Q&A with Greek drummer Nikos Papavranoussis, graduated from the Dante Agostini School of Drums with the first prize

"The impact of music and arts in general I think is very strong. They are part of everyday life for everyone. It has always been like that. There are no communities that survived without their art. Music has the advantage that it is letting you create your images. To dream by yourself."

Nikos Papavranoussis: A Music Landscape

Nikos Papavranoussis was born in Athens. From the age of 16 he began to play drums and play in various small groups in the mid 80's. He started drum lessons in Athens in '86 with Arion Kaloneos. In 1988 went to Paris to study at the Dante Agostini School of Drums, the first school of drums in Europe (Paris 1964). He graduated from school in 1992 with the first prize of the School "Congratulations and Congratulations" (1er Prix à l'unanimité et Félicitations) and received the diploma of Professor of the School (C.E.S.M.A.). Nikos says: "I started playing in various bands around Athens mostly New Wave or Post Punk music. I mostly played with a band called Radio Nation former known as Venerična Bolest. Around the age of 19 I started taking lessons with drummer Arion Kaloneos the drummer with the National School of Dance at the time. Through him I heard about the Dante Agostini school of drums. I went to Paris France to study at that school. I graduated in 1992 winning the first prize of the school. I also got the teaching diploma of the school.                                                          (Photo: Nikos Papavranoussis)

I now represent the Dante Agostini school of drums in Athens Greece. I have worked with numerous Greek artists as a studio and stage musician. I have also worked a lot with theatres. I have recorded with Tuxedo Moon (2004 Vapor Trails). Played in a lot of jazz groups and blues groups including Mickey Pantelous (Mickey and the Chessmates Hangover). At the time I am playing with a blues trio, the Jonnie Thin Trio. I played a lot of free form music as well. Since 2015 I have my solo drums project sometimes performed with a dancer. I just finished the translation of the biography of Dante Agostini in Greek and I am in search for a publisher. I am also in the process of making a documentary about Dante Agostini."

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

I really discovered jazz music when I was studying in Paris at the Dante Agostini school of drums. First of all, I learned another way of expression on my instrument, rhythmic wise and melody wise. That is how I started studying the lives of the most important musicians of this music. All of that helped me a lot on how to play more freely and ways of interpreting a song or a piece of music in different ways. That gave me the opportunity of collaborating with many different musicians and showed me more paths in the search of my personal sound and playing. Opening my view in music helped me discover other kinds of music and for sure other kinds of cultures which is a thing I am very interested.

How do you describe your sound and music philosophy? What touched you from the sound of drums?

I like to be able to play FOR the song. I think that my job is to create a landscape or a carpet that the other members of the band would feel comfortable with. I always was a great fan and admirer of drummers with a personal touch and sound especially those with a soft sound. Not a quiet one. A soft one. A soft touch regardless the volume. A sound that can breathe and not a stiff one. Also, drummers that put 100% of themselves every time they hit the drum. This took me a lot of years to approach, and it is always an ongoing process. I really don't want technique to get in the way. I think of it as a useful tool to achieve the sound that you hear in your head and nothing else. I think that our sound is our technique, and it is there that one has to spent most of his time. The sound of the drums caught me wright away and it was the "BOOM" that you feel when you hear them and when you play them. It's a moving force. It is a constant dance a constant move whether we can identify it immediately or not. It is a language almost anyone can understand, I think.

"The lessons I have learned from my preoccupation with music I think they reflect in my life. Music is not a means to an end. It is a journey. A trip. It helps you be a better person. If someone sees it that way. Many times, has the opposite results, but this is not music's fault." (Photo: Nikos Papavranoussis)

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Surely with all my teachers. Arion Kaloneos in Greece, Jacques-François Juskowiac, the director of the Dante Agostini school of drums in Paris France, one lesson I took with Johnny Vidacovich a living legend in New Orleans and two days I spent with drummer extraordinaire Joe Barron discussing life and drums. Also meeting and hanging out with French drum legend François Laizeau every time I visit France. As far as collaborations go, I will always remember the recording I did with Tuxedo Moon in 2004 for their album Vapor Trails in which I recorded drums for every song as they wanted to test if they would like to make a full album with drums. Finally, they kept three songs. Also playing this year (2021) with my trio in August in Mercatello sul Metauro in Italy, the native village of Dante Agostini, at the festival dedicated to him. It took place for the first time as a celebration for the 100th anniversary of his birth. We were the closing act, and it was very special for me. It will be held every summer from now on.

I also remember an open-air festival, my first one at the age of 23. I was so scared I couldn't lower the drum throne. I just couldn't do it no matter how hard I was trying. I thought it was stuck until a guy came and did it with one finger. That's how anxious I was. Another nice studio experience I remember is that we were recording the music of an ancient Greek comedy at the end of the summer tour with the Greek National theatre. The music was very demanding, and we had booked two days six hours a day. For some reason at a point the recording was really going well so the producer in order to keep the feeling says, guys is it alright we buy some pizzas and continue? We said OK and it ended up a ten-hour recording with practically no overdubs. We were all exhausted.

