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Enrico Rava: Consummate Fan, Consummate Artist

By Published: December 12, 2005

You really get in touch with yourself when you make a note, and you put so much into that note that you get in contact with yourself. When the sound that comes out is your sound, and not an abstract sound.

Listen to Enrico Rava play the trumpet. It's direct and assured. Controlled and cool, yet capable of flights of fancy. His sound on the horn is mature and fat and full. It's capable of bold and brazen statements, and can be fragile as an eggshell. With it, he has become one of the finer players around the globe, and an icon in his native Italy.

Rava is also an admitted fanatic about the music. "I consider my first job is to be a jazz fan. Then I play. I'm a jazz fan that decided to play, he says.

A good decision. But as a young kid in Torino, in northern Italy (or Turin in the United States, site of the 2006 Winter Olympic Games), Rava appeared content to be a fan. That is, until a fortunate encounter with his trumpet heroes performing in his town.

Rava had been listening his brother's record collection in the late 1940s and a lifelong love affair with the music began. Then, in 1957, not quite age 18, the young man attended a Norman Grantz-produced concert with Lester Young, a French rhythm section, and a young firebrand trumpeter named Miles Davis. Bud Powell was also in the entourage, but played solo, Rava recalls.

"I got a trumpet from someone a few days after I heard Miles ... I had many records of Miles. He was my favorite trumpet player. But I didn't even think about playing trumpet. Then I saw Miles, he said recently while relaxing at his home in Genoa, Italy, a few days before concert dates with a quintet that would include U.S. tenor saxophonist Mark Turner.

"It was a very good group and Miles was so great. He played so good. He was so amazing. Physically, to see him in 1957 when he looked so good and was strong. He has so much charisma. You would look at him all the time. Even when he wasn't playing everybody kept looking at Miles. He was really attracting the eyes of everybody. I was fascinated.

"That night, I said—wow, I must try to play this instrument. That's what I like. I was almost 18, maybe 17 and a half. I got a hold of this trumpet and I learned it by myself, just listening to Miles records, Chet Baker records, says the trumpeter.

The concert spun Rava deep into the music. And the music "saved my life, he says.

Fans who know Rava and his sound from his days with Gato Barbieri and Steve Lacy, through associations with the great "free players of the 1960s in the United States, then off in other stylistic directions over the years, have more of an opportunity to hear him now that he is back with ECM records. His Easy Living last year broke a 17-year absence with the label. Released in October, Tati, his latest, continues that relationship and Rava goes back into the studio for ECM on Dec. 19 with his quintet for more recording.

Easy Living was a welcome return and his quintet of all Italian musicians sparkles. The new disc is a quieter setting, ethereal, introspective, playful and exploring in a softer sense. He is supported throughout by the excellent American drummer Paul Motian and Stefan Bollani on piano, a longtime associate of Rava's. The trio is molto simpatico in a series of a dozen ballads of different textures.

"When Manfred Eicher (ECM founder and producer) proposed to me to make a record in a trio, without bass, immediately I thought of something ballad oriented, not focused on the rhythmic part, without bass. Although with Paul Motian, you can play without bass, with bass, with 10 basses. He's so good and so musical he gives you all the support you need, in any kind of tempo, says Rava.

"When I started writing some tunes for this record, thinking about Paul and Stefano, the music that came to my mind, most of them, were ballads. Very lyrical tunes.

Rava discovered Stefano, of sorts, about a decade ago. "He was very young, but he was playing with pop singers, involved in the pop scene very much. So I kind of stole him from that scene and brought him to jazz. He's very glad, because now he became very, very popular in Italy as a jazz pianist. (Curiously, Rava points out "he has almost a double career, because he's also a very funny guy. He is getting pretty well known as a comedian too. Making imitations of singers. The way he plays on my record, you would never guess. But that's the truth. He's on TV. He's getting very well known not only as a jazz pianist, but as a comedian, in a way. )

He says the players have a great feel for one another, "because at this point we know each other, though we play together much less. Two years ago, everything I did was involving Stefano, in my quintet, in my group with Gato Barbieri. Any project in which I was involved, I always brought Stefano. But now he's become very popular, so he's working a lot with his own music.

