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Saturnino Celani


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by Alessandro Arcuri

Being the bass player for a teen idol as Lorenzo “Jovanotti” Cherubini is (, with a production ranging from hip hop to world music, does necessarily mean that you always have to follow the leader’s choices? Looking at Saturnino’s career (Born Saturnino Celani) you’d say no, in fact his ability to put a personal contribution in everything he does led him to collaboration with such a great composer as Franco Battiato (, with upcoming songwriters as Pippo Pollina ( as well as many releases under his own name. And always without losing his musical identity, which is no little thing…   

Alessandro: since the first Jovanotti’s records there’s been some kind of an “emersion” of the bassist image, among young kids, here in Italy; do you think it had to happen anyway, as a part of a cyclic chain of events, that sees first the singer up front, then the guitarist, an so on, or do you think it’s due to the mix between your charisma and Jovanotti’s persona? 

Saturnino: it’s been a lucky coincidence, I think, because I found myself in a musical situation ruled by bass and drums, in a more rhythmical than melodic environment, so it’s been a natural forward push, simply in sheer volume; the instrument itself was very present and up front, especially on records, other than in live situations (because the problem is especially on recordings). When you can’t quite hear an instrument you can’t identify it clearly, can you? So, instead of having a guitarist as a partner, this time it’s been bass’ turn. That led to the emersion, among many other great foreign musicians, of the bassist’s role, here in Italy. 

A.: so it’s been due both to the catchy act of Jovanotti and his music itself, that featured your bass so well. 

S.: sure, in fact I had other experiences before, and even if recording was fun, during the mixdown it was always a mess. With Lorenzo, instead, mixing bass and drums was, and still is, always a pleasure.  

A.: considering that you often see musicians hyped by frontmen that give them so much space, can’t it be risky that nowadays  young kids tend to follow only overexposed top-ten idols or, instead, did you notice an attention to the past and to the “old school” bassists, maybe among your students? 

S.: just consider that I have no students! I gave some seminars because I like to talk with many people at once; teaching one-on-one is something I consider very difficult, it’s very complex and it’s quite a responsibility because you’re telling and giving something to someone that hangs from your mouth. So it’s not something I like to do, but I have quite an email correspondence with people who play and ask me some advice… and many bassists helped on this, too.

The groups you hear today, like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, with Flea, gave an enormous contribution in making the bass audible in songs that you listen to anyway.

A.: you mean without having to listen to – say – a 25-minutes long suite by Rush (still giving credit to Geddy Lee), that is maybe something for an accustomed listener? 

S.: Well, this is a name that leads to a kind of music that’s easy to listen to, anyway; if you take, for instance a Victor Wooten & Steve Bailey record… I mean if a sixteen year old kid that wants to pick up bass and maybe wants to show his feelings to a girl, and he makes her listen to such stuff, she’ll probably say something like: “kid, you have a problem”. Whereas if he plays her a Red Hot Chili Peppers tune, it’s magic between them. I’m giving you the example of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but for me the first Level 42 have been also very important. 

A.: they were great! I was studying some tunes of theirs on some charts I eventually found on the web; sometimes some bassist tend to be forgotten… and speaking about nowadays bass players, you mentioned Flea, and then? 

S.: among the most recent ones there’s Me’Shell N’degè Ocello that I really like a lot; but as I told you, I like the way she fits a bass line within a song’s structure. Then there’s Tony Levin, who’s a bassist both from the past and from the present. There are really some musical personalities that are basically ageless. For example there’s this mister unknown who played on Hair’s Soundtrack who’s scary! 

A.: don’t you know his name? 

S.: No, I read it on the record’s sleeve, but I can’t remember it… he must have been one of the musical’s orchestra, he’s awesome! 

A.: good to know…I gotta write that down… 

S.: if you listen closely to “Aquarius” it’s really awesome, and you can tell he’s not following a written part but only playing the changes, you can tell it by the things he does… really incredible! 

A.: since you spoke about bass’ role, I once read that you wouldn’t like to be considered as a session man, or becoming one. 

