Over time I have been cultivating the idea of the duty of “passing down” our knowledge.
Photograph by Monika S Jakubowska
Over the last few years, the music of Diana Torti and Sabino de Bari have been very much on the Jazz Views radar. Firstly, with Diana’s album On A Cloud and then on Sabino’s excellent Lo Racconts il Mare.
Working across multiple genres the music of Sabino and Diana brings together the ancient and the new. Classical music, jazz, improvisation and of course music from the Mediterranean merge seamlessly into a unique musical melting pot that holds the traditional values of each of the different discipline and cultures while not being afraid to imbue the music with their own personalities.
It was with great anticipation that the couple’s new recording It’s All We Have was received for review, and when presented with the opportunity to talk to the two musicians it was too good to pass up.
Firstly, can you tell us about your new album, It’s All We Have?
Diana: We are so excited about this album which represents us very much in this phase of our musical activity. The process went quite smoothly.
Sabino: It has been a work in progress. Piece by piece while I was composing, we were discovering the connection between pieces and a sort of inner will to work around the themes and concepts present in the album.
Diana: In fact, along with the music, we wanted to propose a reflection on the beauty of the world and humanity in contraposition to the power which is exercised in multiple forms on people. Furthermore, “It’s All We Have” represents our urge to express ourselves as artists despite the daily difficulties that everyone goes through in everyday life.
The individual compositions on the album are all beautifully conceived, a seamless juxtaposition of words and music? Would I be right in assuming that the words come first and the music is written after the lyrics are chosen?
Sabino: Usually, when dealing with poems the words come first. Music became a partner to sustain, underline and help elements of the poem, sometimes hidden, to emerge. But it also has to be in dialectic with the poem. This is what happened when I was composing pieces like ‘Hope’ or ‘Who Has Seen the Wind’. So, there can be other approaches to this process, even composing the lyrics alongside the music as I did for ‘The Extra Something’. Or, even if very difficult, you add a poem to the music. I know someone incredibly good at that… guess who?
Diana: I am so flattered about that! I cannot tell if I am good at it…however, yes, sometimes things go differently. In the case of two wonderful melodies composed by Sabino, ‘Beyond Clouds’ and ‘In Spite of Everything’, I felt that they were resonating with something inside me. So, I have sung those melodies so many times, exploring them, learning them so deeply and trying to figure out what they were recalling me. And slowly some ideas and thoughts started to fluctuate, and words came out smoothly, telling stories that I urged to express with that music.
The words are a wonderful and eclectic selection from the original lyrics by both of you, to the poetry of Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti. Can you tell us about your choice of poets to feature and what attracted you to these poems?
Sabino: We really wanted to give voice to women, and we do love Dickinson and Rossetti’s poems.
Diana: Honestly, it was hard to choose as both poetesses have written many wonderful poems. The ones we chose were very inspiring to us. The image we found in those was strictly linked with the magnificence of life and nature (both Christina Rossetti and Emily Dickinson have drawn extraordinary landscapes immersed in the elements of nature).
Hope was very powerful to express the strong sense of positivity that we feel although the difficulties that everybody faces. And lastly, ‘It’s All I Have To Bring Today’ was so close to our feeling of bringing to our attention what is essential in our lives. For Emily Dickinson that was expressed by the bees or the meadows. But for us it is music…so it inspired our idea for the title of the album.
The music flourishes in a very sparse musical setting of just voice and guitar, yet so full of detail and expression is the music that it is impossible to imagine it any other way. You recorded as a duo on Diana’s On A Cloud album released in 2019. Is a duo situation one in which you both feel comfortable and best able to express yourselves?
Diana: That is so kind of you Nick! Honestly, the duo allows us to create a very intimate and suggestive musical environment. We both love an acoustic dimension. Personally, it makes me focus on details and nuances at a deeper level. Also, it requires great listening sensitivity, technical awareness, and connection to each other. It makes the interplay intense and delicate at the same time.
Sabino: We are very connected as a duo. And I like our ability to create sounds and colours, to work with dynamics to create a spark and to be delicate at the same time. We are very versatile. I found the duo a very comfortable place musically. But every duo is different and what I have with Diana is unique and special.
