I cherish mistakes, I live, learn and evolve through them

Stelios Chatzikaleas

Utopia creates history

Text: Dimitra Kehagia || Photographs: Stelios Chatzikaleas' archive
Stelios Chatzikaleas
Stelios Chatzikaleas

He has always been fond of disorder, misfits, outcasts, riff-raff, the open road, as his upbringing was “somewhat uptight and prudish”. Trumpet player Stelios Chatzikaleas recalls completing his homework in good time to “earn” time with his friends. Music was the “glue” of their friendship. All of his friends played an instrument, bought records, memorized the lyrics, spent countless hours discussing and arguing about music bands. “Ramones or Sex Pistols, Radiohead or Red Hot Chili Peppers, Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin. David Bowie –whose jazz hues are evident to me– was among everyone’s favorites, but Queen was the main point of consensus.” Music festival “Para thin alos”, held by the Municipality of Kalamaria, was also a key source influence, offering him the chance to acquaint himself with Greek rock bands and local jazz trios and quartets.

He used to play the piano as a child. Trumpet won him over at a later stage of his life. At 19 years of age, he was an avid listener of Miles Davis and Chet Baker. He was a university student at the School of Primary Education in Volos, where he enrolled at the Municipal Conservatory of Nea Ionia. Konstantinos Gravos, his first teacher, fueled him with motivation.

In terms of musical references, his collaboration with trombonist Robin Eubanks, as well as the seminars delivered by jazz legends, played a fundamental role in the shaping of his own identity. Kenny Wheeler had an impact on the aesthetic of his sound, while pianist Richie Beirach enabled him to expand his horizons as a composer. “We are always in touch, exchanging ideas”, he adds. In Greece, Chatzikaleas singles out his collaboration with Pavlos Pavlidis. “I have been a huge fan ever since my childhood years and I’m still an ardent admirer of his creative mastery.”

From his standpoint, the constant study of renowned musicians and the thorough swotting of all jazz styles form the necessary bedrock for anyone who takes jazz seriously. “The more I study – and I keep doing so on a daily basis – new sounds arouse my interest.”

He takes a break from jazz by teaming up with rock and hip-hop bands, such as Jamoan, and treasures rebetiko, a genre that shares common traits with jazz as far as he is concerned. That’s why he has joined the band of German songwriter Christian Ronig, who has made English-language covers of many Greek rebetiko and folk songs.

Chatzikaleas enjoys performing in venues where the audience is focused on listening to live music, something not to be easily found in Greece. In northern countries people tend to hear rather than speak, in all aspects of life, not only while attending a concert.

There are other sources of discontent for his homeland, though. “Politically amputated” is the term he uses to describe Greek society. He refrains from getting caught up in heated arguments in social media, as he has grown tired of “quarrelling with ‘champagne socialists’ and authority addicted capitalists.” He is a professed Marxist and an official member of PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine). He hopes to see capitalism overthrown one day.

His third album, Dignity, his most “fully-grown” work so far, is scheduled to be released in autumn 2021. Most of the tracks were written while living in Ramallah, in the occupied Palestinian territories. Each one of them is a journey to West Bank cities or the pre-1948 Palestinian land. “The key element of the incidents that shape my acoustic memory is my desire to watch, record and empathize with the struggle of the weak, the oppressed, the dreamers and the frustrated romantics,” according to the linear note of his album.

The music stories carved in the album pertain to the struggle for the right to exist and, the battle for independence, the adventure of the journey towards beauty. “An emotionally charged declaration in favor of the persecuted, the fallen, the wanderers, the ones dreaming of a better tomorrow, armed with dignity,” explains Stelios Chatzikaleas.

Dignity was recorded in late October 2019 in Sierra studios, in Athens. It was scheduled to be releases in April 2020, but the first lockdown abruptly changed all plans. Back at the time, Stelios was working on the album’s mixing alongside Gerard de Haro at the “La Buissone” Studio in France. Unfortunately, all plans took a one-year hiatus.

Stelios Chatzikaleas is an unshakable dreamer. “Others set goals. I’d rather dream to see my dreams come true! Allow me to quote Dinos Christianopoulos: “the higher the goals the blander the verses.” He does not fit the bill of a technocrat. “The most groundbreaking movements in the planet’s history (in art, politics, and within society) had no predefined goals. They just had the courage to bet on the dream – they were prepared to go all in, as it turned out! Utopia is the driving force behind history.”

He has made peace with imperfection. “Hence, I can’t perform flawlessly from start to finish. Maybe that’s why I find it hard study the classical repertoire, where no mistakes are allowed. I cherish mistakes, I live, learn and evolve through them. I take delight in the adventure of the unknown, even if I end up falling flat on my face.”

Who Is Who
He was born in Thessaloniki in 1985. He is a graduate of the following academic institutions: University of Thessaly (Bachelor of Primary School Education 2007), Jazz Department of Uttcht’s Conservatorium (Bachelor of Music 2011), Conservatoire Royal de Bruxelles (Master of Music2018) and Ionian University (Master of Music Composition for cinema and spectacle arts 2020). He has taken part in music projects in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Belgium, Hungary, Denmark, Poland, Cyprus and North Macedonia.
He participated at the «UBUNTU II» project under the guidance of Dutch composer and guitarist Marc van Vugt, having shared the stage with Sylvain Beuf, Steve Beresford, Michael Occhipinti and Robin Eubanks. His quartet released two albums, Urban Stories (Ankh Jazz, 2014) and The Froth on the Daydream (Ankh Jazz, 2017). He has performed in renowned jazz clubs and festivals such as Half-Note Jazz Club, Onassis Cultural Centre Greek Jazz Panorama-New Generation (2014, 2016), Skopje Jazz Festival (2015), and the 53rd Demetria festival in Thessaloniki (2018). He has been a member of the Euroradio Jazz Orchestra (2014), as well as of EBU, having worked as a trumpet teacher Edward Said National Conservatory of Music of Birzeit University, in Palestine (2017). His third album bearing the title Dignity will soon be released by Liberta Music.