S.: well, that’s not a category, I mean, I consider music, as every other art, an enormous privilege… almost a curse and a gift at the same time; I wanted to be a bassist since I was fourteen years old, and I succeeded at it, because I’m playing, I’m making records, I’m touring, and therefore I’m at the top, you see? Working with other people, though, is something I’d like to be able to choose; I want to know their music and I want to know and respect them as artists. Fortunately there’s always some work I get to do; I receive at least an offer a month, either to cut records or to tour, and you know that here in Italy a tour isn’t very long, since it usually lasts for about a couple of months and a half. They’re not like world tours that take you on the road for a couple of years.

Then there are things to which I say “no, thank you”, simply because I can afford to do so. It’s like any other job… with a three months tour you take home quite an amount of money, and if it’s your income, it’s important that you do it. Until I’m free to choose to do what I like and what makes me live well, I don’t see why I shouldn’t do that. 

A.: sure, instead of accepting everything that comes around only because you need it. 

S.: Yes, for instance someone who plays in the orchestra of Paolo Limiti show, earns a lot of money. It’s up to you… if you like doing that… it’s always better than a tiring work, isn’t it? 

A.: Yeah… and exactly because you want to know and respect, not only personally but also artistically, someone you play with, you can also become more personal on your approach on the instrument; unlike a mere performer. In fact when I bought Pippo Pollina’s CD “Rossocuore”, and I saw your name among the bass players (even if it wasn’t listed who played on which track) I immediately had the feeling that it was you on the tune “Finnegan’s Wake”. Pippo then confirmed that to me. Does that mean that your sound and your role are so recognizable as a consequence of getting so close with an artist? 

S.: well, you know, after all an artist has to know what to ask you and in where to fit you. I believe that the artist’s role – who has an enormous responsibility because he’s exposing himself - is to act like a director, and to understand for which role a musician is best suited, and also where to put him, as well as the producer too. You have to know where to put me in advance… you know me, you saw me perform, you heard me on records, and therefore you know what my contribution can be.

When you call me, if I don’t know you I’m going to ask you to make me listen to your stuff.

In Pippo Pollina’s case, Franco Battiato has been crucial, because Pippo already informed me, with a fax, that he was going to cut a duet with Battiato and another with Nada. I already worked with Franco, so I called him even before listening to the tunes, asking him about Pippo and he told me “I think he’s a good composer and in my opinion it’s going to be worth it”. Then when I got in the studio it’s been a pleasure to work. 

A.: still talking about your full immersion in the music you are asked to play each time (as opposed to giving a simple impersonal performance), how does it happen? 

S.: for example, with Franco Battiato we got in the studio along with full featured demos, which he also gave to each musician in advance, anyway; and therefore where we met in the studio, in Paris, we just played the tunes as they were played on the pre-production demos, trying to embellish the sound. Obviously there were some interventions, sometimes, but in that case the composer’s charisma is such a strong one that working with him is truly a pleasure, kind of reading a script. 

A.: you mean that you can put something yours, but the music is almost perfect? 

S.: you perceive it as already complete. For example there was this very delicate tune called “la cura”; and when I plugged in the six string fretless, which I already thought could work, anyway, everyone went “ah! That’s a terrific sound, let’s cut with it!”. Then I just had to follow the melody, that was very strong, anyway.

But it’s really a pleasure to work with someone who has a very clear design in his mind, it’s truly beautiful, because in that moment you’re sharing his thoughts. 

A.: I had the chance to work with Daniele Luppi, a Lounge/Cocktail Music composer from my hometown, and sometimes I was given a simple rough outline of a groove, but other times he gave me very complex arrangements where the written notes looked almost randomly put, but after a close listen to the end result everything appeared quite different. 

S.: ah, when you play with an orchestra it’s wonderful! 

A.: yes, after hearing  the finished tunes I sometimes asked him “was it really me, on bass?” and he said “well… yes!”.

