“Football was my main activity and I was totally focused on that since I was 7 so it was very hard accepting (very early on) that I wouldn’t be a professional player anymore. But it took a while before depression came and when it happened my sport attitude and discipline played an important role in becoming proficient on guitar in a relative short amount of time.”Simone Gubbiotti
I must confess that up until a few months ago I had not heard of Italian Jazz Guitarist Simone Gubbiotti or his extraordinary and very personal struggle from being a bright, up and coming soccer star to living in his car and going through serious depression until he found salvation – and his life – through the study of Jazz and guitar.
After a few email conversations, I realized that his story would make for inspirational reading for those going through similar issues and so here we are. This interview will be in two parts really. The first is this featured interview and the second will continue via the Jazz Guitar Life podcast where we’ll dig deeper into the life-changing events that shook Simone to the core and how he came back from depression and despair.
In this interview, Simone shares with us his background, how he found his way into the Jazz Guitar Community and how his professional associations with Ari Hoenig and Paul Wertico came about. A definitely inspiring and entertaining read that I hope you all enjoy.
Given that Simone’s mother tongue is Italian, I made some very minor editorial/grammatical changes to the dialogue, but for the most part, this is entirely in Simone’s own voice.
As a one-man operation, if you would like to support all the work I do on Jazz Guitar Life, please consider buying me a coffee or two. Your support helps me to focus on Jazz Guitar Life so that I can continue to bring you great interviews, reviews, podcasts and other related Jazz Guitar content. Thank you and your patronage is greatly appreciated regardless if you buy me a coffee or not 🙂 – Lyle Robinson
JGL: Thank you Simone for taking the time to talk to Jazz Guitar Life. First off, if we can get into a little background about you that would be great. How old are you?
SG: Ciao Lyle and thanks to you for having me! I’m actually 47.
JGL: What geographical area do you reside in?
SG: I live in Perugia, Italy. It’s a small city right in the centre of the country.
JGL: For those who may not know you, could you give us an elevator pitch of who Simone Gubbiotti is and then we’ll get into more detail as this interview unfolds.
SG: I would say that there many who don’t know me…LOL!! I like to say that I am simply a human being expressing myself through music and Jazz in particular and trying to share deeper messages due to my particular story. I guess will go into that to explain better what I mean.
JGL: Yes we will. But first, at what age did you first start playing the guitar and were you interested in jazz from the beginning or were there other musical interests before jazz? How did you find your way to this particular music and instrument?
SG: I started almost at 25 and it was basically directly with Jazz. It was during my hard depression and to be honest it was more a cure then a choice. I had a super tough period early in my 20’s and at some point, when I was feeling nothing could save me, I remembered that my father bought me a classical guitar when I was maybe 12 years old. I never really played it except when I put it on the bed to touch the open strings because I was completely into football (Soccer) as a teenager and selected by the A.C. Milan before my knee injury. In my darkest moments I decided to try to pick up the guitar again and it really worked well as a therapy. It started this way for me and Jazz was, believe me or not, a mistake.
JGL: Wow! So when coming up as a young player, did you attend a formal educational institution or are you self taught? And as you mentioned “the mistake”, was there one – or more – particular moments that opened the flood gates so to speak as you went about learning this music?
SG: I’m substantially self-taught, at least for a large part of my training. Like I was telling you, Jazz has been a mistake. When I was trying to understand the guitar, at the beginning, I was having issues so I began looking for a teacher in my area. One day one of my father’s friends came to me with a suggestion to attend a sort of class during the summer which we have in my city at the Umbria jazz Festival. Well I paid and I did it thinking it was a sort of “Scout Camp” to socialize learning the basics of the instrument, but I found myself at the clinics of the Berklee College of Music at the Festival. A total and professional Jazz oriented clinic. You can imagine a relative young guy there with less than 4 months guitar training. So I decided to study Jazz to redeem the ignorance of those days.
