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Juán Chiavassa - Fiery Argentina Drummer from Mike Stern to Paquito d' Rivera!
(Published: January 07, 2022)

I had the opportunity to see drummer Juán Chiavassa in action- leading the rhythmic machine for dynamic Cuban pianist Dayramir Gonzalez recently at Flushing Town Hall-NYC. And I'm telling you- it was the most powerful, exciting performance that I've seen for a long time! I found myself mesmerized by this naturally in-the-pocket guy sitting in the drum seat. I was truly impressed. Following is an interview with Juán by internationally-published writer Maria Cabeza. -Scott Thompson

JUAN CHIAVASSA: the Argentine drummer who plays with the greatest artists in jazz and rock. He stands out for his versatility!

"I always say that music is a small drop in the ocean of life. I was told a long time ago that your horn, or whatever instrument you play, is a means to be in the world."
Wayne Shorter

Juan Chiavassa is a drummer from Venado Tuerto, Santa Fe (Argentina) based in NYC.

He was awarded a scholarship to study at Berklee College of Music and from there he obtained his degree in instruments.

His tireless curiosity and professionalism led him to play very different types of music and that led to being called upon by great musicians such as Mike Stern, Paquito D 'Rivera and George Garzone.

Juan is a noble and sensitive soul who is characterized by playing from the heart, giving his best in each presentation. Musicians, producers and critics alike predict an unparalleled future for him.

Hello Juan, How are you?

Well, well, how nice that we were able to find the time to talk!

Yes, finally

I am in NYC. It was nice meeting Scott the other day (referring to Scott H. Thompson, the jazz publicist).

Yes, I answer, he is a very good and professional person. He was thrilled when he heard you play - I tell you from my heart and professionally too: Scott is a person who has listened to a lot of musicians so when someone surprises him, it's Wow! He was exalted.

Very cool, he sent me an email in which he praised me and named me people and said "you played with this one, with the other one, with Mike Stern!" And he even compared me to Dennis Chambers and it fills you with pride and it's an honor when someone from the music world compares you to those greats artists. It means that I am doing things well and I am aware that it is a process; one is always learning and it is great that someone who is on the same field encourages you. It is a great satisfaction.

The interview started without me noticing; a "Hello, how are you? and I found myself in a dialogue with Juan, without rusty armor, with ours hearts open like the stars to the sky

Where were you born?

I am from Venado Tuerto, Santa Fe. It is a very beautiful place because it preserves that small town flavor, we all know each other.

Do you have friends from Santa Fe?

Yes, a lot. I'm about to go in the short run. It has the particularity that , when I arrive, people began to name me musicians since many well-known artists came out of my hometown, such as: J Morelli, icon of Argentine music who played with everyone in the 70s and 80s: Luis Alberto Spinetta, Fito Páez, Pappo . It marked the Argentine rock. Also Quintino Cinalli, Leo Genovese -he is my mentor and lives here-, who is a pianist and arranger for Calle 13 and a pianist for Esperanza Spalding Group. In Venado they know about music, they worsip Wayne Shorter- a genius.

Santa Fe is tremendous! Much talent!

They always ask me Is there something in the water... And I reply: "Yes, it is extremely contaminated," he tells me with a great sense of humor. And he continues Moreover, music is something which develops from generation to generation and there are guys who are inspired by me, they ask me to help them, a brood of kids who precedes you and it becomes like a snowball.

A seedbed!

I think it's partly due to bohemian lifestyle; not having much to do and so people listen to music, read, make art, go to bars. It may be the reason.

You studied at Berklee College of Music, right?

I started in 2013 and finished in 2016. I was 21 years old, I tried it at 18 but it didn't go so well. Nevertheless it was those type of disappointments that, at the end of the story, end up being positive. Thanks to that, I took an intermediate step, which was to go to Buenos Aires to study music at the contemporary music school. I took a course in instruments, which lasted two and a half years, and I auditioned again and it was then when I was awarded a scholarship to go to Berklee. That's why I was able to go.

Did you go to the best?

