Some Soulful Stories: Frank Salis meets Michael Watson

This year the rich program of JazzAscona 2019 has given us a chance to enjoy the duet of two stars of musical scene: Frank Salis and Michael Watson. Their creative collaboration once again proves the fact that music is able to unite diverse parts of the world in a language that communicates everything to everyone... Conducted by the journalist Taliya Khafizova in a series of dialogues entitled "Some Soulful Stories", here is this interview, granted to us at JazzAscona.

* Dear Michael, you are known as a composer, songwriter, and also a trombone player. What is trombone as an instrument of its own personality for You?

M.W.: Actually, I write a lot of music on piano - I start playing piano and singing melodies... For me, from all the instruments piano, cello and the trombone are closest to the human voice. Cello, especially, is by far my most favourite instrument in the entire world.​ I also think that as for musicians the music we create is the part of ourselves, we have music ingrained in our DNA.... So my appeal to playing trombone, piano and composing music lies in the fact that they are all interconnected and linked with human voice, and their sounds better portray who I am...

* Could you describe the sound of trombone? It seems to me that it is very versatile instrument which can be a leader, can be also soothing, caring...

M.W.: I can relate it to having children. Trombone is a "nurturing instrument". It can provide whatever you need, on multiple levels... It can be a leader; a backgrounder; it can fit in any music. It is same like being a Father. Whatever the moment is, you find the way to care for child, to nurture, to be in harmony whilst applying diverse qualities to each situation.

* Dear Frank Salis, what about you, your perception of piano? Are there any adjectives that could describe such to your mind?

F.S.: Apart from piano, I play guitar; organ, hammond, I've also bought trombone and tuba, and mandoline recently! (Laughs) but I discovered that whatever instrument you give me - I will make it in that one and only way of mine.​ I started from piano, then discovered thammond and organ. Every time I play music , it doesn't matter on which instrument, it sounds the same. It is one manner of expression, be it guitar or piano. It is not the instrument but myself who defines the quality and features of sound. It is the extension of my personality and the facets of my soul that are there, shown through any instrument.

M.W.: You do not choose whom to be; you are just who you are, you mean. I like that thought. (Both Laughing)

* I came to your gig tonight at the moment when there was a song with lyrics about the God and Music. What is the essence of the God for you?

M.W. I've never been a religious person, but I have been a spiritual for my entire life. Do I believe in a greater power? Of course. There is so much that you can't explain: it has to come from somewhere. Perfect example is our meeting with Frank Salis: 2 or 3 years ago we didn't know each other. Nicolas paired us together and Frank sent me his music asking to come up with some melodies, some lyrics. I remember we had just 2 hours before the gig, We tried and we were amazed that all sounded so well... And here we are today. It turned out to be amazing beautiful thing. There is no explanation of how something is created, how mountains tower above the lake in the city like Ascona, no explanation how on a darker side people suffer without food and even clothes... There is no explanation but that there is higher power which creates cause and effect. Life the way that it is.

*​ Just like the very process of composition as well, very much linked with supreme power. For you as for the creator, dear Frank Salis, what are the sources of inspiration and the perception of the God?

F.S.: We are used to think about the God. But I think it does not exist. We gonna all die, and for me it is something that leads me to think that there is no God or Power which can hear our demands. But when I do music - I love to think that i am only the vector of energy of the God. It is the God that puts all together. When I perform I don't think what to play, it is just energy. We work with energy. And for composing - I play a lot and catch ideas in the process, like: "oh, that sounds good!". And there is something divine in that thing. There are points of flow of that energy when we perform on stage as well - that's why it never sounds the same.

* Do you think that Ascona is a place with special flow of energy where music sounds different?

M.W.The opening lines of one of my songs, "The Days I like to know" go like:

"As I am sitting waiting for dawn to come..

... Once the wind moves the lake..

...Sweet conversations as the Mountains move away..

...These are the Days that I'd like to know ".