JGL: Well you certainly caught up nicely Simone!! Tell me, who were your influences on jazz guitar when you were beginning, and have they stayed the same or have they changed over the years? Who are you listening to today (guitarists or non-guitarists)?
SG: My main influence has been Jim Hall. I love his sense of melody and in particular his legato. I felt really close to his playing especially because I had some technical issues on the instrument and I couldn’t play fast tempos at the time, so listening to him helped me a lot to develop my melodic phrasing. I also had the luck to meet him and to stay in touch for a long while. Joe Diorio also had been a fantastic friend and a huge influence and actually I would say Jonathan Kreisberg. I guess my influences changed a bit yes?
JGL: Yes…LOL!! In the same vein, who has been most influential in your life as a Jazz Guitarist and why?
SG: Definetely Sid Jacobs! He literally changed my vision on the guitar. Sid is not only an outstanding teacher but also a special human being. One lesson I like to mention is about the responsibility we have to take care of our talent. I really believe in this lesson.
JGL: Nice! Has there been a major influence in your life who was not a guitarist and why?
SG: My childhood friend Paolo, who died prematurely, has been a deep human influence. He saved my life during my depression. He was a Buddhist and he influenced me with that philosophy. I’m not so good with that but I confess that even today I try to follow some of his suggestions and thanks to that I feel a little bit better as a human being.
JGL: That’s all one can ask for. Tell me, what was your practice routine like when you were beginning and what is it like now? Are there specific areas that you work on or do you just play through tunes? When improvising, are you thinking chord/scale relationships or is there something else going on?
SG: Oh this is a tough question. The routine changed for sure at least for a couple of reasons. The first one is the age…LOL. Apart from this, originally, I was using the guitar as a psychological therapy so I used to practice all day. Now it would be impossible except some specific periods because I have to handle many other aspects of the business which were not expected when I started. I have to organize my time to be a booking agent, a publicist (as you know), a social media manager and finally a musician.
Concerning the areas that I work on, it depends. Coming from a sports background I am pretty good at identifying my weaknesses and I focus on them. Actually I work on odd meters and generally if I have problem I write a song in that area, in this case in 7/4 for example so I am obliged to deal with it. In the last few years I worked a lot on the rhythm and on my personal concepts writing six workshops. I am not so much in the chord/scale approach. I mean I obviously know that but if I use it I do as a thematic improvisation. I think much more in terms of intervals and colors which helps me to be more creative.
JGL: Speaking of creativity, your website bio states: “Music was not Simone’s first passion, he began his career in the world of sport playing professionally for AC Milan. After sustaining a serious knee injury Simone, at the age of 24, took the decision to refocus and pursue a career in music.” We will discuss this part of your life in much greater detail in an upcoming Jazz Guitar Life podcast because really, readers should hear your own voice when talking about this time in your life, but if you can, could you briefly talk about what you were going through at that time?
SG: Making a long story short, music found me for some reason to save my life. Football was my main activity and I was totally focused on that since I was 7 so it was very hard accepting (very early on) that I wouldn’t be a professional player anymore. But it took a while before depression came and when it happened my sport attitude and discipline played an important role in becoming proficient on guitar in a relative short amount of time. So I would say that there is still a connection between the musician today and the teen football player.
JGL: As an international artist you have recorded and performed in both Europe and the United States with a bevy of top-shelf players such as Peter Erskine, Ari Hoenig, Joe La Barbera, Arthur Blythe, Adam Nussbaum, Jay Anderson, Sid Jacobs and Joe Diorio to name more than a few. Now this doesn’t even touch upon the well known European artists you have played with. Most impressive! How did these associations come to be?
