up the sport he loved left him on a rough ocean without a paddle. Rescue came in the form of a guitar given to him by his father. Music – specifically jazz – entered the picture, somehow, starting him on the path to physical and emotional healing.  

His self-named trio has guitar as the central voice. One sweet and hopeful song, “Promise to a Friend,” is launched by Gubbiotti on guitar. While drums keeps a relaxed beat, a strong acoustic thread is laid down by the bass. Rhythm and volume suddenly pick up and Gubbiotti sits out the bass solo. When the theme resumes, his guitar plays with such earnestness and devotion that you wish you knew the friend that the tune is devoted to.

Guesting in the Progetto Originals Trio on the funk-beat of “Ornette,” Gubbiotti improvs with  inventive changes, quickly inserting new rhythmic elements and diving into a lovely chordal call-and-response with the vibes.

His newest completed work is not a CD (although there is one in progress) – but is an expression of love and music nonetheless. A book about his experiences, titled “The Art of the Underdog,” has just been published in Italian. It credits jazz with being his life raft.

After your sports career-ending knee injury, why did you choose to delve more into guitar over other instruments?

To be honest I have never chosen the guitar, I simply had a classical one from my childhood. One day my father came back home with this guitar, I don’t know why, as a gift. The only thing I used to do when I was a little boy was placing the guitar on the bed and just touching the open strings without any real interest.

I was selected by [professional football club] A.C. Milan when I was 15 and then suffered a bad knee injury.  Although I had the guitar since the age of 12, I started playing it seriously during my heavy depression around age 25.

I like to think that guitar has chosen me. 

When you discovered jazz at 25, what song were you first listening to? Who are some of your favorite artists or composers?

I discovered music totally. Never thought to play, especially with an audience, so I didn’t have a specific type of music in mind. I used to listen to some pop music, some rock: Genesis, Sting, Dire Straits and a few Italian artists.

Actually there are a lot of musicians who inspire me. It’s not only the music but the story and the human side. Bill Evans, for example, and even more Fred Hersch with his incredible story. I love Wayne Shorter and Jim Hall whom I met several times. Recently I’ve been following Kenny Werner and his philosophy on music which covers also the emotional aspects. 

What skills are transferable from athletics to music?

Well, there are many things in common between them. I strongly believe that it’s everything to do with the brain and one’s mentality. Musical training reminds me of the training I had in sports.

You make real improvements when you’re tired and you find the strength and discipline to take another series, another run, another whatever. In sports you prepare yourself to win and not think about whether you might lose.

When I picked up the guitar, even though I was less than a beginner, I took it very seriously and with a sports attitude. Then you have the physical part, I mean like when your skin wears off and your arms are tired and your shoulder is in pain. It’s not really fun; it’s a sacrifice, and if you are not motivated you fail and realize it’s only going to be a hobby. Musicians like Peter Erskine believe that my sports background was the key to learning music quickly (though I’m still learning).

What was the biggest challenge to you starting out in music?

At the beginning it was the key to saving my life. I guess the challenge is to prove to myself that I can handle myself with the level of the artists I play with, and that I can improve every day. 

What themes do you write about in your songs?

Mostly I write music when I want to dedicate a song to somebody, except “Resilience” which is an autobiographical album. I try to put a lot of care into the melody but I don’t think there is a specific theme. It would be nice if the listener could relate to it personally as well. 

What is your new book about, “Underdog- l’Arte dell Sfavorito”?

The book starts from my sports period through my difficult life experiences. It’s about jazz and how this music worked as redemption. It’s about resilience and the capacity to face adversity, turning it into something positive.

Simone Gubbiotti book cover

What do you hope to convey with your story?

I know that many people can recognize themselves in this story which is basically the goal of the book. All of us in periods of crisis, wars and economic issues have to be able to handle our problems and develop the ability to move forward.

There is a theme in the book that I really care about, which is cancer. I lost my childhood friends and cousins to it. I meet hundreds of people suffering the same situation or who are living with it, so I try to be supportive.  

Why do you want to share it?

For the people who have helped me in my path. 

When was it released?

The book was released in February 2018 by Art in Life, edited by Sergio Pasquandrea and produced by Sergio Carrivale and Anna Maria Petrova. 

What has been the initial reaction to it?

I received very powerful feedback before the release of the book and there is strong interest around it. I’m really happy because I wanted to get close to a different audience. There’s a lot of jazz within the book so it’s interesting for both music and jazz lovers, and writers; but it’s also a story of life written in an easy and direct way so it’s interesting for other people too.

The strength of the book is that it is a story that’s understandable to all of us.

How are you promoting it: marketing, book signings?

We are doing a series of meetings with people and presentations. In some cases, I’ll play music, and yes, if they ask me to sign the book I’ll even do that. The other aspect is even more fascinating to me. I am proposing to the venues, clubs and festivals to hold meetings with fans to discuss the book but not from my point of view; so they can talk about their own resilient experiences and realize they’re not alone in how they feel. That’s exactly the sense of my message.

Then I’d play with my trio throughout my story. It’s also important because they’ll get close to the music and to the creative process. I don’t know if I can call this marketing but that’s my plan! 

What did you learn from the process of writing and publishing it?

That I’m not a writer. LOL 

Did you have to take time out from composing or performing when you were writing it?

Not really. It was very fast. It was like taking my conscience and putting it on paper. I probably finished it in a couple of days. 

How has your life journey helped you be more creative in music and writing?

Sincerely I don’t know if I’m creative and in any case it’s not my role to judge myself. Probably at some point talent has to emerge. I can answer that it’s impossible to separate my personality and my nature from my music and the book in this case.

Adversity, like living in my car with my dog, helped me to be more sensitive and empathic toward people. Studying Buddhism is very useful in understanding some aspects of life, as is reading psychology. I think all of this came into my music and the feelings I try to convey. 

Newest CD and what do you like best about it?

The new album will be called “#Underdogs” and it’s clearly strongly connected to the book. In sports, the underdog is the team or athlete who is supposed to lose. It comes from gambling also.

Sometimes the underdog overturns the prediction, generating the upset. This is the spirit of the trio in general. The album is predicated in sports and the titles are related to that, with songs like “Injury Time” or “Overtime.” I like this album because it’s very rhythmic. If you know a label which would be interested just let me know!  

Where will you perform this year?

At the moment I’m booking some gigs. I’ll definitely be playing jazz festivals in Italy during the summer with the trio. We will also travel to Poland in October and I’d like to go back to Holland and the UK later in the year. Unfortunately, I had to postpone my Mexican tour to 2019. I’d like to get more interest from Europe and return to the United States very soon.

For more information, visit www.simonegubbiotti.wixsite.com/simonegubbiotti.

Photos courtesy of and with permission of Simone Gubbiotti.
(c) Debbie Burke 2018

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