Cecilia Sanchietti has a sweet, light, airy touch on drums, but don’t mistake that for meekness. She rolls and shimmers, painting with a full palette of colors on a multitude of recordings and performances. Having collaborated with a Nigerian choir and now at work on something new with musicians from Sweden, she is an explorer of sound and an advocate for promoting and encouraging more female artists in the jazz realm.
In her 2018 track called “La Terza Via – The Third Side of the Coin,” Sanchietti deliciously (almost imperceptibly) holds the beat back, then assertively drives the song forward. At the breakout solos, she fills the spaces between the notes with such delicacy and precision as to enhance the music twofold. “Dance of the Elephants” is a timing masterpiece that demonstrates an eerily telepathic cooperation among the ensemble. Going back to 2016, the song “Et No” is an excellent example of her ability to provide a sublime punctuation to the story arc.
Form, texture and detail: the drums submit to Sanchietti’s spell, providing much more than just rhythmic context.
When discussing jazz, do you prefer to consider your experiences as a female instrumentalist or just talk about yourself as a musician, period?
It’s important to understand my route, past and future; my story; and how these elements influence my music. Yet there are lot of prejudices in jazz music, so I feel the responsibility to speak about my route as a woman, such as the difficulties, advantages, challenges and relations with male colleagues.
I’m involved in several associations and festivals focused on gender balance in jazz, speaking about women’s experiences and common stories, and giving new opportunities to female instrumentalists. I’ve organized a “Women in Jazz Festival” and the most important thing is to create a network around this issue to discuss and share with each other.
Are opportunities slimmer for jazz drummers than for horn or piano players?
I think all instruments have their difficulties and challenges, but my personal opinion is that the jazz drummer has big responsibilities and their band mates expect a lot from the drummer. To be part of a band you must convey trust, safety and confidence. You are the time leader (even if all the instruments keep the time) and you also need you need the colors of the music, the ability to improvise and to have an identity.
You have to be the best! A mistake is more evident with a drummer than for example with a piano player!
The drums is usually the first instrument to get cut in a band. Many musicians prefer to have bass or guitar or piano but not drums. So the opportunities are fewer.
And the last, but not the least, for me there is one more challenge, being a woman. And this is really important. Because there are not so many female drummers, many musicians are suspicious from the beginning (I have experienced this is many situations).
You need to:
Find bands that trust in you and make you feel comfortable.
Demonstrate that you can play as well as or better than any male drummer.
Build professional relationships with male musicians.
But I don’t want to demotivate anyone for playing drums. In spite of the difficulties drums provide a lot of satisfaction that more than repays you for the sacrifices.
Why did you gravitate to percussion?
I don’t know exactly. My mum tells me that when I was a child and I heard drums on TV I got crazy and immediately started to dance and beat a rhythm. I have loved so many Italian drummers and international drummers, and they were all a great inspiration.
I played piano until age fourteen and then around sixteen I changed to drums. I gravitate towards the drums because it’s a passionate instrument, it requires energy and grit and I think I have both (I’ve also composed a song about it!). It’s a good way to express yourself. Playing drums in jazz lets me express my femininity too.
What is your favorite size ensemble when you perform?
I fit with short size ensembles, trios and quartets. Most important for me is the presence of acoustic piano. I love playing with piano and without it my inspiration is not the same.
Double bass or electric bass (better db, but depends on who plays), tenor sax or soprano (tenor is my favorite sound, warm and passionate). I don’t love alto sax sound. Trumpet (better is flugelhorn) and flute are welcome! Usually I prefer not to include vocalists, but I like the expression of vocal-like instruments (on improvisation, in choirs, etc.).
How do you develop the restraint when learning to play an instrument with so much potential volume?
This is a really good topic, and it’s important for a good drummer: create a good sound, with a correct volume, not at a high volume. I think this is a crucial part of a drummer’s daily studies.
Every drummer should learn how to control the touch on the drums and then do their routine exercises to maintain it.
Talk about the “Circle Time Jazz Project” and “La Terza Via – The Third Side of the Coin.”
These are my two CDs as a drummer and composer. Circle Time was released in 2015 and was really important for me. It was a definitive goodbye to my previous career.
I traveled a lot in Africa, the former Yugoslavia, Chiapas (Mexico) and other locations for this project. The music has an ethnic jazz sound with lot of other flavors, and included a Nigerian choir that sang about the rain and the changes in life.
The second CD, “La Terza Via – The Third Side of the Coin,” was important because it’s dedicated to the courage and truth of being a woman musician today. It was released on 2018 by Blujazz of Chicago and we had a lot of reviews (Downbeat, All about Jazz, Musica Jazz, etc.). Thanks to this album, also, I was awarded the New Italian Jazz Talent in 2018.
How would you describe your style as a percussionist?
I feel like I’m a “modern jazz drummer” who can play traditional jazz, swing, pop jazz, funk/jazz and ECM style. I’m a percussionist who cares about the drums as producing melody, not only rhythm, and who plays more with feeling than technique. People who listen to me say that I’ve got a clear identity and a personality that’s easily recognizable.
Favorite small club in Italy?
Alexander Platz Jazz Club in Rome; Ricomincio da Tre (Umbria, Italy), and Jazz Club Ferrara (Ferrara, Italy).
Festival you have always wanted to play?
Italy’s Time in Jazz and the Torino Jazz Festival, but my main goal is to perform in abroad Festivals abroad like the Stockholm Jazz Festival and anywhere in the USA, especially at the Cambridge Jazz Festival or PASIC (the Percussive Arts Society International Convention)!
What is your favorite mixed meter song?
I’m now on tour with my second album, playing throughout Italy and Europe in general. I’m starting to plan my third album in Sweden with Swedish musicians.
I’m working on a large ensemble version of my past two albums to present at the Auditorium Parco della Musica held next year, arranging my songs for big band, jazz and contemporary style, with classical and jazz instruments together.
I’m also collaborating with some important musicians in other projects (jazz, swing, Brazilian and Argentinian sounds, and funk fusion).
First of all, thank you for this opportunity to meet you and your audience!
Then, three messages that are really important for young musicians:
- Care about music and not about yourself. The most important thing is the ensemble’s music, what is received by the audience and what touches their hearts, not how good you are. The main aim of the music is to share and tell stories.
- Be yourself, don’t try to be like others. Sincerity is the first ingredient in understanding and appreciating music. If you are honest with your mistakes too, the audience will understand and remember you.
- Please, women musicians, keep your heads up!
For more information, visit www.ceciliasanchietti.it.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of Cecilia Sanchietti.
© Debbie Burke 2019