Q&A with upright-bass player/composer Renaud Garcia-Fons, gifted with the finest taste for mixing tradition and modernity

"Honestly, I don't know much about jazz specifically but about music in general, I would say creating happiness, a feeling of human closeness, a positive and generous energy, a certain form of spirituality ..."

Renaud Garcia-Fons: Music Visions

Renaud Garcia-Fons was born in 1962 near Paris to parents from the Catalonia region of northeastern Spain, and was introduced to music at age five, taking up the piano and classical guitar. As a young man, he studied the double bass at the Paris Conservatory of Music, performing in its orchestras and refining his knowledge of music theory and performance. He also became the private student of François Rabbath, as a member of Le Big Band Roger Guerin, he performed side-by-side with some of the most renowned of jazz drummers, including Kenny Clarke and Sam Woodyard. By age 21, Renaud was awarded a diploma by the French Cultural Minister as Professor of Double Bass. From this point forward he worked independently, allowing his adventurous spirit to liberate him from the technical limitations of his instrument in favor of greater freedom to improvise; and to explore music at the crossroads of jazz, traditional, and contemporary music.                                                  (Renaud Garcia-Fons / Photo by Caroline Pottier)

Ten years into this journey, he decided to add a fifth string to his bass, enabling possibilities well beyond the idea of the double bass as an accompanying instrument and particularly the option to be one of an ensemble's improvising voices. Combining this innovation with his con arco and pizzicato techniques, he reached an unprecedented level of performance. Some began to call him the “Paganini of the double bass.” While this has been a great compliment, a more accurate comparison is to Astor Piazzolla, Jimi Hendrix, and Paco de Lucia – artists who have advanced the possibilities of their instrument on the force of selfdirected study and research. As a member of the Orchestre des Contrebasses and later of the Orchestre National de Jazz directed by Claude Barthélémy, Renaud's knowledge of jazz and improvisation deepened, and brought him into direct contact with many leading European and American jazz musicians. The art of improvisation became a central element in his artistic vision. There are multiple sources for his musical inspiration. He feels as close to the Flamenco tradition, which he has transposed for the double bass, as to the music of the Mediterranean and Orient.

Interview by Michael Limnios    Special Thanks: François Peyratout (Nemo Music)

How has the Jazz and Ethnic/Oriental music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

The most beautiful trips are those that have nourished my musical and sometimes spiritual imagination. It is not necessarily a physical trip, I sometimes travel by discovering certain CDs of ethnic music from South Africa, Burma or Madagascar for example. Jazz is a very rich and very strong musical culture which itself feeds on world music, and in any case that is how it is understood.

How do you describe your sound and music philosophy? What are the lines that connect the 'East & West' music?

It's quite simple for me since in my inspiration, I do not establish borders, prejudices, or hierarchy. Starting from this point, I try to relate to a source that I could not define, but which at times gives me certain inspirations, melodies, themes, grooves, or even practically complete pieces. Either way, that's what happens on a good day, although I find it hard to explain how it happens.

Do you consider the "World Jazz" a specific music genre and artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?

It is all the same terrible this need to put labels ... Of course, the most important is a state of mind, and please, let's get out of these labels which mean nothing and lock us up.                                         (Renaud Garcia-Fons / Photo by Rolf Freiberger)

"The most beautiful trips are those that have nourished my musical and sometimes spiritual imagination. It is not necessarily a physical trip, I sometimes travel by discovering certain CDs of ethnic music from South Africa, Burma or Madagascar for example. Jazz is a very rich and very strong musical culture which itself feeds on world music, and in any case that is how it is understood."

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What´s been the highlights in your career so far?

As a young listener, a phenomenal amount of music made a deep impression on me, the list would be huge ... I could quote Bach, Stravinsky, Debussy and Ravel, and at the same time the Beatles and lots of English bands, Genesis, Yes, Soft Machine, then Magma and then Jazz, starting with Miles Davis, John Coltrane, etc. Then Weather Report, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock ... Without forgetting Paco de Lucia, flamenco in the broad sense and the Orient through Indian music, Ram Narayan, Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan but also music from the Arab world Munir Bachir, Oum Khalsoum and Persia, with for example Ostad Elahi, the master tanbur player ... I was going to forget, the French song, Brassens, Brel, Barbara ... It is an immensity. In my career, there too, it is immense. Many musicians from my immediate entourage have brought me a lot, accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier, Nguyen Le, Robby Ameen, François Rabbath, Michael Riessler, the musicians of the double bass orchestra, Claude Barthélémy and the members of the National Jazz Orchestra, Steve Swallow, Paul Mc Candless, and so many others.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Do not have too many certainties. Always work. Trying to get to the root of things. And I am not talking to you about the technique, which must be developed, then forgotten ...

What touched you from the upright-bass and how do you have grown as an artist since you first started making music?

After just trying a double bass for a few moments, I fell in love with this instrument. There is no explanation for falling in love. The only thing I can say is that I very quickly understood that with the double bass I could meet all kinds of music. An important thing certainly is the possible double expression of the instrument, the pizzicatto and bow playing.

"It's quite simple for me since in my inspiration, I do not establish borders, prejudices, or hierarchy. Starting from this point, I try to relate to a source that I could not define, but which at times gives me certain inspirations, melodies, themes, grooves, or even practically complete pieces. Either way, that's what happens on a good day, although I find it hard to explain how it happens.(Renaud Garcia-Fons / Photo by Pascal Thiebault)

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I could wish that a greater diversity of music be offered through the media, I mean TV, editorial, streaming platform, etc.

We have the feeling that today, we have to produce something that has practically already been heard and that fits into boxes ... Obviously, if we could get out of this system ...

What is the impact of Jazz (and music general) on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want to affect people?

Honestly, I don't know much about jazz specifically but about music in general, I would say creating happiness, a feeling of human closeness, a positive and generous energy, a certain form of spirituality ...

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