In 2011, Giorgos Kosteletos found himself fortunate enough to be invited to join George Kontrafouris at a jazz conference in Sao Paolo, Brazil where select students from jazz schools around the world were chosen to be placed at random into six different big bands. One of his greatest takeaways from this trip was the opportunity to experience up close how Brazil came into their own unique sound, which coalesces elements of classical romanticism, African rhythms, and beyond to create something unmistakably their own.
Greece, he believes, unfortunately lacks this kind of nuanced sound, especially when it comes to how they play jazz; rather than infuse other styles with their own, the Greeks—and especially the jazz musicians—look at jazz as though there’s a Bible with heroes to follow without deviation. “We have all the great elements to blend like Brazil does, to make our own incredible, unmistakable sound in any genre, but most of the musicians scorn this kind of ‘fusion’ because for them it isn’t jazz anymore then,” he tells me. “We are a country of purists. Sure, occasionally you hear someone use a traditional Greek song to make electronic or reggae beats with it, but more as an intellectual experiment, without any depth or emotional connection to what they’re creating.”
It’s this connection he also finds lacking in most of the performances he sees nowadays in Athens—both between the musicians and the audience and between each other onstage. He likens it to the difference between what it’s like to listen to engaged conversation between a group of people versus hearing them make pleasant small talk. While he’s quick to acknowledge Athens has a lot of amazing players, he also sees most of them neglect to consider the audience when planning a performance or even what their own interaction will be due to the fact they aren’t regularly playing together. Without it being their actual band or even sometimes a main project, they don’t give that same energy to it and what you end up with is a lot of music that sounds technically great, but never something that actually grabs you.
“To build a performance that will raise the energy of the room you have to play with the same people again and again—and people that you love playing with also,” he insists. “Because when you do this, what you play together becomes a kind of language you don’t have to think about. You stop even needing playlists, which makes the experience more demanding for the audience. Performances like these, where you’re free to improvise, to create a different vibe every night, knowing the other guys have got your back and you’ve got theirs—-this is what will catch the audience’s attention, make them forget to pick up their phones or post to Facebook. The problem isn’t with the audience; if we don’t hold their attention, it’s our problem. It’s what we’re giving them as performers that needs work. “