No one plays at breakneck pace on the record. It's a relaxed outing, exploring different melodies, all originals save for "The Man I Love which leads off the record. A few notes into it, the influence of Miles and Chet Baker is apparent. Rava is a beautifully lyrical player. Bollani is very supportive and his solo spots are light, inquisitive and sweetly understated.

While Rava has raved over the years about Bollani's technique, comparing it to Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum, listen to the sparse and airy sound on "Birdsong. Space. Mood. Feeling. The music does go gentle into that good night. Motian provides a soft bed beneath them, his cymbals catching the bubbles that float down from Rava's horn.

Rava's playing is strong throughout. He goes from soft runs to forays into the stratosphere over Bollani's comping, but without malicious intent. On "Fantasm Rava plays with phrasing, fast and light, like a butterfly's trip through a flowery field. His tones, spun of Miles and others, is sweet and personal.

The interplay between trumpet and piano is intricate, and right on target. The two countrymen still try to get together and play when their schedules allow. "We keep working together as a duo, says the 66-year-old trumpeter. "For a while we will do that. It's very difficult because I am very busy and he is very busy, so it's difficult to find a day in which both of us are free to do something together. It's getting more and more difficult. But we'll come to the States together in March. I come with my quintet to play Birdland in New York. I have a different pianist now, but (he and Bollani) do four or five concerts; in Boston, Baltimore, San Francisco, some others.

It's been a long, but happy journey for Rava from young fan to refined artist. It took him through the war years of his young childhood and took him away from work in factories or in his father's shipping business. He considers himself blessed.

"It was the first capital of Italy in 1862, he says of Torino. "It is like the Detroit of Italy, where they make the cars. Fiat, Alfa Romeo. Fiat (Abbreviation for "Fabrica Italiana Automobili Torini, Italian for "Italian Car Factory in Turin ), owns those car factories. Maserati, Lancia. The center is in Torino. The car business isn't the same as it used to be. The town is losing people. There are less people now than when I was a kid. They are sending out the workers and there are not enough jobs for everybody. So the town has changed. In a way, it's better. I haven't been living there for 40 years. I go there sometimes to see relatives, my brother.

Rava's mother played classical piano, so there was music around the house. But "After the Second World War, Italy was destroyed and there were no record players, nothing like that. The music, you had to do yourself. So my mother played music for us; some classical music and also the music from songs coming from the States. Then finally, we bought a record player and at that point I got listening to the records of my brother. That was 1948, 1949.

"My brother, by the way, it's thanks to him that I got into jazz when I was a kid. He was about eight years older than me and he had these very good jazz records. I would listen to them all day. Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald. I freaked out with those records. I became a jazz fan when I was about nine years old. Then I became more and more a jazz fan every year. I got almost fanatic.

After the life-changing Miles concert, Rava immersed himself in the horn, but never sought formal training. His mentors came from the records spinning on the family turntable.

"I learned playing with records. But I wasn't really thinking of making a living out of that. I wasn't planning to be a musician. At the time in Italy it was almost impossible to be just a jazz musician, says Rava. "There was not enough work. Other Italian jazz musicians—there were some very good ones—either played in a regular orchestra or some nightclub dance band, and they would go to play jazz once in a while. Nobody could make a living out of just playing jazz.

"I was not interested at all in being generically a musician. I wanted to be a jazz musician. I wanted only to play jazz. If I had to play some music that I don't like just to make a living, I would rather do another job. If I play, I just wanted to play what I like to play. That's always been my philosophy. If I could make a living with that, good. If I couldn't, I would do another job.

As Rava continued to work on the horn, another one of his idols came to town. This time, encounters with another lyrical player—Chet Baker—were much more up close and personal. It was to have a huge influence on the young musician.