SG: Wow…it’s like describing an entire career. Peter Erskine joined my project “Promise To My Friend” dedicated to my best friend Paolo with Derek Oles who I knew since my Los Angeles period. I moved to L.A. in 2003 because I felt blocked on the instrument. At the time I didn’t improve that much so I decided to try this adventure at GIT (Guitar Institute of Technology – now MIT) in Hollywood after meeting my Hero Joe Diorio in Italy. Joe had always been great with me and we immediately became friends even though he was not so involved with the school anymore so I never really got to study with Joe at GIT. For a period I used to go with him at his gigs carrying his amp and hanging out creating this wonderful relationship.
At GIT I met Sid and it was like finding a brother and a new member of my family. Fortunalely Sid lived really close to my apartment in Hollywood and he started taking me around the city which helped me a lot to get to know the community of Jazz in the city.
Ari was kind of different. I met him in a club in my city Perugia and after few years I invited him to join a project called Progetto.Originals in Italy. We had a great tour in 2017.
JGL: Nice!! And since we are talking about great players…you perform with drummer Paul Wertico of Pat Metheny fame. Can you talk a little about this project and how it came about?
SG: First of all I’m grateful to be part of this project. Paul has played more than 10 years with my long time friend and amazing bassist Gianmarco Scaglia who was also part of Progetto.Originals. By the way, Gianmarco also played with Joe Diorio. Before the pandemic, Gianmarco decided to record the album Dynamics in Meditation with his original music. The logical consequence was using the same line-up of the tour with Ari so he called me on guitar and Mirko Pedrotti on vibraphone. We toured Italy last year.
JGL: Much like Metheny, you seem to gravitate towards really great drummers like Peter Erskine, Ari Hoenig, Joe La Barbara, Adam Nussbaum and the aforementioned Paul Wertico. What is it about these drummers that excites you – apart from the obvious that they are great! – and overall, what do you look for when deciding on which musicians you would like to play with.
SG: Something I really love is the fact that every single musician you mentioned has his own personal approach and philosophy on the instrument. To be honest, especially considering my beginning, it wasn’t always a conscious choice. I mean, I have my own direction and ideas on how I want to build a project, but at the time I don’t think I had this capacity. I can tell you that I learned a lot from all of them: the space and dynamics by Peter Erskine, the rhythmic approach and timing by Ari Hoenig and many other things like the passion of Paul Wertico for the music without any prejudice. I think I missed becoming missed drummer so it’s probably for this that I’m surrounded by great drummers, it might be subliminal 🙂
JGL: LOL…I hear ya!! I’m a closet drummer as well. Unlike you though, I am not an international performer! Having lived in Europe most of your life, do you find a difference in the artists and the audiences from one continent to the other?
SG: I would say between Italy and the rest of the world. I find the international audiences more open to something new or to a new artist who is not so famous. Even the promoters, artistic directors and journalists are more open. I think of you in this case giving me this opportunity that I don’t have with Italian magazines. One thing that surprised me (I’m talking now about South America) is the age of the audience. In Europe and America the age of the people coming to Jazz concerts is pretty high while in Mexico – where I toured 3 years ago – it is really young. Concerning the artists, I don’t find any significant differences. I find however a common point which is the really high level of performers all around the world.
JGL: True! Are there any European Jazz Guitarists or groups we should be on the look-out for…besides you of course?
SG: I don’t focus too much on guitarists. There are a lot of amazing musicians in Europe. I would mention my friend Marco Marconi who is a brilliant pianist from my same region (Umbria) living in London for the past 10 years and doing wonderful things. And there is a group I really love from Switzerland called Vein.
JGL: Thanks for the heads up Simone. I’ll have to check them out. And speaking of checking things out, what was your first guitar and what are you playing now?
SG: My first guitar was an Ibanez, George Benson model. Actually I am playing a fantastic guitar built by the talented Matteo Rufini (Rufini Guitars in Perugia). We designed this model together based on my needs and he built a unique instrument.
JGL: Sahweeet!! What other gear are you using? Do you have a specific stage set-up that works best for you in a variety of musical situations or are you switching out gear all the time?
