The Steps of a Life’s Journey: “Totem” with Ferdinando Romano

Ferdinando Romano CD cover

Bassist Ferdinando Romano’s debut as a front man in the new CD called “Totem” is proof he has the chops to create a variety of textures and flavors, coaxing the very best from his ensemble.

“Mirrors” has the quality of a band tuning up/coming together, its independent melodic fragments sprinkled skillfully;  “Evocation” gives Romano the floor and airspace to explore – serene and measured – the fretboard’s full bounty. “Wolf Totem” graces the listener with a gentle piano intro which blooms into fullness as the horns enter like a sunrise. The song finally takes on more energy, bursting out jaggedly from the now sharp, sibilant horns. “Curly” keeps its identity as a thought piece, ethereal and calm.

“Totem” is a kind of sonic diary of who Romano is and where he’s been, and if this music is that true representation, he has visited some lovely and unexpected places.

What inspired you to re-imagine yourself as a front man on this CD?

This album comes from a very personal creative process. I’ve been part of many musical projects as a sideman or as a co-leader, but I felt the need to create something that could really represent me. My musical experiences are varied with classical, jazz, baroque, rock, and I wanted to write music that synthesized them all. I wanted to write completely freely and with no limitations.

That’s how I chose this name for the album, because I think that artistically each of us has his own totems, references and musical experiences. A single “totem” can give life to a much bigger one, something that is much more than the sum of the parts and that represents the creative synthesis of our musical personality, giving birth to something new.

How does your perspective as a bassist help you compose for the whole ensemble?

When you are a bassist you see everything in music from the bottom, that means that you think strongly in terms of harmony, take good care of the bass lines and give importance to counterpoint. Basically these are the pillars of my music writing. In this band I concentrated more in driving the band in the directions that I wanted as a composer more than putting the bass in the first place. But still the choice of arranging for horns that are mostly in the high register kept a whole range of frequencies in the bottom and middle register free for my bass playing.

Also, being a bass player, I wanted most of the tunes to have a certain groove or definite bass line as a reference, even in the freer moments.

Do you write around a melody first, or around a chordal structure, or a rhythm or something else?

It depends. I may start from a melodic idea, a harmonic set or a bass line. Most of the times I sit at the piano, especially for harmonic writing and arranging, and then I develop the ideas on paper or on a notation software in my computer.

It also depends on where I am in that specific moment. If I am at home I have all my instruments at my disposal but if I am touring I don’t have a piano and sometimes I can play bass only at the performance at night. In these cases I usually try to think of the music and write it down on my computer, and sometimes the result is even better. I also keep a notebook where I write down my melodic and harmonic ideas or arrangement tips I find by listening to an album or a song.

What was the best part of production of your new CD?

I had a very intense time writing the music but the best part was when we got to the recording session. We were in Stefano Amerio’s amazing studio in Udine and the atmosphere was very creative and relaxed. We had great fun together and the music came out with no effort. The vibe with Ralph was great and we found a good feeling inside and outside the studio. He’s really a great musician. I also enjoyed, in the process of the production, choosing the artwork and writing the liner notes to tell the stories behind the music. I like to think about an album as an artistic creation in its totality, not only the music but also the design and the stories you want to tell people.

What is your advice to new bassists?

Well, studying is very important, it’s a never-ending process that always feeds you with new ideas. And the more you go on, the more you realize how many new things you discover and want to get better at.

As my academic studies were mostly classical I think that it’s very important for any bassist to dig into it, for the instrumental technique of course, but also for developing your ear and musicality.

In jazz I would suggest not to focus only on the great musicians of our time that fascinate us but to go deep in the knowledge of the jazz tradition. It’s very interesting because you discover how the language on your instrument developed and changed in time and very often you are surprised about how much “old” bass players where incredibly modern. Every great musician of our days comes from there and it’s a fundamental process to find your own voice.

Also never forget to follow your instincts and play the music that lights a fire in you, and never give up.

Other comments?

It’s certainly a strange moment for releasing music. All the concerts are cancelled and we don’t know when we will actually be able to start playing live again. I believe though that especially in these moments music can be very important to relieve people. When I speak with friends or neighbors, especially non-musicians, very often they tell me how much they need music, art and beauty in these days to feel good in their homes.

As musicians we have to think about new strategies for surviving. Giving lesson online can be very important of course, but we also need to find new ways to get music around and maybe we should try to push the streaming services to give us more money for the copyright. Many ideas are on the table, and everything is still in process, but for sure, nothing can ever substitute the joy of playing live so we hope that things will get better soon for everybody.

For more information, visit www.ferdinandoromano.com.

Photos courtesy of and with permission of Ferdinando Romano.
(c) Debbie Burke 2020

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