Just Jazz Guitar
Pescara, Italy February 26, 2001
Roy Patterson: You travelled to the United States in 1990 to study at
the Guitar Institute of Technology. What was your motivation for doing
Giuseppe Continenza: The main thing was my interest in playing jazz
guitar. My father was a jazz guitar player and played in bands when he
was younger, and there were jazz guitar records in the house; Django,
Wes Montgomery.....so I always wanted to play music. I wanted to find
someone who could teach me different things. Then I started to buy
records by Joe Diorio and Ron Eschete, but when I saw an ad for the
G.I.T., I told myself that I had to go there. For me, at the time, it
was the only way to engage in a really good learning process.
RP: Who were your main teachers there?
GC: There was Joe Diorio, Don Mock, Ron Eschete, Scott Henderson, and
Gary Willis, who was an amazing improvising teacher with some incredible
ideas. But the main guy who really inspired me and opened me up was Joe
RP: So he was your main mentor.
GC: Yes. The great thing about Joe was that he could play in any style
and play very difficult things with a melodic contour. The other
teachers were also amazing, but for me, Joe was the hippist thing there.
RP: When you came back from the United States, did you open the European
Musician's Institute right away?
GC: Before I left Italy, I already had a small school in my house, but
about a year after I came back I opened the EMI because there were a lot
of requests for lessons. My dream was to teach people, in a modest way,
how to become professional jazz guitar players. I was really in love
with jazz. My commitment was to teach people to love jazz and play it
with love, and not have it become some kind of mechanical thing.
RP: Do you see yourself carrying something back from the U.S.A., from
Joe Diorio, and passing it along to your students at the EMI?
GC: Definitely. I got so much information from those guys at the GIT
that when I came back I had to find some way of assimilating it into my
own playing and some way of teaching it. Joe Diorio and Ron Eschete were
very close to me, almost like fathers, and always had answers for my
questions. They gave me a lot of good advice and really helped me a lot.
RP: I was impressed with the attitude of the students at the EMI. They
were very serious, and I understand that they come from different parts
of the country to study here.
GC: The nice thing about the students is that they are almost all
devoted to jazz. Some come here without a jazz background, but after
hearing some recordings, they really start loving the music. The culture
at the school is inspiring too. When students hear someone else starting
to sound good, they think, “Well, if they can do it maybe I can too.”
Then they work that much harder. I have students from all over Italy,
from Switzerland, and have even had inquiries from Japan.
RP: You have also performed here in Italy with a number of the people
you studied with. I know that you played with Joe Diorio, to name one.
Who are some of the others?
GC: Well, being on stage with Joe was a kind of a dream for me. It was a
great experience. After that, I played with Paul Bollenback, John
Stowell, Jeff Richmond and Gary Willis. I also played with Roy Patterson
(laughs) who is also great, and I'm not saying that just because you are
here in front of me. I invited you here because I really appreciate your
music and your playing.
RP: Thanks Giuseppe. Did you also play with Gene Bertoncini?
GC: We did a concert at the school, which was very nice, but I hope we
have a chance to play again because it's wonderful to play with him. One
of the highlights of my life was a tour that I did with Bireli Lagrene.
He is such a great player with such a strong Gypsy feel, it's just
RP: When these people come to Pescara and do concerts with you, do they
also play with the students at the school?
GC: Yes. That's the nice thing about the school. All of the students get
to play with these great musicians, and it's like a kind of inoculation.
Most of the students tell me that after having had the experience of
playing with those famous guitarists they can play on stage much easier,
with less nervousness.
RP: That's a great thing, and personally, I find it rewarding to play
with the students as well. The great thing about playing with someone is
that there is an exchange of energy, and something happens on an
intuitive level that doesn't always happen when you are teaching a
GC: Yes, that's very important to me.
RP: Speaking of Bireli Lagrene and Gypsy jazz, you said something the
other day that I thought was very interesting. You felt Europeans were
starting to discover a kind of jazz guitar root here in Europe in the
music of Django Reinhardt. Could you elaborate on that?
GC: I'm noticing that a lot of students are buying records by Django,
and they get really excited by the music, even though the recording
quality is often not very good. And there are other players now who have
come out of that lineage, like Bireli, Jimmy Rosenberg and others. Of
course there are great players in the U.S., Europe, Canada, all over the
world, but to be European and not know about Django is kind of a loss,
if you think about it. He was one of the greatest.
RP: This might sound a bit academic, but I'll ask it anyway. If we think
of Wes Montgomery, for example, as coming forward stylistically from
Charlie Christian, do you think that in Europe this Django root can
progress as well? Some will say that it already has, but I would like to
hear your comment on it.
GC: A number of the well–known European jazz guitar players are coming
from the Django school of playing. The reason that they are not better–known
is that their recordings are not always easy to find. Most people know
the older swing records and Django records, but they don't know the
newer ones by players like Jimmy Rosenberg, Stochelo Rosenberg and
Angelo Debarre. There are really some fantastic players, with great time
and phrasing, and they can play some modern stuff as well, like Bireli.
I like all kinds of music, all kinds of jazz, but I think that it is
good to recognize the root of something and then learn from it. And this
is something that is part of European culture. But I also love Wes
Montgomery, George Benson, Pat Martino, Hank Garland, Lenny Breau and
many others; all great, like Jack Wilkins, Gene Bertoncini, Jimmy Bruno,
Paul Bollenback, Ted Greene, and others.
RP: When you play with Bireli, is it always duo?
GC: So far it has been a duo project. We put everything inside it, like
bebop, modern, Django style... and try to put it all together. It has
been fun, and the audiences have really appreciated the interaction in
the duo setting. It is really alive and not just something static.
RP: What is the direction for the school from this point in time?
GC: I like to keep the school as it is and not get too caught up in
business. I like the culture at the school and I want to keep it as
primarily a jazz school. There are about sixty students at the school,
and three teachers, including myself. The program consists of ear
training, music reading, harmony and theory. By the end of the program,
the students have to be able to demonstrate that they can apply
everything they have learned to their playing. Most of the students are
guitar players, and there are about twenty–or–so bass players. So, there
is not the time to really expand, and I want to maintain the quality and
direction of the school as much as possible.
RP: And what about your performance projects for the future?
GC: I'm touring with my quartet in Italy, and there are some things with
Bireli in May that will take us to a few different countries. I just
finished my first recording with the quartet, which I'm hoping to get
released on a label with some good distribution. I also write columns
for three different Italian magazines: Guitar Club, Tuttochitarra and
RP: And, you have a new guitar.
GC: Yes. I endorse Buscarini, who is here in Italy and making some great
jazz guitars. I also have a Gibson ES 175 and hope to get an L5 soon. I
also have a very nice acoustic flat top guitar that I bought from Don
Mock, made in the U.S. by Ronald Ho. I also endorse LaBella strings.
RP: It sounds like you have a full career.
GC: I have been lucky to have people around me who have been very
helpful, who have given me good advice, and I've really grown from these
experiences. I just want to help other people the way they have helped
me. I've found all of you guys that come over to Pescara really sweet.
You are great players but still very nice people, and the students
really appreciate that.
RP: Music is not just about music, it's about life.
GC: Yeah, that's really true. If you play with someone that you feel
good with as a person, that is the best.
RP: Thanks again for everything Giuseppe. I had a great time here in
Pescara. Let's stay in touch.
GC: Definitely. Thanks.