It seems to me, though, that in other moments, such as with Jovanotti, you create more from ground zero, going like “let’s see how can we build up something”, and therefore your approach is way more personal, isn’t it? 

S.: Eh! Exactly like that! He comes up with a very precise lyrics idea – and he always writes starting from the b.p.m. – then we get along and jam. He usually comes up with the lyrics, but it’s been three years now that he’s giving us some musically complete tunes, that writes on guitar. 

A.: how do you lock in, in such cases? 

S.: we lock in with each other. For example Pier [Foschi], the drummer, and me, have been playing with Lorenzo for almost ten years, and when we start a project, we roll up ours sleeves and try to give our best, trying to find something original, or at least that sounds new. Sometimes we just use an already acquired musical language, we put on a record, we listen to it in silence and then we may say “OK, I think that’s the path to follow”, and start. Maybe we change some notes of the groove, but we may even use the same notes as well. 

A.: it sometimes happens to me too, I hear a melody that, changing a few notes here and there, becomes something different;  a starting point comes often from someone else’s work. 

S.: sure, you try to cop the feeling wile changing the notes, right? Then there are also times when you come up with something for sheer luck. When we were recording “l’ombelico del mondo” and I pulled out that riff… now everybody’s asking me to play that one!

A.: yes, I remember when you were saying that at Red Ronnie’s TV show; you got that idea and the song was practically done. 

S.: got it? I tell you, it was sheer luck, because there are six other versions of that tune. 

A.: the infamous “alternate takes” that maybe will show up on a Jovanotti anthology in 2080… 

S.: I’m really sincere, many times you play a lot, you dig a ton of records and when you sit down to record you blank out! You listen back to your playing and you go “fuck that! This is so lame…I don’t like it…” 

A.: speaking about more technical stuff, I noticed that you went from using almost exclusively the six strings bass, to using more and more often the five. Has this been a rational choice or did you happen to find out you were pulling less often the six from its stand? 

S.: well, I have eight basses ready, when I’m recording, and they’re completely different from each other; they range from an original Hofner from the sixties [you lucky dog! ] to a Fender Precision, or – to be precise – a ‘72 Telecaster Bass; then I have a copy of that with an aluminium body and active electronics, a carbon fiber Steinberger, a five strings Sadowsky and another Fender four strings. It doesn’t matter to me, but then each instrument has a strong influence on me, I mean, when I change bass I change I change my approach, like the instrument had its own soul, that alters the way I play. 

A.: but lately I saw you using the five strings… 

S.: yes, yes, I’ve been using the five, and also the four quite a lot, recently 

A.: so for you it’s not like it’s for Paolo Costa, who was telling me he considers the six strings a bit too out of range, too trebly; it’s just that a particular instrument is best suited for a particular tune, and therefore if you often use the five strings it’s because you’re presenting a song you wrote on that one. 

S.: yes, it’s also because of that… and because when you use the six it’s almost like you ought to use that high string; and It’s not a secret that I bought the Ken Smith six when John Patitucci came out, and I went nuts. I was seventeen, back then… 

A.: got it! You could be easily influenced… 

S.: I still am, and if I found someone I like I go to each concert, and try to understand what he’s doing, I get very passionate about that. 

A.: I know you started on violin, and since I also did that I can tell that shifting from a strictly melodic instrument to another one that’s an harmonic and rhythmic foundation can be easy from a certain point of view (maybe because speaking of rhythm it’s something that you do have or you don’t), but when it comes to melodic phrasing it’s a different story, on bass. 

S.: it’s still an instrument tuned on fourths, so it can be melodically more forward, but sometimes, on harmonic issues, I found myself arguing, and maybe it wasn’t me who was right! 

A.: you mean you were moving root notes and you were inverting chords? 

S.: you got it, maybe I was playing a note and someone, often the keyboard player, was quickly telling me “look, that note on bass is not right, try this one…” 

A.: that could also come from the guitarist… 

S.: yes, but usually the keyboard players are way more tedious 

A.: i’m gonna write that down! 

