Enzo Zirilli

“I always loved the freedom of Jazz. I like to call Jazz a ‘Discipline of Freedom’ – that’s the way I like to describe Jazz, because to me it’s just like having the discipline with total freedom.” – Enzo Zirilli

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Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib LeFleurier

Italian born master drummer and percussionist Enzo Zirilli is a man who has definitely paid his musical dues and has the resumé to back it up. He has played with or alongside a plethora of Soul, Jazz, World Music, Funk and Latin luminaries, such as Gloria Gaynor, Jim Mullen, Gary Bartz, Luigi Bonafede, James Moody, Paolo Fresu, Filomena Campus and Omar to name a handful. The engaging stickman took time out from his busy schedule prior to performing as part of newly formed Jazz quartet QCBA alongside renowned UK soul singer Omar at the Hideaway in London to give Michael J Edwards the lowdown on his critically acclaimed new album project ‘ZiroBop’ [UK Vibe review], his early life, his introduction to Jazz music and when he gravitated to the drums and his main musical means of expression.

Michael J Edwards: Greetings Enzo Zirilli, it’s lovely to meet you.

Enzo Zirilli: It’s lovely to meet you too.

Michael J Edwards: Where in Italy did you grow up, and how was family life?

Enzo Zirilli: I grew up in Turin in a half musical family, because my older brother is a musician. So I grew up listening to a lot of different music; Jazz, Pop, Prog Rock and stuff like that. I also grew up listening to a lot of different musicians and I fell in love with Jazz of course. But at the very beginning I didn’t know what kind of music it was.

Michael J Edwards: Do you come from a strong musical heritage?

Enzo Zirilli: In a way yes, because my father used to sing very well, he’s got a beautiful voice. He was a kind of Opera singer. He used to be a very good singer but then he ended up doing something else with his life. He was supposed to go to war; he was born in 1922. Actually, it’s a miracle I am here because he was supposed to go to Russia, but he basically avoided the Russian campaign and initially managed to get to Rome from Sicily and then eventually to Turin, where he found work. And that’s why I was born in Turin.

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Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib LeFleurier

Michael J Edwards: How old were you when the drums came into your life?

Enzo Zirilli: At an early age I started listening to music, and around the age of six I was playing the drums everywhere – in the kitchen etc. So my parents decided to buy me a toy drum kit. Then at the age of eight or nine I started taking my first drum lessons, and then I went to the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory where I studied classical piano actually. I studied there for three years, but the drums still excited me more. That’s when I stopped my classical piano studies and went back to the drums.

Michael J Edwards: I believe your introduction to Jazz came most notably via tenor saxophonist Larry Nocella as well as many other musicians such as Billy Bailey, Flavio Boltro. How did they all, especially Larry inspire you?

Enzo Zirilli: Larry was a prominent figure for me because he was a fantastic tenor player; he had one the best sounds I ever heard on the tenor sax. He was also a very deep person, so it was very inspirational for me to listen to him. And then when I eventually had the chance to meet him in person, we became friends and we started playing together. It is like a dream come true because to me he was like one of my heroes.

Michael J Edwards: How old were you at the time when you made this connection with him?

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Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib LeFleurier

Enzo Zirilli: I was around eighteen to twenty years old. It was massive for me, because at the time I was playing with Rock bands and Rhythm and Blues bands, and had not even considered being a Jazz musician; but meeting this guy Larry had a big impact on me in helping me to make the right decision to pursue Jazz.

Michael J Edwards: Was he like a musical father figure for you?

Enzo Zirilli: Absolutely yes! Although he died very young, unfortunately he had a lot of alcohol problems, but musically speaking he was like a Guru. Sometimes one’s personal life is very much different to their professional life. But as you will see he is the first name I have mentioned in the credits on my album, because he really made a big impact on me artistically speaking.

Michael J Edwards: Did you seek to explore more within the Jazz idiom as you got older?