Of course, I cannot forget the drum lesson I took with Johnny Vidacovich a living legend in New Orleans when he was with a trio in Athens. He came for one hour, stayed three and a half, got paid for one, never stopped drinking coffee as he is a coffee-holic, like he told me, big cups of Greek coffee, and when I was playing well what he was asking me he would dance looking outside the window with a cup of coffee in his hands. That was his way of showing me I was doing OK whatever he asked me. If it wasn't working, he would stop. Never looking at me, never saying anything while I was playing.

"I really discovered jazz music when I was studying in Paris at the Dante Agostini school of drums. First of all, I learned another way of expression on my instrument, rhythmic wise and melody wise. That is how I started studying the lives of the most important musicians of this music." (Photo: Nikos Papavranoussis & Jacques-François Juskowiac, the director of the Dante Agostini school of drums in Paris France 2018)

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss the amount of playing we were doing in the 80's and 90's. Every day we would play rehearse or go and watch another band playing. It was full of garages filled with ricophon and paper egg cups and broken instruments and this is how we learned. We would rehearse systematically about three days a week. Everyone would bring his or her ideas and we would try them. And it was always original music. You had to have your music. The covers we were doing were to show our influences and not to make a program out of them. Two maybe three covers the whole night. In that way we were going to watch others play and steal from them, in the good sense of the word and others would come and see us and then go out and discuss music or just hang out together.

My opinion is that these days this feeling is back for many musicians, and this is a very good sign. The problem is that there are not so many spaces to perform, and the audience is not that interested. My biggest fear is that people will not get along to play anymore. The "solution" of the internet and the ability to play with someone far away for me is not a solution. It is the opposite. It keeps everyone isolated but the real purpose of music was always to gather people. If it continues like that, we will not have any festivals, live gigs, jam sessions and I think that some genres of music will disappear. Genres that demanded musicians to perform together: jazz, blues, rock, traditional music of any kind, classical music etc. There is the good aspect though that you see more people like that. You can also meet people you like and maybe collaborate with them. That is true. But from then on you have to get really in touch with them and play together. I cannot see how this can be done watching the other guy on a screen and have a pair of headphones on your ears.

If you could change one thing in the Greek music scene and it would become a reality, what would that be?

That would be definitely the ruling mentality. By that I mean that there has to be enough space for every kind of different sounds and not only the easy listening (from every genre I mean) that we are hearing now. And by that, I mean, the radio stations, the live spaces, everything. Also, I would try to change the taste of some musicians but this something extremely difficult I think as it demands changing the taste of everyday life.                      (Nikos Papavranoussis jammin' in Athens Greece 2016 / Photo by Violeta Makri)

"This one is the hardest although it shouldn't. So many places and events. I will not choose one. For sure I'd like to be in Paris in the end of 50s early 60s. All that jazz scene and that life! Going out and see Kenny Clake play at the Blue Note and hang out with him. Also, in the 50s in the Southern states of the US. Experiencing the life of a hobo. That's something that fascinates me to this day. And of course, I'd like to spend a day with the Velvet Underground, or Ian Dury one of my all-time heroes."

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

The lessons I have learned from my preoccupation with music I think they reflect in my life. Music is not a means to an end. It is a journey. A trip. It helps you be a better person. If someone sees it that way. Many times, has the opposite results, but this is not music's fault.

For example, on the band stand I learned not to get frustrated with the gear I find every night. I deal with it. It might be crap sometimes. What do you do then? You go out screaming and you don't play? Or I would try to be fast at the sound check, I am not getting anxious, but a reasonably quick sound check keeps everyone calm and fresh for the gig. It is the point where some musicians want to play everything they know. Anyway. Also, from the band stand I learned that I will play no matter what. Bad gear, bad sound, no monitors, singer or musicians out of tune. Any circumstance. Also, I will try not to show off. This is for the circus. Things like that you can easily apply to your everyday life and vice versa. I surely have changed a lot from the time I was starting to play.

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?

The impact of music and arts in general I think is very strong. They are part of everyday life for everyone. It has always been like that. There are no communities that survived without their art. Music has the advantage that it is letting you create your images. To dream by yourself. There for I consider it as more free than other forms of art. That is why it has such a great force. It communicates immediately. It has always been like that. I don't have a specific way I want music to affect people. I would say that I would like music to hold hands with someone. Be there like a good friend and really help. If you feel blue you can listen to something not so happy. If you are in the mood for dance, you can do the same. If you are just in a mood of listening and relax or you want to think or anything. It can be there if you want and really help.

"That would be definitely the ruling mentality. By that I mean that there has to be enough space for every kind of different sounds and not only the easy listening (from every genre I mean) that we are hearing now. And by that, I mean, the radio stations, the live spaces, everything. Also, I would try to change the taste of some musicians but this something extremely difficult I think as it demands changing the taste of everyday life."

(Nikos Papavranoussis, Athens Greece 2019 / Photo by George Hadjopoulos)

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

This one is the hardest although it shouldn't. So many places and events. I will not choose one. For sure I'd like to be in Paris in the end of 50s early 60s. All that jazz scene and that life! Going out and see Kenny Clake play at the Blue Note and hang out with him. Also, in the 50s in the Southern states of the US. Experiencing the life of a hobo. That's something that fascinates me to this day. And of course, I'd like to spend a day with the Velvet Underground, or Ian Dury one of my all-time heroes.

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