Yes, for sure!

I always wanted to study there, my parents supported me a hundred percent and I was there from 2013 to 2016. It was an incredible experience not only from the point of view of knowledge but also from a human angle.

What is your degree?

There were about 20/25 courses, from instruments to jazz composition, scoring, music business, many with job opportunities such as music business and scoring. When you do the instrument course, the degree is good but the real thing is that no paper is going to guarantee your musicality.

It's like a resume; It can say many things but then you have to prove right.

Exactly. I did that course on instruments and a bit of songwriting.

Do you sing too?

No. Well...I recorded a CD last year -in pandemic-, my first own album. I made it at home and I summoned some friends who had guest appearances and on that album I sang on two songs. I added a lot of effect on it and it was a great experience.

Cool! It's great! Do you play bass too?

Yes, at home and I compose songs.

You are daring!

I hear his melodic laugh, everything in Juan is music, it is like chords, sweet company

Yes, yes, I love writing songs. I am keen on jazz and improvised music and noise. The songs captivate me. I grew up listening to the Beatles, national rock bands; jazz came later.

How do you describe your music?

Although it is jazzy, it is also full of songs. I have been writing lyrics, something I fall for. I do it from a more poetic side, "I look for the sound of words" I do not say I will tell the story of ... "I write music and I want the lyrics to enter melodically". I love it!

It's like when I write. Without intentionality.

What do your parents do?

I come from a zero musical family.

That's why I'm asking you

Zero music but very cultural. My dad, who passed away last year from Covid.

"I'm so sorry," I interrupt.

Thank you. He was an agronomist; my mother, a landscaper, so both of them were very connected with nature. The two of them were very well read; my father bought me the best jazz records I have ever had.

I hear him talk about his father and it is impossible for me to detach myself from the emotion that he evokes in me.

Dad listened to a lot of music, it motivated me; he kept sending me newspapers and movie articles. A lot of culture in my house.

In the 90s they had a literary café in Venado Tuerto where chess was played, a totally bohemian place. I grew up there, do you understand? In that artistic and cultural environment.

Do you remember the name?


Did you play there?

No, it was sold. I was 12 years old and from 3 to 12 I was soaked in that world. My friends were the children of the other owners. And with those boys who I played with when I was 8 years old, we said "Let's make music" and that's why I'm a musician. (He smiles and highlights: "At 8 years old")

Your first CD was Pisces. I thought of the name - the obviousness of the zodiac sign but why the name?

I am a Pisces yes. It is because of a photo that my brother took. He is a photographer and a movie maker. He took a picture of a fish looking up at the camera. I had never seen a photo like that and I said: "It's incredible, I want to make a record with this cover! This was in 2014.

Beyond the name, do you believe in the Zodiac signs?

I have a mystical side, I am neither very religious nor of the other extreme but I have a spiritual side. I believe in the gravitational force in the universe; It is full of stars and there is magnetism and everything is transmitted through vibrations so ...

You believe in energy

Yes, and my thinking is almost as mystical as it is scientific.

You would agree if I said you accept the existence of something superior

Definitely. Through music I got closer to Buddhism and read a lot. I did meditation, my mom guides me a lot because she is a yoga teacher. I like it but I don't follow a methodology nor do I go full throttle.

Do you read?

I love reading but sometimes I find it hard to find time. Reading is what inspires me the most. It opens my head and I start writing music and when I am sad, reading clears my heart. I really like Juan Forn (who passed away this year) - my father used to read Página 12 - it is an Argentinian newspaper- and Forn wrote the columns for the covers and then I started buying his books. They meant a lot to me because he wrote about artists. I also like artists' biographies, they inspire me a lot. I read "Sapiens", by Yuval Noah Harari- in Argentina it is called From Animals to Gods. It blew my mind!

You named sadness, what makes you sad?

Existential sadness.

That happens to all of us...

As such, I am very sensitive so I often hung up on that a lot; not to mention the loss of my old man last year. I was very close to my father, very much and, suddenly, this illness came and to me it was like an accident. From one day to the next, he was gone.

Was he in Argentina?

Yes. He had some pre-existing heart problems but he was fine. It got complicated. I had to deal with it and I'm still assimilating it.

What fills your soul, makes you happy?

Music, obviously. When one day I'm down or in a bad mood, I play and, as soon as I start, everything is over. What's more, when I finish I'm in a good mood, sociable. It is like therapy. Music fills my soul, literally. Friends too. Friends involve: barbecue, soccer, coming home. Luckily I have an incredible group of people here, most of them from Argentina, and I feel at home. Once a week we get together to share a barbecue, we watch a soccer game. I live here but I feel like I'm in Buenos Aires.

Good because it's not easy in NYC, I mean, there is no such thing as passing by for a coffee...

The crazy thing is that when I lived in Argentina, I looked at the USA, at jazz, everything they had and, when I came to live in NYC, the nostalgia for all that I had left, the traditions, grabbed me. I needed my roots and I was able to find such balance.

You played with Mike Stern. How does it feel like to play with such outstanding musicians?

Is incredible! I'm lucky to be able to play with Mike. It's a privilege because, here's the thing: the guy learned from Miles Davis and I'm playing with him. Do you understand? And Miles Davis (the Maradona of music) learned from Charlie Parker. So that's it.

Crystal clear . Comparatively, you would be close to jazz mentors.

Yes, I am three separations from the first jazz musician. I'm there, learning from them. It is a responsibility too. I don't get nervous but every time I go to play with Mike (Stern), I know who he is and what he means. And I give it all. I play with all my might!

I have also had the chance of playing with Paquito D 'Rivera with whom I have a very good vibe. Mike Stern and Paquito are two artists that my father liked very much.

On my first trip to the USA I was 18 years old and I wanted to see shows and Mike and Paquito were the first two I went to listen to. I remember that I bought a record, Paquito signed it for me, and I gave it to my father when I returned. And I told my Dad: "I saw Paquito, he was incredible." And my father was so amazed.

Today, 12 years later, I am playing with them; They are both 70 years old, like George Garzone - with whom I also play - a well-known musician; he is the godfather of sax. I think: "How cool, these guys have been playing for 40 years, they already have their circle of people and they choose me." What an honor! Isn't it? I say this because it is difficult for them to open their circle of musicians for someone new. They value me as a musician and then you end up in a personal relationship: they call you on the phone.

I wanted to ask you about that. Do you make friends with your mates?

Regarding Mike, I usually go to his house to play. I was starting to play with him live when my father got ill. He is a very compassionate person, he was alwys there for me; as Garzone , he is like a godfather to me. We love each other so much. With Paquito too. It's something I want to emphasize: "They are all l very good people." The human factor in music is very important.

No matter how well you play; if you don't have a true feeling for music or if you are a bad person or your intentions are not good, you cannot relate socially and that influences your career. Nobody wants to play with someone with whom they get on badly.

You can feel the vibe.

I agree.

You play with young people too, do you?

I play with Leo Genovese a lot; I consider him one of the best pianists in the world. Dayramir, is not that known but he is doing pretty well. People really appreciate his music, his energy.

Now I'm going on tour with a trio "House of Waters" which is ethnic music, with rare instruments like the Hammered Dulcimer which translates as Psalter- it is a musical instrument with strings that are tied on a trapezoidal surface and which is played by hitting the ropes- We're going to Europe; they have been on the move for 10 year and they are famous in NYC.

Another name on a CD that caught my attention was "Close but Far"

It was the name of one of the compositions by an Italian friend from Tano Trio ; he wrote it and we recorded it with Leo Genovese. At that time, the band was formed by two Italians and two Argentinians with Italian descent and, one of the songs- which the saxophonist had written-, was called Close but Far. We liked it because it was that play of words... Argentina-Italy, I don't know, near but far .

Do you think that at some point there will be peace in the world?

He takes his time ...

It's a bit of the human condition and I don't know if we're going to be able to get rid of it. This book that I mentioned to you before, "Sapiens" talks a lot about that. It opened my mind. It tells where we are going that coincides with what I see, which is towards a unification .Nowadays, children of 3/4 years old speak 4 languages. Moreover, the father is Russian, the mother is Italian, the grandparents are American. In some years I don't know if there will be such defined ranges, I don't even know if there will be genders.

What about spirituality? I feel a genuine openness.

Our grandparents were all super Catholic and today a 17-year-old kid doesn't define himself to such an extreme. it's all very mixed. It is not the same as 30 years ago. There are going to be good and bad things, but you can see that a new spirituality is taking shape.

What do you think of socio-economic inequality? A kid who doesn't have anything to eat and a woman who buys the latest bag? It is not that the woman is wrong but , you understand what I mean.

Well, the other day on the radio I heard that if the 5 biggest millionaires in the world donated 0.3 percent of their wealth, hunger would end. One of the listeners spoke to Elon Musk and he told him that he would give him 6 million dollars if he gave him the answer to the end of poverty. I mean, he kind of said it wasn't just money. I think it is.

I totally agree.

Does music calms the beast? (you know the saying...)

Yes, very much. That is what I told you; when I'm a bit neurotic, I play and I calm down. The same thing happens to many people. No doubt music is healthy. Playing or listening to music is like a therapy. You cannot live without music. It is something basic.

It is a healer.

Absolutely, music heals a lot. I have checked it thousands of times. For example, a movie. Music and a movie have a direct influence on people, they touch their hearts.

I watched the Baby Steps video. I really liked it!

It was produced by Nacho González. He's a producer and songwriter who I met in Boston. He is Uruguayan and I worked copiously with him. He is a proactive guy, he worked at Univision, always on big projects and he summons the best musicians.

It is a beautiful video and the music is perfect.

Did you switch from Venado Tuerto to NYC? I mean, did Juan change or are you the same individual?

I am the same Juan and I changed for the better. I learned a lot of things in these years; I worked with very professional people. In essence, I am the same, I value more to return to Venado, to spend a month. It is difficult for me to go for a short time, I like to go and stay, get into the character that I live in the town.

Do you like traveling?

I dislike planning trips; I take advantage of the fact that I am a musician and I go on tour. It's the same as if you asked me if I liked to go out. If I don't play, I stay at home. I don't like tourism very much, it is difficult for me to plan a trip like 'I'm going because I want to visit such country'. If I'm in NYC and I want to go on vacation, I go to Argentina. It is the first place I choose.

I have the feeling that you are very a nice guy and so sensitive, simple

I am.

Calm too. Do you get angry?

Sometimes I'm kind of grumpy. I am very empathetic that is why I can play so many different styles and that is reflected in my music as well.

If it weren't drums, which instrument would you choose?

I love the piano, I could play it well. I think I would be a pianist.

You played with Pablo Ziegler, didn't you?

Correct. Another idol; a guy I learned a lot from. It was at Berklee. As I was Argentinian, they called me to play with him. There are some very nice videos with a spectacular orchestra. A wonderful experience. Afterwards we always agreed that we were going to play and we didn't. It is that tango and drums are not so common. And although you always try to mix it with jazz, it is not what is most cool. Anyway, we have a very good relationship.

Did you play with a rapper too?

I played with the most famous rappers in the world who are Puerto Rican Residente and Calle 13 and with Bad Bunny. It was once, one of my best friends- Leo Genovese, from Venado- several years ago he was the director of the musical band Residente of René Pérez- I am his friend too, we have a good vibes.- In 2019 I had to perform a song at the Jimmy Fallon show.

One day, the percussionist, Daniel Díaz-a close friend of mine and René's right-hand man( René is the singer)- and told me; "We have a show at Jimmy Fallon and I need another percussionist to put together something new for that show" (They have a band but I'm not part of it). And it just happened.


I see him enthusiastic, comfortable and I am not mistaken. He keeps on telling...

To me, music is three things: talent / skill, human sensitivity and contacts. All three things go hand by hand.

Returning to the rappers, because I interrupted you. How did that experience go?

Well, one day the phone rings - that's why the contacts - and they invite me to play with Residente and Bad Bunny, the most!

Juan, you've done everything!

Many styles; recently, through Leo, I was recording some demos for Omar Rodríguez López, a half-Puerto Rican, half-American guitarist who had a well-known rock band in the 90s - The Mars Volta - and playing with him was another little thing that I crossed out from my wish list.

Out loud, without realizing it, he expresses his feelings

Musicians who play from the heart are always going to sound like their personality.

You move me, I believe every word you say. What you express is revealing, giving from love.

Exactly. What you have just said it is what I hear from people. I guess the reason is that there are not so many musicians who can interpret a diversity of styles. It's what makes me a bit unique in music. We are all unique but, I mean, I outstand for being able to play Cuban music, rock or with this other that plays tango and the other one, classic jazz and this here,Latin jazz or improvised music. I do not pigeonhole.

It's awesome, and being curious is a plus.

I have listened many times and I think it is related to literature as well, that the best way to write is to read - tell me if I am mistaken.

Not at all. On the contrary, I couldn't agree more Reading is prior to writing, too.

In music it is the same, to play you have to listen.

Good parallelism, when you read or listening to things, your thoughts are triggered; it is a feedback.

What place does love have in your life? Not necessarily a partner

At this moment, very little because I am focused in music. I would love to have a dog but I can't take care of him. I am filled with love during the two months that I go to Argentina to see my family. Love to me are my friends and a girlfriend I had during pandemic. We broke up a month ago, to be honest. We were together for two years and when pandemic soften we decided to stop. I did not have much mental space - I did have room in my heart and I still love her - but I needed to be alone, I was with my father's grief, very immersed in music and couldn't commit to something serious.

Sorry, but with great respect, I tell you: the pandemic has destroyed us all at some level, especially the emotional part. Much confinement, moodiness, fears, deaths. It is difficult to sustain a relationship at such a difficult time.

It was the need to stop a bit. And take care of myself and of the other one. Make a stop and then you see.

A friend who lives in Canada says: "Dulce de leche (fudge), chips and soda, all together are bad."

I like dulce de leche, if I eat it every day, it makes me sick.

I let out a laugh at the same time that I try to say "I agree."

We accompanied each other very well during the pandemic but now that it is over I am very active with music.

A wish, Juan?

Everything I think about is related to my old man. It happened this very crazy thing about my old man because he left just at the moment in which I was flourishing on a musical level and he already knew. I had also given him the news that I was going to play with Mike at Blue Note. He left knowing that I was going to be fine, as if he had risen in peace taking for granted that I had the keys to the Heaven. It was a very crazy transition. I think about him a lot and it is as if I had an angel who accompanies me and inspires me.

Sometimes these crazy things happen. I would like to tell you something, can I?


From the heart and it doesn't have to come out in the interview: "You should be at peace; I feel that you wish you had given your Dad more. I think your father was proud. Have peace in that. He saw you play, develop, he recognized your talent. It's enough. Calm down. I am very moved by your love for your father. Loosen up, you've already given a lot.

Thank you. Thank you.

Any final comment?

The interview was very nice, I felt super good. I am in a very beautiful moment of my life, I live in a stunning apartment in Brooklyn, wonderful things are going to come, I play every night, I am totally independent, I work with artists that I always admired. It is done!

It is a lot. You live on what you like. It's startling!

Yeah it's mind-blowing!

We were going to do the fist bump but we hugged.

I walk towards the door, I open it and a breeze accompanies his last words ...

Keep in touch. When I go to Argentina or Uruguay we can get together and you can come to see me play.

I'd love to.

I close the door like a book you don't want to finish.

When I meet people with huge hearts and accompanying talents, I love what I do which is to tell stories; listen to their music and lyrics and make the best song.

This song was for Juan Chiavassa, a great man of the art and life.


Maria Cabeza is an internationally published writer and has contributed to the Los Angeles Times.

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Scott Thompson PR

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