Enzo Zirilli: Not really actually, because I used to listen to a lot of straight-ahead Jazz, but at the same time I was listening to the Art Ensemble of Chicago, or very avant-garde music by John Coltrane. The early material, and the last album he did were very avant-garde, they were very free. I always loved the freedom Jazz. I like to call Jazz a ‘Discipline of Freedom’ – that’s the way I like to describe Jazz, because to me it’s just like having the discipline with total freedom. Charles Mingus is another big figure for me. He’s got one foot in the tradition of Jazz, and one foot in the contemporary/avant-garde. So for me it has to be like that; you have to know the rule, and then break the rule. (Laughs)

Michael J Edwards: When did you leave Turin for London?

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Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib LeFleurier

Enzo Zirilli: I came here first in 2003 because I was sick of Italy actually artistically speaking. Unfortunately it was a very difficult at the time. And I think I made the right move because I had a lot of colleagues in Italy who were saying I was crazy at the time to leave Italy. I was already established as a musician, but it wasn’t enough for me, so I just wanted something more. So I left and I came here (London), and I started to fly back and forth as much as I could, and then I decided to stay here on a regular basis. So that’s what I did for the past ten years, and I started working with a lot of great musicians here in London, including of course the great Omar, Jim Mullen and Liane Caroll, Brandon Allen (sax), Quentin Collins (trumpet), Ross Stanley (Keys) a lot of people.

Michael J Edwards: The first time I came across you in a live environment was as a guest percussionist/drummer alongside Filomena Campus, Giorgio Serci’s album launch at Pizza Express, Soho, where you performed on a cover of Kenny Wheeler, ‘Everybody’s Song But My Own’ alongside, Adrianno Adewale and others, Orphy Robinson and Paolo Fresu. How was that for you?

Enzo Zirilli: I had been working with Giorgio Serci from when I first arrived in London. I was also working with a great guitarist Antonio Forcione. It was actually my first gig in London, working with him. At the time Giorgio was in the band, so that’s how we met. I did some recordings with Antonio as well, so that’s how I met Adrianno Adewale and Giorgio. Then I met Filomena, we had never played on the stage until that night; that night was the first time that we actually jammed together. The thing is I was supposed to do a gig at Ronnie Scott’s late, so I just went to Pizza Express to see the guys and also to say hello to Paolo Fresu. I have known Poalo for twenty years, and then Filomena just asked me to come to the stage. It wasn’t planned, it was totally improvised, and we just decided to do this Kenny Wheeler tribute. That’s why I like Jazz, because Jazz is just a matter of language, so as soon as you know the language you can talk to everybody. We had never met before but now we are talking because we know the language; there’s no need for further explanation.

Michael J Edwards: Your new album is entitled ‘Enzo Zirilli’s ZiroBop’. Why the title ZiroBop?

Enzo Zirilli: Because I like the nickname, which was given to me by Dado Maroni, who is a fantastic pianist who I’ve been working with for twenty years now. He’s an amazing pianist and an amazing friend. He used to call me Ziro all the time because of my surname Zirilli. So I just thought that ZiroBop was a good combination of playing some bop and mixing that with the play on words. I like the idea of making a joke between the number zero and my nickname Ziro; and it also highlights how I like to combine a lot of things in music.

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Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib LeFleurier

Michael J Edwards: So what is the essence of this album?

Enzo Zirilli: We played all the music that I like to play actually; straight-ahead Jazz, contemporary, Indian music, African music, South America music, Prog Rock, symmetrical music, because I like Indian music a lot. So this music is basically a result of my heritage; I like to combine a lot of different things.

Michael J Edwards: Is this the first album under your name?

Enzo Zirilli: Under my name, yes. I led a lot of bands, I’ve been a co-leader for a lot of bands, and I’ve been a side man for many others. But this was the first album under my name with these guys. The name of the label that put this ZiroBop album together is called UR Records from Italy. It is run by a lot of young musicians, so I think it is very important. The guy in charge is called Gabrielle Boggio Ferraris.

He’s a vibraphonist and he’s a very talented guy, and he put this label together. They are all musicians, so I think it’s very important we support them.

Michael J Edwards: Would you like to say something about the musicians who make up your quartet on the album, starting with the bass player Misha Mullov-Abbado?