S.: I mean, when you’re in the studio they’re the ones that tell you, “you should put an F on bass, instead of a G”, and you go “but for me the other one sounds OK too…” 

A.: but often when a bass player inverts a chord or moves the root the result is  striking. Just consider Paul McCartney… 

S.: holy shit! 

A.: exactly, it’s also this thing that makes bass so magic; and for me our instrument’s role shouldn’t be underestimated. 

S.: right, and many times the notes that initially were questioned, were finally considered cool! 

A.: I sometimes did that stealthily, for example if in the rehearsals the guitar player didn’t  noticed what I was doing, he liked it when listening back to the tapes; but if he got me while we were playing he would start asking “no… what…? Where…?”. Often when something has already been done you find out it wasn’t that bad! 

S.: yes, usually the bassist is a little more irresponsible than the other players. 

A.: maybe because we feel limited, sonically speaking, and then we keep on trying new things. 

S.: we keep trying… and sooner or later…   

A.: what would you say to someone who’s already playing but wants to step out from the old “root on eight-notes” or pentatonic or blues scale? 

S.: I always say that you have to listen to what moves you the most; I remember that when I started playing, when I was fourteen, I had a cover band that used to play Rolling Stones and Van Halen tunes, and that music gave me a lot of energy, then for a while someone kept telling me that if I wanted to play I ought to listen to jazz, and that without jazz I could never be able to grasp certain things. So I started to dig jazz but soon I bored my self out of my skull, you see? I mean, if you don’t feel something deep inside, why the fuck you keep on insisting? I also bought a double bass that I sold a year after… it was also a load to carry around …

There are also many beautiful things that I studied and played, anyway… 

A.: like that Marsalis tune you once covered, “Mo’ better blues”. And that leads to what we were speaking about early on… that tune, or that bass, makes me feel certain things, and so I play it. 

S.: exactly, and then, once you understood what’s the music that gives you most, you try to apply what you want to do on your instrument at the things you already know. 

A.: yes, for example I bought Jennifer Paige’s single, “Crush” and also Des’ree’s one “Life”, only to learn their bass lines. 

S.: that record is wonderfully mastered, by the way… 

A.: I often buy something from the pop charts just because it’s played damn well, I mean, why should I  act snobbish? 

S.: exactly, you have to be true to yourself in the first place, I know people that go to concerts they don’t like! 

A.: just to say “I  was there” 

S.: yes, or when someone asks me: “didn’t you ever feel intrigued by the Chapman Stick®?” I answer “I’m no good on that! I bought it and gave it away after a week!” 

A.: fortunately here in Padova there are four Stick players (that’s quite a lot for a city that has about only 250.000 inhabitants) and I know three of them, so each time I asked them and tried that thing I quickly got nervous and gave it back. I’d rather sit down at my Fender Rhodes piano, just to plonk out something, because I feel more comfortable on that.

Going back to the way you jam with Jovanotti, do you have a home recording setup? Such as computer or a desk, where you record and compose? 

S.: not at all, I have a MiniDisc recorder with a mike, that’s all. I think that if you have to work with someone on the computer, that someone has to be real good, otherwise it’s only frustrating. I installed the Logic software on my Apple laptop, put I never plugged anything into it! 

A.: total rejection? 

S.: I’ll just buy a piano and hook it up via USB. A program I really like is Finale, that I use to print my music. 

A.: I amaze everyone with my broad-nib fountain pen, that makes me write in a Real Book fashion; everyone’s asking me what’s the software I  use to have those prints and I go: “it was hand made, honey!”

In conclusion, with your MiniDisc you capture the moment, and afterwards, when you listen back to it, if you like it you keep it, if you don’t…never mind! 

S.: yeah, I’d rather be in the studio, though, because it’s a different environment; Lorenzo got himself a home studio, in his basement, with a big desk, Pro Tools with the state of the art operating system, and, most important, a producer that twiddles all the knobs. 

A.: is it everything on Mac? 

S.: everything. 

A.: how could you ask for more?


Visit Saturnino’s website at:

Alessandro Arcuri


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