Q&A with Jazz musician/teacher Costas Baltazanis, demonstrates the strong notions of Jazz and other musical forms

"Jazz is a universal language and the greatest way to exchange ideas with musicians from different parts of the world. I have played with people from almost every nation. Meeting and collaborating with musicians from different cultures and backgrounds is definitely the biggest journey ever."

Costas Baltazanis: The Odyssey of Jazz 

Greece born author/teacher/composer/jazz guitarist Costas Baltazanis studied jazz guitar performance and composition at Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA. In 1995, Costas formed Iasis along with Petros Kourtis on percussion and Yiotis Kiourtsoglou on bass, a group performing his compositions in the field of world fusion. The band sold thousands of albums and performed in top venues and festivals in Greece, Spain, Germany and Luxemburg. They collaborated on stage and recordings with leading performers like Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Bulgarian Voices, David Lynch, Takis Paterelis, Socrates Sinopoulos, and more. Iasis recorded and produced Iasis (1996), Amalgama (1999), the Cd single Amalgama Mix (2000), and Duente (2003). In 2002, Costas composed the music for the movie “Paradise is a Personal Affair” by Legend Records. A few people he played or recorded with are Alex Foster, The Mingus Orchestra, Arturo Sandoval, David Friedman, Jeff Tain Watts, James Genus, Mike Wolff, Kenwood Dennard, Omar Faruk Tekbilek, The Stuttgart Symphony Orchestra. 

(Costas Baltazanis / Photo by Petros Dellatolas)

In 2015 Costas Baltazanis released his first stateside record, a soundtrack to his inspired New York experience called “End of Seas”. In 2016 he creates an experimental jam band called Subtonics with Sean Nowell, Isamu McGregor and Joel Mateo. They released their first album called VINYL by Letlove Records in December 2019. Costas Baltazanis has twenty-five years of teaching experience. He has taught a great number of students in private or group classes. His students are today’s professional players and teachers all over Europe and USA. Costas Baltazanis has written three books: ‘Music Theory and Ear Training’, ‘Jazz Harmony’ and ‘Electric Guitar’, published by Ph. Nakas Editions. His books are taught in universities and music schools throughout Greece. From 2009 -2012, Costas Baltazanis had been the Director of Studies at ‘Momi Music School’ in Athens, Greece. Since 2017, Costas Baltazanis is teaching at The Collective in Manhattan, NY.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

Jazz is a universal language and the greatest way to exchange ideas with musicians from different parts of the world. I have played with people from almost every nation. Meeting and collaborating with musicians from different cultures and backgrounds is definitely the biggest journey ever.

How do you describe your sound and music philosophy? How do you want your music to affect people?

I grew up listening to many kinds of music…rock, blues, funk, African, classical, jazz and of course Greek. My goal was to be myself, another words to express the mix of sounds and culture that was in my brain and heart. I never wanted to sound like my heroes although I was influenced by them. That’s a tough goal that I think I achieved through the years.

When you improvise, you express your thoughts and feelings and I want the audience to feel this through the “conversation” I have with the rest of the band.

"Jazz is the way to understand that everybody is equal, and we can all learn from each other. No matter the race, color, genre that’s the most important way to peace and equality." (Greece born, NYC-based author; teacher, composer; and jazz guitarist Costas Baltazanis / Photo by Frank Roumeliotis)

What moment changed your music life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

When I was 14, my father took me to see show of Di Meola, McLaughlin and De Lucia. That changed my life since I was only playing classical music back then and I was not improvising. The sound these three guys were creating was so inspiring, I still remember the feeling.

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

I always wanted to live around NYC in the 60s and 70’s where all these great genres like jazz and rock where in the highest level of creation.

I believe that music schools and universities (in general) changed a lot the idea of music creation and personal expression by giving an academic point of view. Music improvisation and creation in any style should be fundamental for all the people, especially kids. I am afraid this is going to be happening less and less in the future.

Why is it important to we preserve and spread the Jazz? What is the impact of Jazz on the socio-cultural implications?

Jazz is the way to understand that everybody is equal, and we can all learn from each other. No matter the race, color, genre that’s the most important way to peace and equality.

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

Not to be afraid to express your thoughts and feelings. You can only learn more about yourself by listening to you and the others.

What's the balance in music between technique skills and soul/emotions?

Technique is the tool that you need in order to express your emotions. We have to understand that. The most important thing is to be an artist above all, meaning that you have to have your own artistic view. This, for most people, is a long journey. Your artistic view needs to be clear and soulful, and you should only advance the specific skills you need. The moment you start practicing skills you end up playing just skills that don’t express yourself and definitely not the audience.

"Not to be afraid to express your thoughts and feelings. You can only learn more about yourself by listening to you and the others."

(Costas Baltazanis / Photo by Petros Dellatolas)

Do you think there is an audience for jazz music in its current state? or at least a potential for young people to become future audiences and fans?

I am not very optimistic about that unfortunately. There is definitely an audience, but I am afraid it becomes much less. We are missing the big pioneers; the jazz radio stations and a lot of festivals that are not there any more. 

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