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Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib LeFleurier

Enzo Zirilli: I actually met Misha at a gig I was doing at the 606 Cub, and they were playing after us. I was playing in a fantastic band with Jim Mullen and Stan Sultzman a great tenor player. So we were playing there, and after our gig these guys were playing after us, and they were from the Royal Academy of Music. I was really impressed with their sound, and I loved the way Misha played, but I didn’t know his name, so I just checked the programme. I read the name and it sounded really familiar to me, because Abbado was a very famous Italian classical conductor. So as soon as I saw Misha I recognised his father in him and they shared the same surname. So then we started talking from there. Guitarist Rob Luft is a fantastic player and he’s only twenty-one years old. He’s a great talent. So we then organised a session at my place with Alessandro Chiappetta, who is another great guitarist who was living in London at the time. He was actually living in my flat at the time.

Michael J Edwards: When was the album recorded?

Enzo Zirilli: It was recorded April 2014, but the band was formed in 2013. This is when we started talking about doing some music together and we jammed a bit. I like the fact that I’ve got two guitars, because it’s very contemporary, yet at the same time it’s very straight-ahead, whilst also being very, very extreme. So I like the fact that we can go crazy and play psychedelic Rock.

Michael J Edwards: So you let them have their freedom with few constraints?

Enzo Zirilli: Freedom with discipline, yes! (Laughs)

Michael J Edwards: When is the album due for release?

Enzo Zirilli: It’s already out and it will be available online in early September 2015. There are some original compositions on this album, everybody took turns to write something – Misha got one, Rob got one, Alessandro got one, and I got one. I also did three of arrangements of Thelonious Monk tunes. Two of the tunes are ‘I Mean You’ and ‘Bye-ya’ are actually in a medley entitled ‘Thank You Very Monk’. And there is another arrangement of mine of ‘Straight No Chaser’ that I called ‘Straight No Seven’, because it is in seven. You will understand when you listen! (Laughs)

Michael J Edwards: What are your future plans, and do you intend to return to being a side man, or will you tour this album?

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Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib LeFleurier

Enzo Zirilli: I love this band, so my aim is to play with this band as much as I can. We recently performed during the London Jazz Festival on November 13th 2015 at the Green Note, Camden. We’re also going to tour in Italy during September and continue in December, January and February. In fact we’ll be back here at The Hideaway on January 7th for ZiroBop’s first UK gig of 2016. I want to play with this band as much as I can, but I will keep my collaborations with all these other great musicians.

Michael J Edwards: Talking of other musicians, we are here tonight at the Hideaway in London where you are playing drums as part of a relatively new quartet called QCBA. Tell us more?

Enzo Zirilli: QCBA which is actually Quentin Collins (trumpet) and Brandon Allen (sax) with Ross Stanley (keys) and guest vocalist Omar. I’ve also done a lot of things prior to this Jim Mullen (guitar), Jason Rebello, Lianne Caroll, Ian Shaw. So I’m very happy actually.

Michael J Edwards: What are your views on UK Jazz at the moment?

Enzo Zirilli: To be honest with you I think that now in the UK the London scene is one of the most exciting in the world. There are such a lot of great young musicians coming up. I never fail to keep discovering young guys that play so great, especially when I go to Ronnie Scott’s and they come out for the jam session during the late show. Every time I go there I discover some new guys that I’ve never met before and I’ve been around for ten years!

Michael J Edwards: What advice would you give to young up-and-coming drummers or musicians in general?

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Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib LeFleurier

Enzo Zirilli: To drummers I would say, try always not to be drummers; just try to be a musician. Just try to play the instrument, or at least be able to sing the melody while playing; otherwise playing drums is pointless in my opinion. If you are not able to sing what you play, there’s no point. That’s what I’m trying to teach my students, to be always singing while playing. To the musicians I would say, never stop being curious about music, never be satisfied with what you’ve got. Try to enlarge your spectrum in terms of curiosity, in terms of sound, in terms of different music; because you can always pick up something different. There are many, many different types of beautiful music around the world. It’s a shame just to be stuck in one thing, one style. ry opening your mind and just listening and enjoying, and try to get the pure beauty from everything you listen to.

Michael J Edwards: Thank you very much Enzo.

Michael J Edwards

Essential Album:
Enzo Zirilli’s ZiroBop (UR Records) Buy on iTunes UK Vibe review here

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Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib LeFleurier

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