Introducing Nikos Fotakis

We’d like you to meet Nikos Fotakis. He’s been helping out at AustralianJazz.net and is in the process of taking over responsibility for its future.

If you’ve been at any of the clubs around Melbourne in the last few months, you may even have seen him. Nikos recently arrived from Greece and has a background in journalism and a deep love of jazz.

We thought a good way to introduce him would be to do one of our famous Q&As and find out what makes him tick.

AustralianJazz.net: How – and where – did you first encounter jazz?

Nikos Fotakis: Through old movies. I grew up in Athens, Greece, in the ’80s. Back then, there were only two TV stations and the options were limited. On Saturday afternoons there was always some technicolor ’50s musical playing, for some reason, and I was fascinated. I learned the Great American Songbook from the likes of Sinatra and Judy Garland and then, one day, watching High Society, I saw Louis Armstrong. That was it.

AJN: Do you play a musical instrument?

NF: I did get guitar lessons in my pre-teen years, but I was too lazy to practice – a sure sign that a person is not fit to be a musician. In the words of the great Nat Hentoff, “my instrument is the typewriter” – well, the laptop keyboard, actually, but it doesn’t sound that cool.

AJN: When did you start writing about this music?

NF: I was still in college when I went to work for a weekly Athens magazine – a city guide. At the desk behind me sat the music editor, George Charonitis, one of my favourite writers, who was also the editor and publisher of a monthly magazine called JAZZ & TZAZ. He became my mentor, of sorts, and encouraged me to write on my favourite of the “swing revival trend” bands: Squirrel Nut Zippers. It was 1997.

AJN: What has been your favourite experience as an audience member?

NF: Top 5

  1. Ennio Morricone, Herod Ancient Theatre, Athens. Not a jazz concert, but an emotional experience I’ll cherish forever. Hard to top.
  2. Sonny Rollins, Pallas Theatre, Athens. The moment he played ‘In a sentimental mood’ my spine turned to cream.
  3. Esbjorn Svensson Trio, Pallas Theatre, Athens. Words fail to describe this kind of energy and beauty.
  4. Ahmad Jamal Trio/ Belmondo feat. Yusef Lateef, Park Floral, Paris. We got a bag of baguettes, cheese and grapes, a bottle of chilled wine – the whole French experience package – and sat on the grass for a picnic listening to the masters.
  5. Christian Scott, J&R music store, New York. It was the launching of Yesterday you said tomorrow – in my opinion, the best jazz album to come out the last five years, if not more. It was a rainy morning. They played a fantastic half hour set, in front of no more than 25 customers. My wife turned and said: “Honey, even in New York you’re a minority”.

AJN: What has been your favourite jazz writing assignment?

NF: The story of how the best jazz album to come out of the UK – if not the best jazz album whatsoever – in 2014, Nat Birtchall’s soulful, coltranesque Live in Larissa, was actually recorded in a tiny bar, in a small town, in a country suffering from recession. It was the last thing I wrote before leaving Greece for Australia. I wanted it that way.

AJN: Is writing about jazz different to writing about other subjects? And if so, how is it different?

NF: It’s a trap. When you write about something you love, it’s not work. You think that it sets you free, but at the same time, you never feel that you do justice to your subject.

AJN: What have been the highlights of your Australian jazz experience?

NF: Early in the evening, the sun hasn’t set yet. No more than two weeks since I relocated from Athens to Melbourne. I’m strolling aimlessly in the CBD and my feet carry me to Bennett’s Lane – not the club, the actual lane. I stop in front of Ruby’s and look through the door at the piano.The room is empty, but for a couple of patrons and the band who are sitting at a table, fooling around. The manager comes to me and asks: “are you coming in?” “I haven’t decided yet”. He turns to the piano player and tells him: “play something for the gentleman to decide whether he wants to stay or not”. Sam Appapoulay sits and plays a beautiful rendition of my favourite song, “In a sentimental mood”. To me, that was Melbourne saying “welcome”.

AJN: What are you listening to now?

NF: Shol. Absolutely delightful.

How to contact Nikos

Nikos can be reached by email at editor@australianjazz.net