Sokratis Votskos is a jazz saxophonist, clarinetist, composer, educator, and bandleader from Greece who is deeply invested in unearthing the folk sounds and heritage music of Greece and Eastern Europe and weaving them into modern jazz composition and improvisation though the use of melodies, polyrhythms, and his reedy, timeless tone. A highly regarded sideman and ensemble player, he has worked extensively with other European jazz musicians on radio, in cinema (for the Disney film ‘’The last Warrior’’ along with writing short film and documentary music), and on television. In addition to his standard soprano and baritone saxophones, Votskos also plays bass, clarinets, duduk, bagpipe (gaita), and piano.
Along with Harris P., he makes up one of half of the duo KolidaBabo, named for the festival of folk rituals, music, and dance in northern Greece. Their music explores the ancient music of Armenia and the folk traditions of northern Greece’s Epirus and Thrace regions alongside abstract electronics and free jazz. He also leads the Sokratis Votskos Quartet, whose membership includes storied Greek drummer Kostas Anastasiadis, double bassist Evangelos Vrachnos, and pianist Leandros Pasias. Their debut single “Almopian Etude”/”Sevenates,” was issued by Jazzman in 2019, followed by their debut album Sketching the Unknown.
Votskos was born in Pella, Edessa in 1989. At age 12, he began his studies of clarinet and music theory. In 2007 he began attending classes in the Science and Art of Music Department of Pan.mak. After studying clarinet, soprano, and baritone saxophones — as well as the Armenian duduk on his own — and composition, he graduated in September of 2013. In addition to literally hundreds of gigs in classical and jazz orchestras, big bands, and pop groups, he spent three years with the late Israeli pianist Milcho Leviev. In 2013, Votskos and Harris P. formed Kolida Babo in response to the festival. They spent three years (whenever they could find time given their busy individual schedules) recording live sessions, resulting in the full-length self-titled album that Wire magazine selected as one of the best jazz albums in 2019, and got reviewed by The Guardian!
In founding the Sokratis Votskos Quartet, the saxophonist sought musicians who were as passionately interested in linking the ancient and the modern as he was. The group worked together, studying Greek and Balkan folk sources, numerous jazz idioms, and the classical maq’ams of the near East. Returning to ancient Greek modes such as Dorian, Phrygian, and Lydian, they discovered a fresh perspective in building on the modal style first popularized by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Herbie Hancock. These pioneering jazz players adapted those modes for the music they introduced from the late ’50s to mid-’60s, after gaining sufficient knowledge of their ancient Greek historical origins. The musical freedom offered by the ancient scales helped take jazz to a higher level, laying the groundwork for the spiritual moment that would later flourish. The Sokratis Votskos Quartet brought the process full-circle, linking 21st century jazz to these ancient modes and microtonal folk music of Greece and the Near East. Signing to England’s Jazzman label, they worked in a Thessaloniki studio with Harris P. mixing, and issued their debut single “Almopian Etude”/”Sevenates.” Released in May, it received airplay from Gilles Peterson and other DJs. They followed in November with the full-length Sketching the Unknown, which was greeted with universal critical acclaim.