A conversation with Eugenio Rubei and Mariangela Mincione

Brussels, Alexanderplatz Jazz Club at SeMami

On September 25th, 2020 the most prestigious Italian jazz club Alexanderplatz Jazz Club based in Rome (by Giampiero Rubei in 1984), in partnership with SeMami Book-store/Italian Restaurant opened its doors to present Alexanderplatz Brussels at SeMami in the heart of Matongue, Ixelles, Brussels. I was there and I’ve had a great conversation with Mr. Eugenio Rubei the owner and artistic director at Alexanderplatz Jazz Club in Rome and in Brussels together with Mrs. Mariangela Mincione the owner of SeMami and publisher.

Mrs Mariangela Mincione please tell us a little about SeMami, which this weekend opens the Alexanderplatz Jazz Club in Brussels.

Mariangela Mincione: I am an editor, the first goal of SeMami is to be a book store and restaurant. SeMami was born 2 years ago as a multifunctional place, As an editor, the first goal at SeMami is editing and publishing books. This year I wanted to relaunch the cultural project with a breath and a new approach to the cultural part. In the musical part focused on Jazz I have the support of Eugenio Rubei for the musical direction, the art direction is managed by Paolo Assenza. During the whole year we will have 12 contemporary artists from Europe on a permanent exhibition. And besides of course the publishing of the works from my publishing house.

Mr. Eugenio Rubei, is there a specific line or kind of jazz you will be presenting here at the Alexanderplatz Jazz Club in Brussels?

Eugenio Rubei: We are going to follow the path we went on for many years at the Alexanderplatz, proposing projects connected with all the expressions of jazz, all the languages from the tradition to all the new trends, with a special attention to electronic jazz. At this moment in Europe there are a lot of different and interesting proposals that mix tradition, original projects and electronic music. We definitely would like to represent this musical spectrum in the European jazz scene and to propose projects with the new generations of jazz musicians.

We would like to involve conservatories as well. We know that here in Brussels the Flemish Conservatory is very active and is linked to the Conservatory of Amsterdam and the Conservatory of Paris, which is directed by a great Italian musician who has played with Chet Baker: Alessandro Del Fra who very soon will be invited to play with us at Alexanderplatz Jazz Club. In Rome we have already opened the doors of our club to the European jazz scene and here in Brussels our “Alexanderplatz stage” will be hosting big names and young musicians as well. Unfortunately this pandemic has decreased the available space. The big spaces at theatres or concert halls have closed their doors because of these social distancing rules and probably will force us to stop momentarily but we are going to start again in January.

We want Alexanderplatz Jazz Club Brussels to be the place where jazz music can be close to people anyway, not physically but in every other possible way, with the authentic emotions that only live music can give you through the breath of the instruments, of the reeds, the sound of the wood of the sticks beating the plates on the drum set. Here you will listen and feel what jazz is all about. We want people to fall in love with jazz. We want to bring arts together, like painting, sculpture and even the art of cooking. Let us say that jazz music can cover all this amalgam. We want this place to become the first European pole where you will have a big artistic breath and represents a big cultural happening.

Silvia Abalos and Minino Garay

Mr. Eugenio Rubei, is there an Italian Jazz?

Eugenio Rubei: Yes, jazz became more and more an international language. For sure the American Jazz musicians are somehow the leaders. In October, November and December we will host, at the Alexanderplatz in Rome, Robin Newman, Jeff Ballard, Greg Hutchinson, Ameen Saleem, great names who live in Europe and in USA. I think having them it’s important because all the young European musicians need to be confronted and exchange ideas with these musicians. The leaders in jazz are still the US musicians but the encounter between them and the European musicians is very productive and it leads to new forms of languages.

Some of the biggest European jazz artists are coming from Northern Europe, the best trios come from Norway, Denmark, … The Nordic Jazz scene is very interesting. In France they have a unique style. The British scene has something very peculiar. I’ve discovered some interesting musicians there, who are totally different from the rest of Europe. I have heard the group Moving People from Riccardo del Fra with 5 musicians from different countries with an approach that is hard to find in Italy. In Italy we have a lot of musicians with great skills on their instruments. In certain cases, they are better than in the rest of Europe, but in Italy sometimes we don’t have so many original projects.

In Italy the soloist and his/her instrument´s mastering is sometimes the most important thing to propose. In the rest of Europe I can see that the idea of the “ensemble” is the most prominent thing when they propose a new project. I think this is the difference but can be a meeting point, a complementary place of encounter.

The world of Italian Jazz is a world in which Europe is very curious about.

Mr. Eugenio Rubei you are established in Rome with your Alexanderplatz Jazz Club, as we know a very touched city by the COVID 19 pandemic. How has been your experience at Alexanderplatz Jazz Club with the arrival of this pandemic and the threat of an outbreak?

