È definito “il garante del futuro della chitarra gipsy jazz” il chitarrista tedesco Joscho Stephan, sabato alle 21.30 in trio al Teatro Miela, ma mescolare generi è il suo forte e su YouTube raccolgono milioni di visualizzazioni le sue versioni di “Hey Joe” di Hendrix o le cover dei Beatles (a cui ha dedicato un intero album). «Ho una lista infinita di eroi – racconta Joscho – tra cui: Django Reinhardt, Bireli Lagrene, Tommy Emmanuel, Stochelo Rosenberg, Richard Smith, Santana, Hendrix, Paco de Lucia, Charlie Christan, Wes Montgomery, George Benson, Luis Salinas, Steve Lukather, Gary Moore, Stevie Ray Vaughan. Anche in Italia ho incontrato grandi chitarristi: Franco Morone, Daniele Bazzani, Alessio Menconi».
Il concerto al Miela?
«Sarà un mix di composizioni originali, classici del gipsy swing ma anche melodie popolari, in scaletta inserisco standard pop quali “Can’t buy me Love” dei Beatles o “Love me Tender”. Ci saranno parecchi brani dal nuovo album “Guitar Heroes Live”».
Trovare compagni di band con la sua dedizione è difficile?
«Ho cominciato con mio papà, Günter Stephan alla chitarra ritmica, 25 anni fa e in Germania ancora mi accompagna in qualche live, il che è grandioso. Però suonavamo puro gipsy swing e già dieci anni fa desideravo andare anche in direzioni differenti, così ho collaborato con ottimi musicisti come Bireli Lagrene, Stochelo Rosenberg, Tommy Emmanuel, Richard Smith, cercando di combinare al gipsy swing altri generi come klezmer, classica, blues, rock, pop, reggae… Con il mio trio attuale, che mi accompagna anche al Miela, Sven Jungbeck alla chitarra ritmica e Volker Kamp al contrabbasso, riesco a portare tutte queste idee sul palco, non avevo mai suonato con una band che potesse spaziare così tanto e ne sono entusiasta».
Cos’è il gipsy swing?
«Ovviamente è lo stile inventato negli anni ’30 da Django Reinhardt e Stéphane Grappelli. Una definizione ancora più centrata sarebbe “swing europeo” perché Reinhardt e Grappelli (e la loro band Hot Club of France) furono i primi europei a essere accettati dai musicisti jazz americani, tra cui Duke Ellington e Louis Armstrong. Oggi molti giovani cercano di mescolare la tradizione di Django con altri stili jazz (bepop per esempio), o come faccio io con altre influenze dalla classica al rock. Django è morto nel 1953 e dopo quasi 70 anni la sua idea di jazz è ancora viva».
La sua tecnica negli anni si è sviluppata?
«Ovviamente sì, ma sugli aspetti tecnici ho lavorato da giovane, tra i 13 e i 20 ho imparato le basi di quello che oggi utilizzo, poi si continua a maturare e la collaborazione con altri musicisti aiuta molto».
Consigli a chi muove i primi passi?
«Quando ci si esercita su un brano, farlo lentamente in modo che il cervello recepisca l’idea dietro alla tecnica che si sta acquisendo, solo dopo si può velocizzare. Secondo: andare a orecchio, ad esempio cercare di tirare giù da soli gli accordi di una canzone. Ultimo: suonare senza leggere lo spartito, lasciando spazio anche all’improvvisazione».
La parte più dura della sua carriera?
«Capire il lato business. A vent’anni volevo suonare. Poi ho capito che nel pacchetto c’era: controllare le mail, fare telefonate, tenere d’occhio le tasse, indossare camicie e scarpe carine sul palco, interagire con il pubblico… Ma dalla mia ho avuto la perseveranza, non ho smesso di credere nella musica e oggi tutto funziona. Essere un musicista è appagante, ho un sacco di concerti, seminari, posso registrare nel mio studio/accademia…».
Elisa Russo, Il Piccolo 09 Aprile 2022
You’ll be in Italy soon, what’s your relationship with our country, what do you think about Italian culture and do you know of any Italian artist/guitarist/bands?
For us its always a pleasure to play in Italy. The audience is always great, and it seems like the italians really love Gypsy Swing Music. Of course i met some wonderful players in the past, like Franco Morone or my good friend Daniele Bazzani (both great fingerstyle guitar players), or the jazz guitar player Alessio Menconi (i met him at the Eddie Lang Festival in Italy a few years ago).
What can fans expect to see at your Trieste show at Teatro Miela on saturday? What could you anticipate about the setlist?
It will be a mix of original compositions, gypsy swing classics but also popular tunes. For me its important to take care of the audience that doesn’t normally listen to gypsy swing, so because of that reason we often play some pop standards, for example Cant buy me Love by the Beatles or Love me Tender, and we often merge gypsy Swing with different styles. It´s a lot of fun.