When I was writing these lyrics, I was thinking about Ascona.​ I came here for the first time in 2011, we were partying and swimming in the lake, jam sessions used to be on the beach. I remember coming back to hotel; sitting down and just watching the sunrise. Seeing the water move..mountains, people at homes turning lights on and off. And all these years later I met Frank and he sent me music and I thought: "okay; this is my inspiration for the song." So that opening phrase in a song is entirely linked with this place, Ascona. I think places really influence the art and give inspiration. It can be good or it can be bad. But environment is a necessary factor in creativity.

F.S. Monte Verita in Ascona is another place which charges this environment with energy, for instance. It is known for spiritual community which resided there before.

* Let's speak a little bit more about your project: "Frank Salis meets Michael Watson".​ May we say that it connects Swiss and New Orleans perspectives on jazz? What is your own vision of this project?

F.S.: I think it is just music. I am the citizen of the world; I do not live just in one country. It is not just about New Orleans or Switzerland.

M.W.: We are pigeons of the world. It is who we are and what we know, as Frank told as well, that is reflected in music. It can sound arrogant but it is so. Having Music as a universal language it does not matter where you go or who you work with. That's a common thread across the borders. We are people of the world. Again, some might say: "Who you are to tell that you are of the world", but it's the truth. We take part in something that has been a bigger part of the foundation of Humanity from Day 1. We are blessed to share that, to be a part of it, to say that we give ourselves to music and to the world. It s not New Orleans, Ticino, or Antarctica ...

F.S. We are Fathers. And when you are father, you are such to every child you see.

M. W. Exactly! There are so many times I see a kid and​ just say like "wait wait; be careful"! And we know no other way to be than this way.

* Music is really a universal language. And this constitutes its magic. I also read about your "Alchemy" project, dear Michael, which you have recently recorded. You mention "come on come all" concept linked with your music...

M.W.: Yeah, that "come on come all" atmosphere speaks about music being everywhere. People say like "oh, it sounds like jazz, or like blues". But it first of all sounds like music. It is not a genre it is not pop, or rap,or any of that. Music is the only genre. If you feel the need to segregate music - that's on you. But it all comes to the same thing. There is jazz in rap, there is rock in rock and roll. Again, it is universal. * And it is that achemy of sounds, meanings, senses that defines the genre of music...

M.W.: Exactly.

* Frank, you have travelled all aroung the world. You have been to Tunisia, Azerbaijan, Ascona... But what places or imoressions influenced you and your art the most?

F.S : In my childhood, I only went to Italy. Later on I started to travel and that broadened my mind. Of course, each place has its own energy. But it is poor countries that touch me the most. Having been there and seen how low and different quality of life in these countries compared to Switzerland is triggered two questions in me: first, "why?" And secondly, "thank you, God"... I realized the chance of being born here, in Ticino.

M.W.: Yeah, not taking anything for granted....

* This being said, may you share your credo of life with our readers and viewers? What motivates you and inspires? That would be our last question...

M.W.: My life credo has become "Transform and Transcend" motto which I have been using recently as a hashtag in my social media accounts. #transformandtranscend is about finding a way to better yourself as a human being regardless where and in what: food, art, family, leisure.​ Finding a way to better yourself in what you do. Being the best person you can, focusing on the life of this moment. So for anyone listening that, it is about finding that way.

* Is it also about living in a pursuit of perfection?

M.W.: Yeah, but it is not really about the perfection. We can never reach perfection in anything in our life. It's an avid goal to constantly seek happiness. The pursuit of happiness. The knowing that improvement is longevity; constant growing our whole lives are about growing. I saw a man once in Barcelona who was playing on a street in his mid-70s. I sat near him and asked why you are doing that here. He told me that he had travelled a lot, performed on many big stages. But he was there because he felt that need. "This is what I enjoy doing. This is my next stage", - he told. I am neither rich, nor poor, but it is just the fulfillment of life thay I find in this moment. It showed so much clarity for me. And of what my purpose is as for an artist. Just going through the life... It is what Transform and Transcend is about.

* Very beautifully said! Could you share with us your life credo as well, dear Frank?

F.S.: I totally agree with Michael. For me it is also doing the best we can in our life, for our children as well... For entire world out there...

* That has been a very inspiring and soulful conversation. Thank you very much !

F.S.& M.W.: Thank you.

Words by Taliya Khafizova

Photographs by Almira Khafizova