Eugenio Rubei: It was, and still it is very difficult. The world of jazz has gone through a very hard time all over the world. I know that US musicians go through a very difficult period right now. In Europe the situation is a little bit better. As we know since years ago many musicians from the US came to live in Europe, long before the pandemic. So somehow we have the opportunity to have some of them here. Without any doubt Europe can be the new land of jazz. In Italy we have experienced this pandemic like the rest of the world. We have re-opened our Alexanderplatz since June 1st. Obviously this difficult moment for the whole world has involved the world of music in general and not only jazz, in all aspects, therefore everyone has been in deep trouble. Earlier this year I have been travelling to Brussels to meet Mariangela to discuss the idea of opening this precious meeting point of Jazz, Culture and Art here at SeMami, where we have opened the Alexanderplatz Jazz Club in Brussels this week.

This is the first time that Alexanderplatz opens a place abroad and we did it here in Brussels at SeMami. Together with Mrs. Mincione we decided to launch a new concept of club, with a new cultural format: a book-store, an Italian restaurant of great Mediterranean quality with great music, great jazz. Jazz is a concept and this place, Matongue, strongly represents this vibration given by a rich cultural life. This is an important moment because jazz embraces all the cultures, all the nations and certainly fights any kind of racism. Tonight I can say that the first evening at SeMami represents Alexanderplatz' history. We are starting with a great musician named Minino Garay. Everyone knows him because he has played with Dee Dee Bridgewater and with some of the biggest musicians in the world. Minino has been playing at Alexanderplatz in Rome several times for around 25 years.

How is Alexanderplatz working?

Eugenio Rubei: Alexanderplatz has always given value to the musicians, recognizing their projects, no matter from where they are, be it Rome or Brussels or anywhere else. Alexanderplatz Jazz Club always gives value to the musicians, ensuring the continuity of their projects. And tonight here in Brussels I’m sure, the audience will welcome this message, because Brussels is a city already open to convey a message of multiculturalism, a city ready to welcome this great Argentinian-European musician, Minino Garay, who comes from Argentina. Also tonight we will have many others, Italian, Argentinian, Belgian, German, Dutch, Russian musicians. Tonight and for the first time in the new club, we will have a so called Jam Session in the presence of many musicians. Today and in the future, in this new venue we want to share this message and at the same time let people know a little more about the Italian Jazz scene. We come here to generate, to produce the encounter between Italian and European Jazz. Our hope is that this will be the place that will give birth to new projects which the musicians could bring all around the world.

In this new project I will work with Mariangela, owner of SeMami, publisher and owner of the publishing company Mincione. Mariangela believes in a similar and parallel project that aims to spread the publishing company throughout Europe, which to a good extent is very well adapted to this very new format (book-store/restaurant/jazz club). A very original concept in which I strongly believe in. Alexanderplatz believes in the quality behind any project, no matter what we do, we will do it with quality.

We know that this pandemic won't stop for the moment, but we want to try to go on, knowing that people are attentive, civil and respectful, both in Italy and here in Belgium of the social distancing and we believe the music world can reflect this too. We will respect the regulations in regards to admission by taking the right measures: controlling temperature, keeping the use of masks and social distance. At this moment we should be careful but without forgetting the importance of human contact also through music. This is our message: people first.

Mariangela Mincione: Precisely, as Eugenio just mentioned, I have been here together with two partners with whom I've opened this business and brought my profession as a publisher. I have thought to transform my publishing house into a place that presents all the published works to whole Europe, a place where I can have a wider horizon to present my publications. One could ask what has the lockdown produced in our heads? Fortunately I could say, we have had lots of time to analyze and to create a place focused on four arts. We did not forget about contemporary art, and thanks to Paola Assenza who during the lockdown contacted me to be part of this project, which actually also considers jazz as a basic need. After that we thought of what could mean a basic need in art, I worked out this concept in my mind. So we found this place which since two years ago was already a restaurant. I wanted to expand the field of work, so I asked Eugenio to join as the artistic director on the jazz part. On the contemporary art part Paolo Assenza is the artistic director.

SeMami is a cultural container, that is exactly the idea I wanted to give to my place. Together with Eugenio we are focusing on Jazz, having my eye and point of view as a publisher who directs and coordinates the ensemble. Through the publishing house the plan is to publish all what will take place this year, together with the experience between writers and jazz musicians, and even with the artistic contribution from Luigi Picesto, the chef on our Kitchen, because for us cooking is also an art. In brief this is SeMaMi's big project. I paraphrase the slogan from Gianpiero Rubei, the founder of Alexanderplatz back in 1984, with whom I used to collaborate when I was younger. The phrase I use for this adventure is: SeMami, where Alexanderplatz is at home.

Mr. Eugenio Rubei, during these hard times of pandemics what are you doing at the moment to support jazz and underground music at Alexanderplatz Jazz Club?