A friend of Rava's was Baker's drummer at the time and still lived in Torino. "So when they had maybe a week off, Chet would come to live at my friend's house. So I would go over there just looking at Chet, trying to say something, but I was so paralyzed by the presence of Chet. I loved his playing so much. I would always try and say something intelligent, but I would never succeed. I was looking at Chet. Maybe he was practicing, and then I would ask him a question. But he couldn't answer really, because he was self taught. He didn't know anything about theory. He learned by himself. He couldn't read. So he couldn't give me any advice, except just looking at him from one-metre distance I learned more than going to school for two years.

"Looking at him and being close to him. He would go to the gig, maybe I would bring him his trumpet. I learned more from that than from 1,000 books. It was the personification of music. When he would talk, it was like music.

"I never got so close with Miles, unfortunately. But I met Miles at a certain point in New York, he came to see me play. The encounter, he says, was a good one, contrary to the image of the Prince of Darkness that has been portrayed.

"Miles was very nice to me. Teo Macero was there and he introduced me to Miles. We talked. He was very, very nice. I expected him to be evil. Everybody told me how evil was Miles, Rava says. "He was extremely gentle and funny, smiled all the time. It was maybe 1970. Maybe even before, 1969. I was playing in a club. Tony Williams Lifetime played there all the time. In fact, that night they played. Us and Tony Williams Lifetime. Miles came. Teo Macero brought him because he wanted me to meet Miles. And he wanted Miles to listen to me.

In Italy, his professional career under way, Rava's reputation grew. He met Barbieri in 1962 and that relationship helped build his career. Joining Lacy's band in Europe also gave him the necessary experience and exposure. He began meeting other American musicians and was involved in all kinds of things, including experimental improvisation.

In 1967, he came to New York City and began, literally, living his dream.

"That was like a dream come true. It was like the materialization of my dreams. It was like being in a movie. Sometimes I would be looking at myself from outside, like an actor in a movie about jazz. I couldn't believe it was me going around New York at night. Going in a club, catching Miles at the Village Gate, catching Mingus at the Top Of the Gate, Bill Evans at the Village Vanguard. There was a club in New York called Slug's on the lower east side. Everybody played there. I heard there Jackie MacLean, Albert Ayler with his band, the Archie Shepp group with Roswell Rudd and Grachan Mochur; Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley."

Rava befriended Ornette Coleman's drummer, Charles Moffett, and the two would go to clubs together. "I knew Ornette from Europe. Charles liked me a lot. He would bring me around every night. I wasn't even speaking English. He would introduce me to all the club owners, so they would let me in free the next time. He asked the musicians playing in the club to make me play with them, so I was sitting in with everybody. Hank Mobley, Shepp, Cecil Taylor. So I met everybody. Besides, I was playing with Steve Lacy. Through Steve Lacy I got into that area of music. The Jazz Composers Orchestra (fronted by Carla Bley). Roswell Rudd's group. Cecil Taylor.

"The town was so alive, he says, still with awe in his voice. "There was so much jazz. The greatest were still alive and working. Kenny Dorham. Armstrong was still alive and playing. Duke Ellington. There were concerts all the time. John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins in top form. They were still playing, including the people from the older generation, which I like a lot. Like Jimmy McPartland and these people from Chicago Dixieland from the 20s. Eddie Condon, all those people.

"Being a jazz fan as much as I am, to be there and be playing with these people. They were my heroes. The first year was really happiness. Then, of course, I got used to it. I lost a little bit of that. But it still was fantastic.

"When I came to New York I was already involved in radical improvisation. I was playing with the European free jazz, people like Evan Parker. I was in the movement before I came to the States. In Europe, when we heard the first record of Ornette Coleman it was 1959. We heard the first Albert Ayler album. Cecil Taylor. People like that. We loved that. The music really fit in that historical moment, in '58. In Europe there was kind of a younger revolution. In America, you had the flower kids. That music fit with that moment.

"Besides playing the music, I was one of those guys. I was on the road. I didn't have a home, like a beatnik or hippie. It was a time in which we lived with no money. We didn't need any money. Wherever we go, we would go to live in somebody's house, somebody would help us. For a couple years it was like that. You don't need money to survive. It was like a big commune.

Rava remained busy throughout and has toured all over the world. He has since moved back to Italy, but roams freely through the world of music, enjoying huge popularity in his native land, as well as the respect of his peers wherever they are.

