Frank Salis Biography
Since i was 3 or 4 years old I always enjoyed listening to music, I loved the energy that it gave me.
Then one day my dad picked up his guitar and played me a rock and roll accompaniment – I could not believe it! The sounds that resonated from the stereo gave me much joy, I could feel the energy, I remember this feeling to this day.
When I was 8 my parents gave me a piano with an intention for me to start learning music, I tried to read the notes but it was difficult. I saw that going by ear was much easier for me. I then began to try to play what I heard off old rock’n’roll tapes by what I ‘felt’ was correct.
Listening to some compilations I realized that there were two types of songs, some beautiful but a little “heavy” and others that had a crazy fantastic groove – these songs I began to love after only a few plays. If I like a CD I can listen to it for years, no problems. I’ve had this approach with some compilations of rock’n’roll; Ray Charles, Hard Again by Muddy Water, a collection of Freddy King, Night Train Oscar Peterson, in Conference de presse of Petrucciani and Louiss, a piano solo by Keith Jarrett, John Scofield Hand Jive to name but a few.
At age 10 I attended a performance of the village where I spent the holidays, Bondo in the valley of Grisons Bregaglia, I played an American kid. At one point of the show I had to play a boogie woogie. When I finished the song everyone started to scream and shout “yeahh!!”, once the show was over people started to demand that I play the piano!
I think the most important aspect of music for me is what I try to convey, joy and happiness, the two things that I felt when I first heard music.
After this experience I began to compose a repertoire of boogie woogie.
In my country a friend of mine plays the drums and together we tried to do a duet. We played in all our free time; during lunch break and after school. While friends were playing football or another, we were in my room to jam.
This drummer is Rocco Lombardi, we still play together in a lot of different situations.
After a year of trying to produce music ourselves under the name of Band Fallus we eventually met Bat Battiston. Bat we played with for ten years, where he made us do the “mess”. He taught us, through listening and looking for a good groove, that music is “music”, not just a finger crushing a rope or a button.
After finishing compulsory education I began art school in Italy but given the age of adolescence and the lack of interest in studies I gave up my studies – I spent all my time playing the piano, the guitar and the harmonica…
My parents suggested I study music and after a moment’s hesitation, I agreed.
I enrolled in the school of jazz in Lausanne, where I learned music theory and reading music theory – things that I had never done before…
After four years of study and a diploma in composition and arrangement, I found myself in the world of free music.
My time at school taught me many things but also put me in a ‘Music Crisis’… what is music? Do I need to know everything?… For a few years I taught and studied piano from the ground up and a prepared piano solo, later it was recorded on the radio. I played a lot in many groups, and one day I asked myself the question:
If tomorrow I stop playing, what happens?
The answer is very simple : nothing!
In all groups where I played could be replaced and no one would hear my “lack”.
From that day I left all the groups in which I played and I started to compose my own music, I formed a group with some friends and started to work a lot from independant bookings.
From that day I spent approximately five years building my career and I’m very pleased with what I’ve achieved. I’ve currently released 3 CD’s and my music is played all over the world.
Having realized my dreams gave me a new perspective on what I do. What counts is the honesty, humility, and above all, happiness!
The Best of Frank Salis
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Interview with Frank Salis
Earlier this week, Festival Archive was able to touch base with one of our all-time favourite hammond organ players, Frank Salis. Here’s what he had to say…
If somebody has never heard your music before, how would you describe it to them in one sentence?
My music has a strong connection with blues. It’s played with a lot of energy; it’s very groovy, and most important it’s happy music.
Who were your main musical inspirations growing up?
Anything that I have studied, experienced and listened to inspired me. However, playing blues for so many years was the greatest learning experience for me. In fact this style of music allows you to play really nice but with very simple gear. I am not saying that playing blues is easy, on the contrary: you cannot hide with blues, and people will feel it immediately if you have nothing to say. You can be a talented technician, play terrific scales… but if you put no “heart” in your music, people will feel it immediately.
Also personal life experience really matters a lot in this. I often tell my music students not to focus too much on just practicing, but to go out there and live and to turn their experience of life into the language of music as a free expression of the emotion that is in all of us.
Another source of inspiration is definitely listening to other artists. When I find someone who touches my feelings, I can’t help but listen to that music – sometimes for years – trying to understand what they want to communicate, and then to do the same.
What made you decide to become a musician and are any of your close family musically talented?
It has always been my dream, since I started playing at the age of 8. I pictured myself in front of a large audience, with everyone admiring me and surrounded by girls fascinated by me and my music… it may seem silly but it’s true! Over time I learned to be humble, but this urge to play has never gone away. When I compose a new song I always imagine playing it in front of many people and I try to anticipate the impact that it may have.
When I was in high school I spent all the time playing, I was not interested in anything else… well, no, it’s not true… I also thought about partying … maybe that’s why high school didn’t end up so well!
