Bobby Selvaggio

An Interview with Bobby Selvaggio

Bobby Selvaggio

I recently had the pleasure of catching up with saxophonist and composer Bobby Selvaggio. Bobby’s playing is well known in the Cleveland area for being fresh and innovative, as well as being highly emotional and athletic! I was beyond pleased to see that as of recent, Bobby’s music has begun to reach a wider audience through his most recent recording Grass Roots Movement on Arabesque Records.

What I have always enjoyed about Bobby’s playing is his deep appreciation for and understanding of the jazz tradition. I also admire his ability to capture the creative and courageous essence of jazz and his way of placing it within the context of his own personality and the whims of the present moment. Bobby does not play solely for his own enjoyment, though it is easy to hear and see the joy that can come from his music. He is a leader of numerous ensembles, a mentor to many students, and is also a good friend.

An Interview with Bobby Selvaggio

Aidan Plank: Is there anything you would like the WOBC audience to know about your music?

Bobby Selvaggio: Most everything I record is original music and very personal to me.  I’ve always been a composer and an improviser that let’s the music guide me, hearing shapes and sounds and reacting to those shapes and sounds.  The tag line in my email signature sums it up best:

Be soft in your practice. Think of the melody as a fine silvery stream, not a raging waterfall. Follow the stream, have faith in it’s course. It will go on it’s way, meandering here, trickling there. It will find the grooves, the cracks, the crevices. Just follow it. Never let it out of your sight. It will take you.- Sheng-yen

With Grass Roots Movement in particular, it’s similar to other things I’ve done, but from the standpoint of being electric in nature versus being acoustic.
AP: I really enjoy both your strengths as an improviser and composer, and I’m curious what your process of composing is like? Do you have a method to your composing? How does the process differ from your improvising or how is it the same?
BS: My composing process really varies.  I’m a big fan of letting the music guide you and letting it take you where it wants to go, both with composition and improvisation.  But, there are times I’ll start with a bass line, build a harmonic structure around it, and build a melody around that like with Return to Sender and Fish Food (from Grass Roots Movement).  Sometimes I’ll take a simple melodic theme like the first 4 bars of movement and build a whole tune around that.  I started Dust Bunnies with an opening vamp, with the harmonic progression, and the tune flowed from that.  I mostly compose at the piano, not my saxophone.  And rarely do I have a compositional technique in mind that I try to fit in.  Usually when I try and make something fit in, it doesn’t work.
AP: How did Grass Roots Movement come to be?

BS: The name itself refers to all the Jazz musicians that are in the trenches, that keep Jazz moving along by a kind of  grass roots movement.  I was looking to use, as I have with all my CD’s, musicians that I’ve played with before and try to get some new musicians I’ve met involved.  Kip Reed and James Johnson are musicians I’ve known and played with for several years.  I met Nir Felder while in NYC for my own engagement and saw him at the Fat Cat, introduced myself, and went from there.  Frank LoCrasto was recommended to me by Nir.  About half of the music for the CD were things I’d already written and the other half were things I wrote for this group.

AP: What are you currently working on?

BS:  I have many projects that I’m always thinking about.  I’d like to do a live CD, a modern acoustic Jazz CD with strings, a standards CD.  I have my local 11 piece chamber Jazz ensemble the “Hendectet Jazz Collective”.  I’m composing things for all those projects and also working on a piece for my son’s middle school Jazz band.  I’m also mostly teaching at Kent State University, a couple classes at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and a couple days privately at the Aurora School of Music.

AP: Who inspired you in your formative years?

BS: Most of my original influences are very typical influences, which is the point, because they are that important.  Cannonball Adderley, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, etc…

AP: Who inspires you these days?

BS: Honestly, everything around me influences me.  My contemporaries like Chris Potter and Kurt Rosenwinkel, to local musicians I play with, to my family, to the students I teach.

AP: What advice do you have for young musicians?

BS: First, if you’re a young player considering a career in Jazz, be ready to go all in and have it be the hardest thing you’ll ever do.  After doing the obvious thing of getting private lessons and everything that entails, you should:

  1. Listen and immerse yourself in Jazz music.
  2. Study the history and read interviews.
  3. Go and see live Jazz every chance you get.
  4. Play with as many people as often as possible.
  5. Learn everything about the business of Jazz music and network everyday.

Being a Jazz musician is about experiencing Jazz every moment in everything you do.

AP: Where can folks hear you play? (venues, gigs, website, etc.)

BS:  I’m doing things locally in Cleveland and traveling some and performing.  In town, the most steady thing I have is every second Saturday of every month at the Wonder Bar from 8p-11p.

Websites for my music are: