Alabaster Deplume: between jazz, activism and dignity


Alabaster Deplume: between jazz, activism and dignity

Interview by Lorenzo Migno

In addition to being an extraordinary artist, Alabaster Deplume is a person who has great respect for the work of others. This is evidenced by his never predictable responses to this interview, which sets out to inaugurate a new and – hopefully – prolific editorial activity of Musicus Concentus.

This journalistic deepening, if we like to call it that, touches on various topics: music, activism, work. Alabaster, with grace and courtesy, answers all my questions and does so with great generosity.
Before he tells me his story – and in the 17 years I’ve been doing this job, this has never happened to me – he even takes the trouble to read what I write in my social posts. But then again, it’s not surprising. Yeah, because Alabaster seems to be one of those people who doesn’t like to stop at the surface. And I don’t know about you, but I really like this. Here is the interview.

Ciao Alabaster, it’s a pleasure to talk with you. Someone has labelled you a ‘Jazz poet’, do you agree with this definition? How important is poetry in your music?

Hello Lorenzo Migno. Thank you for sharing this time with me, when our time in this world is so short. And thank you for the work you do in journalism, and for speaking out as you do against “Contiguity and/or adherence to fascist, racist, homophobic, xenophobic ideologies and ideologies” [a Paolo Berizzi’s tweet that I evidently must have shared last summer–Ed]. It is great to speak with you, and to look forward to returning to your incredible country, where I feel so welcome among such friends and allies.
In truth I am not qualified to say what jazz is, nor whether or not the words I put together are really poetry. A person calling me a “jazz poet” may be confused or they may be kind. They might even call me that as an insult. But I will probably love them the same, whichever it is.
One of the things I enjoy about bringing words to music, is that the two elements can counter each other, they can oppose each other – the same way your thumb opposes your fingers when you want to pick something up. They can work together through opposition.

How do you position yourself in relation to the contemporary jazz scene?

How wonderful that there are so many contemporary jazz scenes, most of which I haven’t met yet, and that I might never get to know. Countless world-forming groups of souls devoting their existence to their astonishing art, in parts of the world I could only dream of being welcome. To those contemporary scenes, as with the scenes I have indeed met with so far in London, Chicago, NY and elsewhere, I position myself as a humble student, and I offer my love of humanity as a gift.

Do you feel inspired by the so-called spiritual jazz of the 1970s (Pharoah Sanders, Sun Ra, Alice Coltrane)?

Yes, that music is sublime. It was my friend the multi-instrumentalist Paddy Steer who first introduced me to Sun Ra.


The Total Refreshment Centre has been one of the most important music and culture centres in London for the last eight years. Can you tell us something about this extraordinary reality?

It is a place that changed my life, because of the people. The threat of development and crushing cost of living, that surely so many of you readers know too well in your lives, this threat has been with the Total Refreshment Centre the whole time. So much so, that it is almost a basic part of the place. We have worked here under that threat, feverishly committed to our greatest works, never knowing how long we can work in this space. I mention this partly because you might feel the same way. I want to reach you and tell you that I believe in you, and if you are threatened by economic – or other – forces, I see you and I know that you deserve better. You deserve self-determination and a peace of your own that you have won through your sovereign endeavour and your place in this world as a dignified human being.

You are also known for your activism. How this commitment condition your music?

The reader, reading this, is intelligent. They are sensitive and wise. Their attention is made of their time and energy, and these things are precious. They will not accept a pretence from me. My audience do not take bullshit. I can only bring them what is true. Naturally this means the forces which compel me in political activity compel me the same in the work. If I were to hide my beliefs, this would also be a political act. But it would risk insulting the audience. In a similar way, as my audience grows, it demands that I scrutinise my political position, and be responsible in my choices around the (meek so far, in my opinion) part I take in political action now and then.

What should we expect from the live performance in Florence on March 8?

Our time together, that is you (as in anyone reading this who will be there) will be ours. It will belong to us, it will be formed by us, and there is no knowing or expecting what it will be. I don’t know what I’m doing – I am coming to find out what we are doing.
I recently wrote that “Appreciation can’t expect, any more than dignity can beg respect”. And you, Lorenzo Migno, also wrote about dignity recently. I was happy to read what you wrote, as I’ve been working on dignity, and its role in healing. I love and praise the dignity of everyone reading this. Thank you for your dignity, as you pass your eyes over these words. Thank you for the grace you surely bring to this world, just in order to live. Thank you for living, it is tricky sometimes.

At the end of this nice conversation, which does not seem to have taken place via email, Alabaster returns to the topic of dignity and thanks me again for my words spent on this issue.
He refers in particular to a Facebook post of mine in which I was disseminating the video of Stefano Massini and Paolo Jannacci, which ended up somewhat by chance in this email.

It was February 9, and in this status I wrote:

“Last night Stefano Massini and Paolo Jannacci wrote the most beautiful and touching page of this edition of the Sanremo Festival.
Unfortunately, in my humble opinion, there is little talk about it today… Don’t you think? (If you haven’t seen it, you can catch up with it here
And now I’m going to say something obvious: how much will we enjoy brawling over nonsense instead of focusing on the important things?
P.s. And what a beautiful word it is…. DIGNITY.”

The reference is to Massini and Jannacci’s performance, where the two sing “L’uomo nel lampo” (Man in the Lightning), a heartbreaking track about one of the many deaths on the job.

Stefano Massini – writer and narrator, the only Italian to have won the Tony Award – said: “L’uomo nel lampo is a dialogue set to music. There is a father who died at a very young age in an industrial accident, one of those that bedevil our headlines without making headlines to the point that they no longer even arouse scandal because work has become a Wild West and rights are a luxury…”

There are 1485 work-related deaths in Italy each year, almost five a day.
Five of these – we do not forget – occurred in Florence at a supermarket construction site on the morning of Feb. 17, the opening day of our season in Sala Vanni.
We honored them that evening.
We also gladly pay tribute and remember them in this article.
And thank you Alabaster. Thank you for allowing yourself (and us) the luxury of going deeper.