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Exclusive JGT Interview With The Italian Powerhouse, Giuseppe Continenza



Giuseppe Continenza discusses current projects, guitars, and education, as well as provides some advice for younger guitarists.

Giuseppe Continenza graduated from the Musicians Institute in Hollywood. He has recorded with Joe Diorio, Vic Juris, Jimmy Bruno, Jack Wilkins, Gary Willis, and Gene Bertoncini, just to name a few. He’s a founder of the European Musicians Institute in Pescara, Italy. He is also chair of Jazz Guitar at Conservatory “L.D’Annunzio” in Pescara. In 2003 he became an endorser of Benedetto Guitars and Bob Benedetto built for him a special “Cremona”. 

JGT: Can you tell us about your new projects? 

Giuseppe: Sure, I’m glad to be back on tour with Biréli Lagrène – a quartet with a great Italian drummer and multi-instrumentalist Pierpaolo Bisogno and double-bass great Pietro Ciancaglini, a wonderful rhythm section. Plus, I’ve been working on a project for many years now called “Jazz meets Flamenco” with Daniele Bonaviri a wonderful flamenco/jazz guitarist from Rome. Daniele worked with many international great artists like Gino Vannelli, Elton John, Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli and others. The great thing about him is that he can play flamenco but he is a great jazz player. We know each other for many years now and our project is so creative because we bring in our repertoire so many influences and rhythms and most of all we have fun with the audience too. It’s really a blast. 

Giuseppe, Bireli Lagrene, Gary Willis & Michael Baker  – Photo by Paolo Iammarone

I’ve also a project with Jimmy Bruno coming up soon. I love playing with him he is a great musician and a great person as well.

My last project was a new quartet with Pierpaolo on vibraphone & percussion, my son Emanuele on double bass, and Luca Di Muzio on drums. I like to keep myself busy and after this crazy pandemic period, I’m back full of energy.

JGT: Can you talk about your Benedetto Cremona?

Giuseppe: Yes, actually I got this guitar on the day of my birthday February 1, I remember I went to Milan and Bob was there in the hall of the Hotel. We went to his room and he took out the guitar case that was under his bed. He opened the case and I was almost fell down. I played the guitar in the hall and I couldn’t stop to play it. Bob is a genius and he is the Stradivari of the guitars, this guitar has a deep soul and you can feel it with every note you play. It’s so deep, and clear and it has such an acoustic sound and volume and even the high frets sound so loud and defined. It’s a masterwork that I’m trying to humbly honor each concert. I like to play it in concerts and records. Even if it’s a really precious guitar, I believe it has to be played.

“Giuseppe is one of the modern era vibrant jazz guitar stars. I love his playing with the sophistication of so many varieties of new hip elements that sets the new standard for this instrument I love”- Al Di Meola…

JGT: You are a respected educator worldwide, teaching in Conservatory and online course too, what do you like to develop with your students? 

Giuseppe: This question opens a big window on music; of course, I’ve developed a program after many years of teaching and we study repertoire in all styles of jazz from classic to modern, and I’m trying to give them as much information as possible but in a very methodical way. I work from the basics. I believe that a good educator has to manage the program in a customized way. I mean each guitarist is different and we need to know how to make them improve quickly in what they really need. I do a lot of lessons online for many years with students from all over the planet and I’m trying always to focus on getting out of them the best and helping them develop some original skills. We study chords in all the ways possible, chord melody, bebop, modern intervals, scales, and arpeggios and we try to figure out the way to make them natural. When I play my goal is to play music and I like to manage all these things so that when I play I’m familiar with all of them and I can make good music in a comfort zone, without stress or surprise. We analyze the styles of the greats and I try to teach them how to take the best of it. Today we have so much information and sometimes it’s too much and it’s possible that it distracts the student from their final goals.

Daniele Bonaviri & Giuseppe Continenza

JGT: How do you approach the study of the chord melody?

Giuseppe: First of all, I was very lucky to study with Joe Diorio, Don Mock, Howard Roberts, Ron Eschetè, and others who really opened up some new paths. 

I like to teach substitution in a very easy way. I explain to students all kinds of possibilities and then I make them arrange a tune. We analyze Joe Pass and other wonderful guitarists and they have to understand in an easy way what he’s really doing. I think simplicity is the secret, if you learn simple you will find simple solutions even on difficult arrangements. We’ll study a tune and sometimes we’ll make many different versions. I think the genius of Joe Pass was to manage everything from chords to scales to arpeggios to substitutions, that is what I like and teach.

JGT: Which kind of amplifier do you prefer? And other equipment?

Giuseppe: I use mainly for live concerts a Dv Mark Jazz 12, very light and great round sound, just love it and I use also a Mark Acoustic amp for acoustic guitar. I love tube amps too but for traveling are not the best and now you can have a great sound with transistor amps too, very clean and fat.

I use eventide effects “Space Reverb” when I play more modern situations and LaBella Strings for more than 20 years now, just love them. 

JGT: Can you tell me about the records you did with Vic Juris and Gene Bertoncini?

Giuseppe: Oh Vic, I so miss him, he was a real genius of the guitar and he could play in all styles with such naturalness. We met through Joe Diorio, once I called him and he says: Giuseppe, you should play with Vic Juris, I’m sure you both together will do something great, and so I called him and we arrange a little tour and recording. We actually recorded 2 albums together “Journey” and “Seven Steps to Heaven” with Dominique Di Piazza (John McLaughlin’s bassist) and Pietro Iodice on drums. 

With Gene Bertoncini, we produced an album together called “Tribute to Jobim” with the same rhythm section. I just loved to play with him, he is one of the best living legends. He did great work in the arrangement as well as playing. We did some concerts too and he was always an inspiration to me. 

JGT: What would you suggest to young guitarists?

Giuseppe: I suggest first learning the tradition of jazz guitar and listening to all the great musicians and not only guitarists, from classic jazz to modern. Learn the instrument and all the rules so it will be your best friend. Most of all play with other musicians and learn different kinds of rhythms so your music will get more colors. Last but not least, try always to think of your solo as you think of a composition, be melodic and live space and most of all always enjoy your playing.

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