We had the good fortune of connecting with Gui Duvignau and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Gui, what role has risk played in your life or career?
As a jazz musician and therefore an improviser, risk is a constant in my practice. When you improvise, you open yourself up to risk; that is one of the inherent qualities of improvisation and also what makes it so thrilling. The wonderful thing about music though, is that if we take too many risks on stage and something goes “wrong”, nothing bad happens to anyone -except maybe to our egos, and possibly our careers. It is not like, say, if a surgeon takes a risk and makes a mistake. Understanding that, and understanding that part of the job is to take risks, helps one accept and embrace risk. In most bands, my role as a bass player in jazz is still primarily to provide a solid structure so that others can take risks, and I have learned over the years that I need to be wise about the moments I choose to take risks of my own. So today, it’s become more about calculated risk for me as a performer. In the larger scheme of things, the sole fact of choosing to dedicate one’s life to art, and a life of creative work is still a huge risk in the society we live in. That personal choice has led to a life of much professional, financial, and emotional uncertainty and instability. It has also been a blessing, led me to encounter so many wonderful people and artists, and taught me so much about what it takes to be a better human being on this planet, every day. So there’s a lot of risk involved, but also huge spiritual growth!
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am a performer and composer. The music I write and produce lies somewhere in the realm of jazz and improvised music, yet is also heavily influenced and informed by the music of Brazil, where I was raised, by artists such as Cartola, Baden Powell, Guinga, Elis Regina, as well as other musical manifestations – rock and grunge of the 90’s, Pop, Radiohead, composers such as Debussy, Ravel, Ligeti, Morton Feldman, Stravinsky, Astor Piazolla, and more broadly speaking, Indian music, West-African music, and the list goes on. I think everyone who attempts to create with generosity and honesty will have something that sets them apart. We are all different as people and I believe that manifests in our art. What we create is inevitably molded by our life experience. So in that sense, I think what I do is unique simply because I am the one doing it, and not someone else. It was definitely not easy getting to where I am today. I have thought about giving up constantly, and still do to this day, but I am very proud that I have kept at it. I now feel my work is becoming more mature and finally beginning to come into its own. I no longer doubt what I do. Of course, creating to me is always about asking a lot of questions, but I no longer ask myself if I have what it takes to get the job done, whatever that “job” is. I don’t doubt that what I have to say will mean something to someone, somewhere. That took a lot of work and much falling off the horse and getting right back on it. I have learned that it takes much confidence and resolve, and for me that took time to develop. Arrogance is one thing, and I believe it will lead you nowhere, but I feel a deep sense of confidence and self-belief is different and harder to develop, yet essential in the long term. I think music can transform people’s lives in deep ways, and I would love for people to simply listen to music -not while running, or on the subway, or doing the dishes, or while catching up with friends – but simply to listen to music as its own activity.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I would definitely go for a stroll and hang out in Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, ideally in spring and on a weekday morning when there are fewer people. Eat a bake at A&A bakery on Fulton Street in Crown Heights. Go hear music at the 55 bar, ideally Wayne Krantz, and/or catch a show at the Village Vanguard – you can actually do both in an evening. A visit to the Met – to the Ancient Near Eastern wing among others- and to the nearby Neue Galerie to see some wonderful Klimt and Schiele works. I am a big walker, so going for a long walk, maybe in Red Hook, but definitely across any of the bridges. I still love the feeling and the view every time I bike over from Brooklyn to Manhattan.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There are a lot of people, of course! At the top of the list though, is my partner, Tatiana Kahvegian. Without her, I would certainly not be where I am today. She believes in me, supports me, encourages me, pushes me, and loves me. That keeps me going and is more than I could ask for as a person and an artist. The second person who has had a tremendous impact in my life in recent years has been legendary jazz musician, Ron Carter. I have had the wonderful opportunity to study with Mr. Carter for the past two and a half years and that experience has been life-changing in many respects: 1) As a bass player first and foremost of course. Mr. Carter is in my view, among the best that have ever played the instrument and his contributions to jazz and, frankly, a lot of the music made in the second half of the twentieth century are boundless; 2) As a musician in general. He is truly a master at his craft and his wisdom is vast. He is a constant source of inspiration; 3) Finally, as a person. He is such a generous, kind, and sincere person who will go out of his way to help people. It is beautiful to see and experience.
Photos by Tatiana Kahvegian, except the last one (in order of upload) by Jim Rosemberg. Cover Art for Baden and 3,5,8 by Tatiana Kahvegian