Guitar virtuosity isn't always associated with funk and R&B music, but don't tell that to Giacomo Turra. The 26-year-old Italian six-stringer is making his mark by taking cues from the legends he heard on vinyl as a kid – like George Benson, John Scofield, Larry Carlton, and Prince – and blending their influence with a distinct, modern spin.
“That music has always been in my head since I was a kid,” the Milan-born guitarist tells Guitar World. “I fell in love with all of it [because of those] guitar players, who remain my biggest influence through their ability to combine pure jazz language, funky grooves, and pop music in a way that feels authentic and exciting to the listener.”
The last part of that statement – the excitement of it all – is crucial, as Turra is currently on tour and dazzling listeners with his version of that language. But interestingly, brilliant as he is, Turra tells us: “I had a strange path as a musician. Music has been my hobby and passion since I began playing guitar when I was 13, but I didn't make music professionally until 2020.”
As for what spurred him to turn his hobby into a career, Turra says, “It was when the [COVID-19] lockdown started. I began posting videos from my bedroom to my Instagram account. I went from playing high school parties to performing at the Paradiso Club in Amsterdam.”
Some three years later, the same player who was a hobbyist not long ago is now touring US soil as a headliner, which Turra admits is “a dream come true” and something that he “never would have imagined would happen.”
That's fair given how Turra got his start, with a decidedly humble kit highlighted by “an Olympic White Squier Strat, paired with a little Fender Frontman 10-watt amp.” Further elaborating on the impact of the modest setup he cut his teeth on, Turra says, “To this day, I love Strats. But now, I often bring a Mayones Aquila on stage, which is a custom [Super]Strat from Poland.”
“I just love the sound of a Stratocaster,” Turra beams. “The second and fourth positions, for me, are part of what makes it the ultimate funk machine. But a big part of that is always keeping it clean-sounding, with just a little compression and some boost. That sharp, quacky tone and percussive, fast attack is all I'm looking for in a guitar.”
There’s a lot of depth to Turra's playing, the most significant element of which is a clear-eyed approach that’s seen him go from what he calls a “pretty basic guitar player, who wasn't bad, but nothing special,” to the type of player who can “outline melody and create a vocabulary that allows the building of tension in a way that feels interesting and tickles the ear.”
That sounds daunting – and in many ways, it is. But that doesn’t deter Turra, mostly because expression through eternal deconstruction and reinvention is all he knows. “I am a self-taught guitar player,” he says. “I cannot read a musical sheet, and I don't know scales outside the pentatonic. So, I never think about those when I improvise or write music. I trust my ear, and pay careful attention to the chord progressions.”
Despite his lack of formal training, Turra has found plenty of go-arounds. “I always pay attention to groove, dynamic and timing,” he says. “Three notes placed in the right spots, to me, work much better than a hundred notes played in sequence without rhythm.”
To Turra's credit, the proof is in the pudding, as the first song he wrote using this approach, Get Into the Groove, recently surpassed 1 million streams on Spotify. It's quite an accomplishment, but Turra has no time to bask in his success, as it's only one step toward a larger-scaled goal.
“I wanna keep growing my audience through my videos,” Turra reveals. “And I'll be playing in Singapore in December 2023 for a jazz festival, then doing a European tour in February of 2024, with shows in the U.K., France, Spain, Czech Republic, Italy, Germany, and Switzerland.
“In April, I'll be in India, and then back in Indonesia for Java Jazz Festival, together with shows in the Philippines and Thailand. I am also working on my first original album, which I plan to release before the European tour at the beginning of 2024 – that will contain some great features with amazing artists from all over the world.”
From bedroom player to burgeoning funk virtuoso, the meteoric rise of Giacomo Turra has been an inspiring sight to behold. It’s probably good, then, that Turra keeps it simple, and remains unencumbered by the weight of what’s supposedly popular.
That simplicity, though, doesn’t mean Turra is without rules – the first of which is not to refer to him as a shredder.
“I'm not a big fan of shredding,” he insists. “I'm not interested in that. I based my playing on phrasing and groove more than speed. I love guitar solos in songs when they speak to you and work like a vocal melody, using space and build-up to tell an interesting story.
He concludes: “I think that in the last year or so, guitar solos and guitar in general are returning to popular music. You can even hear trap or hip-hop songs on the global Spotify charts that have guitar loops or riffs as the main theme of the song. I'm pleased about that – I like where guitar is going, and I’m glad to be a part of that.”