Interview Series: Petros Klampanis

“If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.”

Louis Armstrong

It is elusive as it is intricate. Jazz slips in to your life. You find it somewhere-or rather it finds you. It’s in your old man’s record pile, in New York clubs that have outlived most other venues, and in your favorite movie scenes. Petros Klamplanis is a Greece-born, New York-based jazz musician. In what can seem like a daunting genre, Petros holds up against those that have come before him. He’s composing, producing, and performing some of the best jazz you can find in New York City right now.


LF: How did growing up in Greece influence your musical tastes and aesthetic?

PK: I think growing up in Greece really influenced my taste in Music. I grew up in Zakynthos, a tiny island in the West of Greece, which is place with a very strong musical heritage. The first music I performed was “cantada”, a local vocal style that combines Greek and Italian music traditions. I loved various Greek artists, as a teenager- “Trypes” which means “Holes” was my absolute favorite rock group. Traditional music from the North of Greece, with its many different faces, was something that I always loved and admired.

I kind of keep the emotions that the music from my earlier age, evoked. I don’t do it on purpose, but it comes out as a natural expression need, I suppose.

LF: With jazz being heavily rooted in American culture, how did it find you?

PK: It found me through my piano teacher, when I was 10 years old or so. I always liked “messing” with the exercises and etudes she used to give me. What she saw through this was a primitive way to improvise. Luckily she was exposed to Jazz and instead of restricting my childish creativity, she started giving me Chick Corea, Dave Brubeck, George Gershwin recordings, which become my favorite music at the time. I am still very grateful to her.


Sans le jazz, la vie serait une erreur (Without jazz, life would be a mistake) – ― Boris Vian

LF: You perform frequently abroad. Any opinions on the difference in audiences/responses from around the world?

PK: I feel that the audiences in Europe tend to be more attentive, especially the ones in Germany, France, Switzerland and the Nordic countries. People from these areas do appreciate the music that comes from New York, which as we all know is a very special place for music. This isn’t of course a rule, just a general observation. I think good music always finds its way to the heart of the audience. It’s just a matter of timing and way of presentation.

LF: Your resume boasts “composer, producer, and musician”. Is there something you haven’t done yet in your career that you hope to accomplish?

PK: I kind of split my time equally between these three aspects of my profession-passion. (“Propassion” as friend of mine calls it).

I would like to do many things. One of them-which I have already started planning- is produce a movie with musical content. It will probably have something to do with Greece, improvised music and traveling. The more I think of it, the more excited and frightened I get.  I would also like to incorporate more visual aspects in my live shows. My upcoming album “Chroma” (which means color in Greek) is going to be my first attempt.


LF: Is there a modern jazz movement forming from a new generation?

PK: I believe that there is a current of younger artists in New York that tend to rediscover lyricism, melodicism and groove. Most of my collaborators happen to be exposed in classical music, Afro-Cuban music, Middle Eastern music, Pop and Rock. I think younger musicians don’t feel the need of taking distance from the Pop music aspects, the way that previous generations would do.  The world music element is also very dominant in the current music Jazz scene.

LF: Your album “Chroma” is coming soon. Tell us about it.

PK: “Chroma”, as I said before, means “Color” in Greek. It was just recorded live at the Onassis Foundation US, in New York. My long time collaborators Gilad Hekselman, Shai Maestro, John Hadfield are a part of it, along with the percussionist Keita Ogawa and an excellent group of 8 string players. Mavrothi Kontanis, a dear friend and amazing singer sings an arrangement I did on“Hariklaki”, a traditional song from the early 20th century in Smyrni/Izmir.

The inspiration of this album is how our experiences in our lives, leave an impact in ourselves. What I call “Chroma” is the projection of an experience, an idea or an emotion in our souls. You could think of it as a bit in a human-emotional hard drive. In that sense, all people are banks of colors or multi colored palettes, full of “chroma”! This album is an attempt to express my personal palette.


LF: You’ve performed several times at Cornelia Street Café in Greenwich Village. Any stories about one of NYC’s coolest venues?

PK: I really love Cornelia Street Café. It’s like my second home in NY. I love the sound there, the overall ambience and that’s why I keep returning to this little spot, which is indeed one of the coolest NYC venues. The last performance was dedicated to the Greek Jazz artist that live in NY. It was really fun and I am planning to do one more “Greek What”, as I call it, around June.

Cornelia is a very important place for me. This is where I presented my first album, Contextual. Most of the music from Minor Dispute, my second album, was developed there. Some of the music of Chroma, my 3rd upcoming album, was performed there for the 1st there, as well.

LF: You’ve had lovely things to say about traveling and performing in Taiwan. What can you share about your time there?

PK: My trip to Taiwan was really memorable, in the best possible way. I played with Yuhan Su, a great vibraphonist who hails from Taiwan. I loved the culture. People there are so hospitable, positive and welcoming. It reminded me Greece in many ways, in terms of hospitality. I wasn’t expecting the amount of enthusiasm that I got to witness when I was there. Food was excellent too. I had the chance to travel around the island and try different dishes from all over the place. It seems to me that Taiwan is a place that we will all talk about in the years to come.


LF: Jazz is usually collaborative. How do you pick your band for recording and performing? What qualities do you look for in a band mate?

PK: The most important quality that I look for is sensitivity.  You can find amazing musicians in New York. Musicians that can read well, play difficult stuff, impress with their improvisations, but sensitivity doubled with the deep knowledge of music is the most powerful combination, for me. I am fortunate enough to work with amazing individuals that I have learned a lot from and still getting inspired.

LF: What inspires you the most?

PK: My everyday experiences. Thoughts that come to my head about the people around me, or things that I’ve read on news, or in a book. My childhood memories are a major source of inspiration. Emotions that a good piece of music evokes to me, or a good movie, or a great piece of art can be reasons for me to compose something. And of course the urge to expand, discover my potential and be the best musician/artist that I can be.


Petros’ next show is this Sunday the 3rd at Caffe Vivaldi in New York City before he heads out to tour Spain.

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