SG: Travelling abroad does not always give me the possibility to have my ideal set-up. Also, for a long while I didn’t own an amp due to personal circumstances so I’m used to play anything that is available which means I had to learn how to find my sound in any context. Ideally I would use a Brunetti Single Man amp (Italian made) and I recently started using a Chorus pedal from Strymon along with a nice Overdrive called Torin by MXR. I look forward to combining the distortion alongside a Reverb/Delay pedal called Collider.
JGL: Changing the subject more than a tad, is there anyone – alive or dead – who you’d love to play and/or record with and why?
SG: My absolute Hero Wayne Shorter!
JGL: Very cool…and thankfully Mr. Shorter is still with us so maybe you’ll eventually get the chance! As an inspiring player and educator yourself, do you give private lessons and if so, how does one go about studying with you? Is there a particular level of student you are looking for?
SG: Yes, I give private lessons but I tend to not have too many students because I feel I need to practice a lot myself to improve everyday. I have in this moment a few spots open so if somebody is interested they can find me on social media or directly through my website. Talking about students I don’t have any one ideal student. Every student is like an athlete with different needs. I just look for passion and motivation. The other educational activity I’m focusing on now are my international workshops. As I said before, during the pandemic I finally had the chance to put on paper the concepts which made me the musician I am now. It might be very personal but I guarantee they will last your entire life.
JGL: You have recorded and performed in a variety of musical situations, is there one that you prefer over the other and is there a particular situation you have yet to play in but would like to (ie: trio, quartet, duo, solo, etc.)?
SG: Due to my style inspired by the piano I prefer the trio. It gives me a lot of harmonic possibilities and allows me to be creative with the arrangements. I have of course some other idea that I want to develop like a duo with the singer Cantora who already participated as a guest in #Underdogs. I would love her to sing some of my originals using counterpoint.
JGL: That would be a wonderful listen and makes me wonder, is there a particular style of music that touches your heart more than others?
SG: Good music generally but not a specific genre.
JGL: As a leader you have recorded – I believe – seven CD’s as a leader. Your two most recent CDs (2022) are titled #Underdog Volume 1 and #Underdog Volume 2 and appear to have more than a special meaning to you both in the title of each C and the titles of the tunes. If you can talk a bit about how these albums came to be, the meaning behind #Underdogs and what it represents to you as an artist? How have they been received so far and what is – if any – the message you are trying to get out to the listening public through your music?
SG: Since the beginning of my “studio” activity I tried to maintain a logical thread, especially after Resilience that was my most important album due to the story behind it which we’ll discuss in the Podcast. The name of this new one is #Underdogs. There are two volumes because it was a strategy for the digital release which worked quite well. The album represents a sport metaphor of life and you will find many titles evolving from sport terminology. “4-5” in particular is a game I personally played that I lost at the end after tying from 0-4 to 4-4. The message is that there is no shame in any one defeat if you give everything. More in general Underdog is a word used in the gambles when a team or athlete is supposed to lose the game. Often the Underdog generates a surprise beating the team supposed to be stronger and this is exactly the message I want to share. Everything is possible and you always have to believe in what you do.
JGL: Wonderfully stated Simone! As we talk about your #Underdogs project, can you let us in on your process when composing your own tunes? Do you sit down with your guitar and come up with ideas or is it more cerebral? In the same vein, do you do compose on the spot or do you need inspiration of some kind?
SG: I don’t have a standard approach. Generally I’m very fast writing something but I don’t do it often. It might seem a paradox but I write a lot of original music without it being purely intentional. Sometimes when I practice, I play something which represents a hook and I go for it. It can be a melody or something rhythmically interesting. When I feel the song is ready then it becomes more cerebral in terms of arranging because I strongly believe that a song has to have some surprise happening. On the last album I tried to insert more written kicks for the drums and for the first time lines for the bass (like “Unnecessary Roughness”). There was an evolution for sure in the way I write music now. I think I am more metropolitan in some way when compared to my earlier albums before Resilience.