How easy was it to find musicians who shared your vision? Who will be on stage with you?
I started together with my father (Günter Stephan on rhythmguitar) 25 years ago, and he still plays some concerts with me in germany, what is great of course. But when we started, we played more “pure” Gypsy Swing. Already 10 years ago i wanted to go into a different direction, so i did a lot of collaborations with great musicians like Bireli Lagrene, Stochelo Rosenberg, Tommy Emmanuel, Richard Smith a.o. Since that time i tried to combine also other styles with gypsy Swing (like Klezmer Music, classical music, Blues, Rock, Pop, Reggae and other Styles). With my actual Trio (with Sven Jungbeck on rhythm guitar and Volker Kamp on double bass) i am able to put all these ideas on stage, so i never played with a band that has such a width range and i really enjoy it. Sven and Volker will be with me at the Trieste show.
You are considered one of the giants of gipsy swing (and jazz) music. What would you say “gipsy” actually is?
Gipsy Swing is of course the stlye that Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli invented in the 30s. A even better description would be “European Swing”, because Django and Stephane (and their Band “Hot Club of France”) were the first Europeans that were accepted by american jazz musicians like Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and many others. Today a lot of young musicians try to mix the tradition (of Django) with other jazz styles (Bebop for example), or like me with other influences from Classical to Rock music. So Django passed away in 1953 and almost 70 years later his idea of jazz is still alive.
Has your technique changed over the years? How has it developed?
of course my whole playing developed the last 20 years, but i worked on the technical aspect when i was really young. So i think between 13 – 20 i learned most of the technique that i still use today, maybe a lot of things are more matured now, but composing, arranging and other stuff was more important the last 15 years. Working with other musicians has always been the most important thing and has often opened my eyes about music in general.
What are your tips or tricks for playing guitar? And who are your guitar idols?
First Tip: If you work on a song, practice slow, otherwise your brain will never understand the idea behind the technique that you practice. You can speed it up as soon as your brain knows what you want to do with your left and right hand. Second Tip: Try to use your ears. In times of Youtube its easy to find a lot of lessons etc., but to find out about the chords by yourself is the best that you can do to train your ears. So just listen to records and try to find out what chords are played. Third and last tip: Try to play a song wihout a sheet. As long as you need to read the chords you cant concentrate on your improvisation for example. All the players that i met the last few years were always absolutely aware of the songs they are playing. The list of my heroes is endless, here a few names: Django Reinhardt, Bireli Lagrene, Tommy Emmanuel, Stochelo Rosenberg, Richard Smith, Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Paco de Lucia, Charlie Christan, Wes Montgomery, George Benson, Luis Salinas, Steve Lukather, Gary Moore, Stevie Ray Vaughan and a lot more…
What would you say has been the hardest part of your musical journey so far? And the best part?
I think the hardest part is to understand the business. It was never a problem to be a “player”, but at the age of 20 i decided to become a professional musician. Then i noticed that it´s important to check mail, to do phone calls, taking care of you taxes, wear a nice shirt and shoes on stage, talk to the audience etc., so a lot of stuff that has nothing to do with the playing. The best part is that i had the perseverance, so today everything is working because i never stopped to believe in the music that i want to play for an audience. Even if i play in a niche, its wonderful to be a musician, because i have a lot of concerts and workshops every year, i am able to play with great musicians, i can do recordings at my studio and videos at my gypsy guitar academy. So i can do whatever i want, and thats great.
With the Covid-19 situation, how has life changed for musicians? Did the pandemic changed you?
we were supposed to play in march in italy, and that was at the time when Covid really hitted italy, so that was a big shock for all of us, i remember that i wrote a lot of mails to my italian friends because of the situation back then. When the lockdowns started i tried to be productive in a different way. So i just released an Album with Beatles Songs (i played most of the instruments bymyself), that album was really succesful, then we played again a lot of shows in the summer 2020, the next lockdown in germany started in November 2020 and lasted until may 2021, in that time we worked a lot on our youtube performance and were able to reach (until now) almost 90.000 subscribers. All that helps with the actual concerts. A lot of musicians a complaining that they dont get enough audience in germany. We played a lot of sold out shows, because of the youtube popularity. So we tried to make the best out of the situation and we hope that we can go on with great concerts in the future.
What’s happening next, is there anything upcoming and in the works already?
a new album will be released in april: Guitar Heroes Live, this is based on my Guitar Heroes Album that i released in 2015. We did the same concept (the Trio + guests) in a live situation. We recorded 4 concerts, always with a different guest (Bireli Lagrene, Stochelo Rosenberg, Olli Soikkeli and Richard Smith), its a mix of gypsy Swing, fingerstyle Guitar, Jazz, Bossa, Pop etc. and we will feature a lot of the songs when we play in Trieste.