Eugenio Rubei: Alexanderplatz Jazz Club in September organized a big event in Rome, where Alexanderplatz reshapes the program from previous years through big concerts with American musicians and the encounter with Italian musicians. We saw the birth and of great musicians helped them to grow a lot. Those who today are great stars, I can say, were born at Alexanderplatz: Stefano Di Battista, Stefano Bollani, Enrico Rava, Roberto Gatto, Flavio Boltro. These Italian musicians have built their career at Alexanderplatz and 30 years after they are still playing at Alexanderplatz, this is what Alexanderplatz represents: continuity. This means working day after day with people and connecting ideas and looking for satisfying everyone's demands in the realm of Italian and International Jazz.

Today here we are in Brussels. We want to look to the future with a wide breath. The COVID pandemic has stopped somehow what used to be music’s growth/development, but on the other hand we believe in the value and the importance of live music and we believe in the quality, so we want to go on validating this quality. I can announce already that in the future, as soon as we will be able to go on, big musicians from the North of Europe will perform here. Here you will have the chance to listen to Philip Catherine, Aldo Romano, Flavio Romano with a Swedish ensemble, you will see Norwegian, Danish musicians, and big musicians from Belgium. Musicians that have experienced the rise of Alexanderplatz Jazz Club 24 years ago and today are ready to start this adventure here in Brussels. This place that is not exactly a Jazz Club, but a place with a mixture of everything.

Mariangela Mincione with Minino Garay

What are your next projects at Alexanderplatz for the next months after the big Lockdown?

Eugenio Rubei: I close my booking year on December 31 2020. At Alexanderplatz in Rome some of the most important events will happen in October 15 and 16th with great Italian musicians who are back at the Alexanderplatz's stage like Roberto Gatto, Rita Marcotulli, Bebo Ferra, Fabrizio Bosso, Paolo Fesu. This is very important for the Italian Jazz scene after a very hard time. For 2021 I want to invite the great pianist Rossano Sportiello together with Harry Allen who represents somehow the great jazz tradition.

How do you see the panorama for Alexanderplatz jazz Club in Rome next year? Who do you consider the best ensemble, singer, composer in Italian Jazz?

Eugenio Rubei: Well, I could not rank them. There are a lot of great musicians in Italy. I would give you 3 names, but I would be unfair to other musicians. I Could say that in the Milan scene Enrico Intra is a big reference. In Rome a big reference is Piero Alonsi. I believe two of the biggest Italian musicians are Danilo Rea and Salvatore Bonafede. Italy is full of great musicians, great composers, known and less known. Lately I was really surprised to listen to a big author and a lyrical composer called Francesco Bruno. Aldo Bagnoli is an interesting musicians as well, but I insist I would not be fair to other musicians, because there are really so many. Javier Girotto, another big name is a musician from Cordoba that lives in Italy since lots of years ago and I consider him Roman.

Besides being the director of Alexanderplatz Jazz Club you are the director of Sound and Image, please tell me a little about it.

Eugenio Rubei: is the most important question you have asked me tonight. I am the inheritor from this organization founded by Giampiero Rubei. He was the first “free mind” in the cultural life in Europe, away from any political flag. He managed successfully to bring jazz from small events for jazz lovers, to mass events for everyone. He brought jazz away from the small walls of the clubs to the attention of institutions, in new important spots, outside the conventional ones. Today in Rome, jazz is a kind of music that is accessible to everyone and listened by everyone, thanks to Giampiero Rubei and to the Sound Image Festival. This is a humble work I look forward to transmit and move forward, this is the heritage I tell about, but I must say that it is a hard work, nevertheless an exciting work that also has been made possible thanks to people like Mariangela Mincione. Years ago she has endeavored to this task when she took the task personally by travelling abroad, and even sometimes taking the telephone to communicate this message abroad. A strong message that will never die.

Mariangela Mincione: In this regard there is this book with an interview with Giampiero Rubei, a book curated by myself that tells about Giampiero's message in a typical, curious and with his humoristic way of seeing life, with his message away from political hinders, how he started his adventure, as he said it was through Jazz that he managed to convey his way of thinking which presents Jazz and Culture like Freedom. In regards to the sense of culture my goal is to gather musicians, artists and writers here at SeMami, this is my main goal with this venture. I would like to share that my publishing house besides introducing Italian writers to Belgium is starting to translate Belgian contemporary literature to be published through the support of Wallonia and this is another way to see culture.

Mr. Eugenio Rubei what is your message to the Belgian and other musicians who live in Brussels or in other Belgian cities?

Eugenio Rubei: It is very simple, I’ve come here to Brussels to meet musicians, to get to know and listen to everyone, to create a new collaboration and connections, because Jazz must cross borders.

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