JGL: Speaking of being resilient, almost every musician, no matter their level and professional stature, has their own insecurities to deal with when it comes to music and playing their instrument. What, if any, insecurities do you face on your instrument and how do you work at getting over them?
SG: Oh yes there is always something! I don’t feel as comfortable as I would like to be with odd meters. The only solution I know is working on them using the metronome until I feel fluent in the tempo I chose. The other way I adapt is writing a song with a specific tempo, or even changing the tempo of a Jazz standard. That way I have to deal with it in a real context and not only during the practice phase.
JGL: Do you find the business side of being a Jazz musician distracting or should the playing be left to the player and the business side of things be left to the managers and agents? Do you have a manager or agent or is it all a one-woman operation?
SG: The business side can be really complex and definitely distracting in certain moments. I try to find the right balance between the two but of course there are things that I handle better than others. In general I think that every side of the business should be left to the right people but this is not always possible for different reasons. That said it’s actually a 50-50 operation because I’m lucky to have some good professionals working with me, like Arlene Hovinga, who is an outstanding publicist! Kate Posadneva is a fantastic booking agent who came in recently for the #Underdogs project. I confess it makes me feel good and more motivated. when there are others in my corner so to speak.
JGL: Nice! As we wrap this up Simone, any advice for the younger guy or gal who is thinking about playing jazz guitar?
SG: The only thing I can say to a young guitarist (and it’s just my opinion) is to try finding your own identity as a player. If you put a record on without knowing who is playing you will probably recognize Pat Metheny, Wes Montgomery or Bill Frisell. I have the sensation that today the new generation lost a bit of this capacity in developing their ears to hear personality.
JGL: Have you ever had second thoughts about your choice to have music as a career and if so, what other career path do you think you would have followed had you not been a guitar player.
SG: I think about that almost every day. I use to make a joke all the times saying that I constantly want to quit music (not really a joke) but any time I decide to do that something special happens. Few weeks ago something incredible happened again but it’s a surprise I would love to reveal during the Podcast. An alternative path could be studying psychology which was one of my passions or continuing with my family flowers shop. We’ll never know I guess.
JGL: True! Now…if you had to do one thing over again, what would it be and why?
SG: There are not many things I regret in my life, maybe a couple. One of them was refusing to go to play for the football club of my city, Perugia. I was probably 15 and it was a huge mistake because in a short time the club was promoted in the Italian Series A and I would have probably had the chance to get there with the team.
JGL: Thankfully, it looks like things are working out for you despite the surprised life detour. Just for fun, what is one thing that people would be surprised to find out about you?
SG: Probably that I try to avoid the stage all the times...LOL
JGL: LOL…I hear ya! 🙂 Apart from the new albums, what else does the future hold for Simone Gubbiotti?
SG: New albums are a consistent part for sure simply because they are related to the projects. I don’t look too far normally but the recent future will bring some nice shows and tours. I will go to Croatia at the beginning of September and to London in October with an amazing project called “Away from Home” with pianist Marco Marconi. I also look forward to having the chance to play with another fantastic musician, the German pianist Christian Pabst, with whom I recorded an album called Encounter which will be out in few weeks. One desire I have is to go back to Mexico in 2023. And then…we still have this surprise coming up when we do the podcast! 🙂
JGL: I look forward to hearing about it! Thank you Simone for taking the time to chat with Jazz Guitar Life. All the best in all that you do and we’ll talk soon!
SG: Thanks to you Lyle and Jazz Guitar Life for your kindness and patience, which is always appreciated!
Please consider spreading the word about Simone and Jazz Guitar Life by sharing this interview amongst your social media pals and please feel free to leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you 🙂
If you would like to support all the work I do on Jazz Guitar Life, please consider buying me a coffee or visiting the Jazz Guitar Life sponsors. Thank you and your patronage is greatly appreciated regardless if you buy me a coffee or not 🙂