Recently guitarist Christian Zatta and pianist Robinson de Montmollin released their debut album titled Higher Perception under the name the “New York Duo” on the German label Mons Records. Both artists first met during their studies in Lucerne, Switzerland and reconnected across the big pond in New York. Recently Simone Gubbiotti caught up with Christian Zatta to find out more.
Simone Gubbiotti: Christian, thanks for being with us today. With your new album just out let me start by asking how and when the New York Duo born?
Christian Zatta: Thank you for the interest! Robinson and I actually met for the first time during our Bachelor studie at the Jazz faculty of the University of Arts in Lucerne, Switzerland. Interestingly enough, at the time we didn’t play that much together. It was a few years later, during my first stay in New York, that we re-connected. I knew he was in New York as well so we started to meet weekly to play jazz standards together. It was during these regular sessions that we started to bring in some original pieces to try as a duo. It was in November of 2018 that we had our first show as a duo in New York. With that concert the “New York Duo” was born.
SG: Let’s talk a little bit about New York in general. I see you guys both lived in The Big Apple. How did the atmosphere of the city influenced the music present in the album?
CZ: The city influenced our music a lot! Not only for this duo, but all the experiences we have had there are now part of our musical DNA. Personally, going to New York for the first time alone, taking lessons with some of my heroes and listening to so many incredible concerts was a life-changing experience. I really can’t imagine how my music and my playing would be without that experience. This city is so special, especially if you are a jazz musician: it makes you work very hard on what you do and if you don’t take your music seriously enough, this city is not the place for you. Psychologically it is very challenging, but if you learn to react positively to the extreme competition and difficult situations, you’ll definitely become a far better musician. You can’t afford to have an ego here.
SG: This is probably gonna be a very personal question but I see in your bio that you studied with Ari Hoenig. Having played with Ari, I know it can be both challenging and inspiring. What was your main takeaway from this?
CZ: Yes, that’s true, It was both challenging and inspiring but, I wouldn’t say that I “studied” with him. I just took one or two lessons with him the second time I visited New York. Anyway, this experience was extremely important for my practice routine. I started to work on some of his rhythmical concepts regularly and that improved my timing a great deal. That was my initial goal: I wanted to correct my tendency to rush and work on my inner pulse. I also learned how to practice, hearing the subdivisions at a faster tempo and later on how to practice odd-meters and completely own them. I’ve been working on these topics ever since.
Regarding the second part of your question I can say that for me drums are extremely important. When I write for drummers I always try to use this particular instrument to connect the others. Drums are a very interesting orchestral tool and you can do so much more than just keeping the time. For my trio NOVA, I sometimes like to use the drums as a melodic instrument. Ari Hoenig is one of the greatest examples for that.
SG: Historically, guitar and piano are two instruments that can be difficult to combine, at least that is the normal way of thinking around harmonic instruments. How much did you work to create the right spaces in the project and what was the philosophy behind the arrangements you put together?
CZ: Well, I guess this popular saying can be true in some occasions, but I completely disagree with that it is a “general rule”. Piano and guitar fit perfectly together if you make them work together and not against each other. These are my two favorite instruments and combining them produces one of my absolute favorite sounds. I’ve always worked with piano players and listen to a lot of pianists (probably even more than guitarists at the moment). It is important to try to stay “out of the way” while the other is also comping (especially range wise) and try to complete the music with what is missing, rather than both playing full chords. On the other hand, for riffs and melodies the result of playing unisono is fantastic! As is usual in the music world, there’s no absolute rule and you have to keep your ears open and react to the situation. In our case, we often talk about the comping after shows to correct what we didn’t like that much or what was missing for the next concert. We don’t have a specific philosophy that always works, except for carefully listening to what the other is doing.
SG: What’s the relationship between you and Robinson when you are not on stage? How much does the human side, in your opinion, impact the quality of the music?
That’s a good question! To answer the first one: Yes, Robinson and I are good friends, but it’s the music that brought us together. At first we were just playing together without knowing each other that well. Later we became friends and started to share many experiences together that were not just related to music.
I used to think that it is really important to be real friends with the musicians you play with, but during the last years I noticed that this isn’t always true. There are many people I play with who have completely different opinions or lifestyles then mine and I never see them for non-musical reasons, but playing with them works very well and it’s fun. Sometimes it is even better that the musicians you work with are not your best friends. Ideas change and bands can change members, so it’s important to still be able to move on with your professional carrier, even if somebody is leaving, without being completely disappointed and personally discouraged. Of course this is easy to say and difficult to do, but I had to learn it the hard way. As professional musicians it’s important to work with good musicians that share your goals and ambitions first, than if you become good friends it’s even better, but it’s not necessary!
Higher Perception is now available on all major streaming and download platforms and will also be available on Vinyl later this year. You can stream the album here and if you wish to pre-order the LP this an be done via the artists website.
Last modified: March 14, 2022