On a weekly basis, about how much time do you spend practising?
I spent many years playing up to 7-8 hours a day… but lately I have less and less time: with my work as a teacher (which is in a way time spent practicing), and all the booking-related work, I really cannot study as much as I’d like.
Lately I travel a lot, and I can compose and think of the arrangements even without my instrument. I have too many ideas and too little time to realize them.
Do you have a fixed preparation regime before going out on stage? How do you cope with nerves?
I have performed in concerts for more or less 20 years now. I am not as nervous as I used to be. If there is time, I mentally review the whole concert, singing the most difficult passages… maybe while drinking a few beers.
I like talking during concerts, it’s just that I say only stupid things … a few beers help me to concentrate my ideas on something, without saying everything that comes to my mind out loud. Talking during concerts is not that easy. I know people who prepare speeches… I tried that once, and it turned out pretty bad. I believe that doing jazz we become used to improvising with what is around us, so what works better for me is to look at the audience and use my music and words to get them on my side.
How do you handle mistakes during a performance?
Ahhhh, mistakes! If it’s me to make mistakes it’s not a problem, but if it’s one of my musicians… it’s minus 5 dollars per mistake! No, seriously, there’s no problem. During concerts I try to pass on energy, good feelings and the desire to have fun… certainly not perfection. On the contrary, errors are welcomed in small doses. They can lead to new ideas.
What has been your most memorable gig?
I think it was the first one. I was 10 and when the song finished everyone began to shout “yeahh!!!”. That’s when I realized that all the time I spent in my room practicing was well spent.
I need to have the feedback of the public. I need people cheering for me, like in sports.
Which is the one place where you’ve always wanted to perform?
I do not have a specific place… for me it is important to play where there are people and where people are there to listen to me. Once you have these conditions, any stage is the best stage.
Unfortunately, for years I have played in many situations where people do not listen, or where behind the musicians there is a switched on television with an ongoing football game. So one thing that I look for is this: playing where people are there for the concert. But not where people are silent and clap at the end of the song… rather where there is real exchange between musicians and the audience.
If we were to walk into your studio, what equipment are we likely to find?
I live between two different cities and travel a lot by car. In all the three places there is a beastly mess.
You would find many instruments: piano, Hammond, guitars, bass, Cajon, harmonica, flutes, keyboards, microphones, recording equipment, drums, CDs and much more.
Which famous present day musicians do you admire the most and why?
I admire many musicians… but if I had to pick one I would say John Scofield. It seems like we hear the music in the same way. His guitar is fantastic, very bluesy.
I have been trying to get him to play with me for years but I didn’t make it yet… who knows, maybe one day!
What’s it like being a professional musician, playing gigs, releasing CDs, etc.? Do you feel you’ve reached your goals?
It’s hard work, you need to have a huge passion in what you do, and it’s almost a mission for life. It is a pleasure for me, although sometimes I say it is my curse… In my case, I do everything by myself (booking, management, productions) so I must keep my feet well on the ground. It is very stressful, and you have to be able to enjoy all the good things that happen.
As a musician I receive a lot of rejections by clubs, festivals, other musicians, and it is important to understand that they are not personal rejections, but commercial ones. It is difficult to divide oneself in two, for the artistic and the commercial roles. It’s also hard to accept the indifference of people in the situations mentioned above: recently I sent out 110 emails, to which only 4 people answered and only one responded positively. But when the answer is yes… then it’s a great party!
I have set so many goals for myself, and over the years I have reached many of them. I have recorded albums, I have been around the world, I have played in front of many people. I have always done everything to reach my goals and so I have no regrets.
Now the important thing for me is to have a good life, to keep up with what I have achieved and to be able to live the life I want.
I think I have the life I want, so yes, I achieved my goals.
What are you goals and aspirations for the future?
To have a good life. That’s it.
What advise would you give any aspiring musicians wanting to make a name for themselves?
Work, work, work and live, live, live because you need something to say when you play. You can do anything you want, the important thing is to do it. Thinking in the long term is also important. Think hard about what you do, why are you a musician? What are the things that matter to you? What is the message that you want to communicate? Do your booking, contact the media, write your own songs, learn to accept rejection and do not stop at the first no.
Who are your top all time favourite jazz musicians?
All those that somehow manage to touch my feelings and give me new sensations.
Please tell us a little more about any singles or albums you are currently working on…
It’s my third album, and compared to the first two it has a bit more of gospel and rock. As a guest we have Francis Coletta, a French guitarist. The best thing is to listen to it. It would be a pleasure for me to hear your impressions, so do not hesitate to drop me a line.
We would like to thank Frank for taking the time to talk with us, we hope you have enjoyed learning a little more about this talented musician. Remember to check out Franks website for further details on upcoming gigs, album releases etc.
Thank you Frank and best of luck with your future endeavors.
The Festival Archive team
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