You have collaborated on many projects together. How did you both meet and begin making music together?
Sabino: We met in a music school in Rome where we both were teaching. It was 2006 and we soon started playing together.
Diana: And from that moment on we never stopped.
Sabino: But developing our vision as a duo it took a while! It developed, and still it does, naturally, though.
Your music is very personal to each of you. How did you become interested in music and what made you decide to pursue this as a career?
Diana: I have been lucky enough to start enjoying music since when I was a child. I listened to many genres and styles and sang everything, imitating sounds, and singers. Music has always been part of my life and even when I was studying to become a psychologist I was already working as a professional singer. It came quite naturally to carry on.
Sabino: I don’t know. I can only say that music has always been a priority in my life since I can remember. Even just as a listener.
Who would you say have been particular influences on you, and your development as musicians?
Diana: Honestly, so many people at different times have been so important in my development as a musician. If I must choose one, I’d say a wonderful musician who was also one of my first music teachers, Adolfo Broegg, with whom I made the first steps into the professional music world performing medieval music. He has been deeply important and inspiring to me.
Sabino: Too many people and artists, including those whose views on music I couldn’t agree with!
The uniqueness in your music, both individually and collectively, is how it is inextricably bound to your roots in Italy yet also crosses many musical genres. How would you describe your approach to making music?
Sabino: I could safely say both me and Diana have been having a very vast journey across many styles and genres of music. Personally, my approach to music is based both on inspiration, which I try to keep up continuously and on knowledge.
I work hard to learn from any kind of music, particularly form our Western music tradition, from early music to contemporary. On top of this, I strongly feel the Mediterranean culture both in its more archaic and most recent European culture meaning.
Diana: My first steps in music were linked to medieval and early music. I always keep this link with this music, feeling they are part of my roots.
All other musical experiences, like Jazz or the contemporary music, have enriched and added colours, and nuances to a file rouge represented by my Mediterranean culture. When I approach making music all these things come together spontaneously and organically. It’s like magic. It just happens!
You have both been living in the UK for many years. Do you find the audiences here receptive to your music, and are there plenty of opportunities to perform live?
Sabino: I believe the audience in the UK is very receptive to our music. However, this does not mean it is easy to find the way into musical contexts and jazz clubs. Unfortunately, between our music and the audience, there is the marketing thing, which is made of social networks and streaming platforms as well.
That has become the main way to get gigs. It is an ocean of work which we are trying to learn to do but personally, I tend to be more focused on my musical identity which is more important to me. The whole thing is very frustrating, though.
Diana: I agree with Sabino about the marketing process. I found very rewarding the feedback we usually have when we perform in the UK. Just recently, where we were proposing very peculiar music from Sabino’s “Lo Racconta il Mare” which is deeply Italian-rooted.
We had such a great response from the audience who felt the intensity and the uniqueness of the music, and it was very involved even though it was sung in Sabino’s birth town dialect, Molfetta.
You are also both involved in music education but in quite different capacities. Can you tell us a little bit about your teaching roles?
Diana: My rule as an educator has been predominant so far. Over time, I am trying to develop my professional singing teaching including my skills as a psychologist.
I am focusing more on the well-being of my students, the psychology of the performance and every aspect of the voice not only in the artistic meaning but also including the relation between the voice itself and the human identity. It comes from a personal and artistic research that I have been doing in the last years, for which I was hosted to lecture in some conferences in Europe and published some articles as well.
Sabino: Over time I have been cultivating the idea of the duty of “passing down” our knowledge. At any level. I like teaching guitar to children because I think they deserve a good opportunity in learning as that is a delicate stage of their potential musical life. I also love to teach music composition because it enables me to keep learning and deepening all aspects of music including historical, aesthetic and even philosophy.
Diana: We are already working together on the next album, probably in a quartet. I am also working on a vocal project as a leader, where I am aiming to put forward the vocal aspects with original compositions and improvisations.
Sabino: Yes, the next album with Diana is a priority but I am also working on several projects including a string quartet album and a concert for guitar and orchestra. What shall I do? I am compulsively productive!
Click here to read our review of It’s All We Have