Emerging artist from the 2019 Contest: interview with Anais Drago

It is a great satisfaction to see young musicians establishing themselves in the difficult contemporary jazz scene also thanks to a Contest that was created precisely to give them space and visibility. This is certainly the case with the young violinist Anais Drago, one of the finalists of the Contest in 2019.

Born in Biella in 1993, Anais began studying the instrument when she was only 3 and a half years old and this will be a constant that will accompany her until today. “By my nature, I have almost no certainty about anything, except for one thing: when I play I really feel good,” she says. A choice that is already starting to bring results.

Anais Drago, in fact, this year was awarded the Top Jazz in the category "new proposals" by the magazine Musica Jazz. She already has released two albums as a leader: “Anais Drago & The Jellyfish” (published by Another Music Records, in 2018) and “Solitudo” (published by CAM Jazz, in 2021).

Despite her young age, she has already performed in the main jazz festivals in Italy and abroad: Umbria Jazz, JazzMi, Fano Jazz, Una striscia di Terra Feconda, Torino Jazz, Bergamo Jazz, Casa del Jazz in Rome, Jazz italiano per le terre del sisma, Canal Street Festival (Norway), Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, National Theater of Bratislava, just to name the main ones. But let's get to know her better.

Can you tell us your story? What is your artistic background?

“I started studying music when I was very young, I followed the academic path up to the violin diploma. At the end of this journey I met jazz and I was bewitched by it, so I dedicated the last ten years of my life to the study of improvisation, in the jazz sense but, over time, not only. In the meantime, I took a second degree, this time in jazz composition, and continuing to play in the most varied musical fields, from pop to rock through traditional music, I discovered in the field what it means to live by and with music. I started making records, mine and others, and I am firmly convinced that I am only at the beginning of a wonderful adventure. Now my musical activity revolves around jazz, experimentation, free improvisation, but in projects in which I am involved as a side-musician I maintain a relationship more linked to traditional jazz, world music and many other genres".

What is the recognition that has most gratified you so far? As we said before, you have won the recognition as "Best new Italian talent", one of the most coveted awards of Top Jazz. What do you think?

“The Top Jazz award came at an extremely important and prolific time, after having done a concert tour with the Taste of Jazz / NUOVO IMAIE award and having released a solo album. I am infinitely grateful to all those who contribute to these important stages of a musician's path, and proud to have won such recognition despite the very little linear background of studies and experiences and not devoted to jazz in the strictest sense".

How was your passion for jazz music born?

“More than a passion, it was a challenge with myself: jazz represented a musical world, a point of view from which I had never considered being able to observe and experience music. Once immersed in that world, however, the challenge turned into true joy and passion for the great freedom of this music. What I particularly love about jazz is its dynamism”.

Is jazz your only genre or do you listen to something else too? And if so, what?

“I don't only listen to jazz, I would say that I don't listen to any genre more than others. Listening to music for me travels across both genres and eras".

Today it is very difficult to say something new in the crowded expressive world of jazz. How do you differentiate yourself from other musicians? What is your research and artistic experimentation moving towards?

“My research is inextricably linked to my instrument. I try to bring back on the violin all that I live, all the experiences and suggestions (also coming from other artistic and expressive languages). Also, I study a lot, although one may think there is a time to study and one to act. I continue to study, and my biggest goal is to continue to have the means and the possibilities to do so!”.

What are your stylistic references in the jazz field and which are the musicians of the contemporary scene to which you feel most inspired?

“I don't have a single and definitive answer. My musical models are constantly changing and whatever is new to me to listen to, even if it were Monteverdi, is for me a model to pursue that opens doors that were closed to me until then. I really like being inspired by the musicians I know in real life, personally. This helps me to enrich the music I listen to with meaning. Lately I have studied a lot about the period of the twentieth century avant-gardes, especially the American minimalist movement, and I like to listen to the works of contemporary Italian musicians".

How does an independent musician or band survive today?

“I don't think there is a single answer. Commitment and dedication are the basis of success in every field. But then there is the outside world, over which we have no power, and it is up to us to go in search of proposals and offers that can be combined with our artistic ideas. This means being ready to know, discover, travel, move. Always question yourself ".

Is there space and interest in Italy for your musical genre? And how is the situation abroad instead?

“I feel extremely lucky to have taken part in many reviews and festivals all over Italy in the last year and a half, so my opinion on this is necessarily positive. The hope is that, compatibly with the technical, logistical, bureaucratic and communication needs, there is less and less need to catalog music (and art) through labels, and that every place of use of artistic languages ​​can understand the old and the new, the classic and the modern, tradition and innovation. In some cases, even abroad, this is already happening, and I hope it is a trend towards which we should all orient ourselves!".

Speaking specifically of the Contest: what led you to sign up for the Conad Jazz Contest?

“A good competition, especially within a prestigious festival like Umbria Jazz, has the answer in itself. I considered it an excellent artistic and personal opportunity, beyond the eventual final result".

What was it like competing with other musicians who share the same passion as you?

“The best memory is to think that most of the musicians who competed with me that year for first place are brilliant musicians who are pursuing, each in different ways and places, a very valuable artistic career. With some of them I had (and still have) the pleasure of playing and collaborating".

How do you rate your experience at Umbria Jazz and what happened next?

“After the Conad Jazz Contest, a pandemic has arrived! Irony aside, it has been a seriously critical period for all musicians, artists and for those who, in this world, are involved and work there. Personally, it was also the moment in which on the other hand I made ideas and thoughts germinate, merged into a second recording work in my name and into a 360-degree maturation of what making music means for me".

Would you recommend other musicians to participate?

"Absolutely yes".

It has been announced that this year you will perform again in Perugia, during the days of the Festival, with the gypsy jazz trio Accordi Disaccordi. When will we be able to see you at work?

“I will play with Accordi Disaccordi every day from 8 to 16 at the Restaurant stage of the Arena Santa giuliana during the official pre-concert time, plus during lunches at the Bottega del Vino. In addition, again at UJ I will present my solo "Solitudo" on Saturday 9th at the National Gallery of Umbria, Sala Podiani at 3:30 pm ".

How did you get in touch with the band? How did this collaboration start?

"I have known Accordi Disaccordi for a long time, being almost 'neighbors' (they are based in Turin). After meeting us a few times on the occasion of reviews and festivals in which I also played with other projects, they invited me to do the first dates with them and the understanding was great, especially for their original repertoire, which gives me a way to express myself musically in a very different way from the approach I use in my projects as a leader, which explore very distant sounds, but both very representative of myself. In June of last year I recorded in their new album "Decanter", which was officially presented at the Blue Note in Milan in September (date in which I was also present). Throughout 2021 I have been a guest of the trio several times, up to the invitation for Umbria Jazz Winter in Orvieto for New Year's Eve 2021 (unfortunately then skipped to the last due to problems relating to covid) and for Umbria Jazz 2022".

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