"When I started recording for ECM in 1975, my record was selling very well in Europe. I was still in New York, but with several tours in Europe. I was working a lot of the time. Then in 1978 I went back to Europe, to Italy. In Italy, I became very popular, in a way. And I still am.

"They know me even out of the jazz circuit. I'm known in Italy. I don't know why, he chuckles. "Not just by jazz fans. Normal People, they see me on TV, they see my picture in newspapers. I can't complain.

"Jazz gave me some of the most beautiful moments, as a listener and as a player. Also it gave me a good life. The music kind of saved my life, in a way, he says. He still loves to listen to great music and calmly enjoys his stature in the music community. he appreciates he life it has given him.

"The musicians I kept listening to all my life, I keep doing it, he says. "For sure, Louis Armstrong. Still now, I listen to Louis all the time and sometimes I can't believe he could play like that in 1926-27. He was so much ahead. In fact, Miles in his autobiography said whatever we played, Armstrong already played it. It's true. I agree with that 150 percent. I love Monk. I love Sonny Rollins.

"A big influence to me is a singer, who is Joao Gilberto. I'm a very good friend of Joao, but besides that, he influenced me a lot in the way I play melodies, the way I make economy of notes. When I was in New York, he lived on Central Park West, and I would go to his apartment. Sometimes we would stay up all night and play. He kept telling me, 'Why do you play so many notes? Only the notes that need to be played.' I think that's the biggest music lesson I ever got. In fact, I just wrote a book two years ago that came out in Italy. The title of it is 'La Nota Necessario,' which is in English 'The Necessary Note.' I learned that really from Joao. Miles too. Miles also was playing that way.

Rava still speaks reverently of his first influence.

"The way Miles played ballads, no one else could ever play something like that. Chet sometimes. They way the play ballads without doubling the tempo immediately. Just playing straight ahead melody. It takes enormous concentration. Even more than concentration is identification with what you are doing. You really get in touch with yourself when you make a note, and you put so much into that note that you get in contact with yourself. When the sound that comes out is your sound, and not an abstract sound. The real sound of your soul. There is a big difference."

Rava says there are still musicians who play concerts and make recordings trying to emulate people like Miles. "You hear somebody else play the same notes, maybe play the same solo ... But it is not the same thing, because it was Miles' sound. You can see that. It's something that transcends music. It becomes something that has to do with the human being, with life, with cosmic harmony. I don't know what to call it. It's something more. Something very deep, not just playing some notes.

"Listen to Billie Holiday, he says with as much feeling as a note from his horn. "Even when she was really fucked up, like 'Lady in Satin.' Her voice was gone and she was drunk, on heroin and everything. But, even like that, she sang 'You've Changed' and you just got chills all over. She goes so deep into herself. Maybe there is a thousand singers that can sing the song better, with a perfect voice. But nothing happens.

Rava believes there are many fine musicians on the scene today, but he still harkens back to the golden age. Such a period, he opines, may never be seen and heard again. Yet music moves on, and at some point there will be changes, and perhaps a group of special artists that will make their own archetypal mark.

"I think over here (jazz) has grown up enormously in the last 20 years. Now we have a level unbelievably high. Over here in Italy, we have so many good musicians, it's hard to believe. In the States, of course the level is very high. But if you compare that to what it was before, it is not too good.

"I always thought that jazz in America had this amazing period from 1925, I think, with Armstrong and his Hot Five, going until about the end of the '60s. It's a period so rich with geniuses that it would be hard to find, in any art form in the whole history of humanity, a period with so many geniuses. Maybe Italy's Renaissance. Maybe.

"In the 40s, you had people like Charlie Parker, Dizzy, Miles, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Max Roach. But at the same time, you still had Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins. I could go on for hours. It's like the encyclopedia of jazz from A to Z. Each of those names is somebody that is so enormous.

"Even people that nobody even remembers. Tony Fruscella (trumpeter). I was just listening to a record by Harold Land, with a trumpeter called Dupree Bolton. He just made two records and then disappeared. Amazing.

"I just bought the other day a box (CD set) of Lennie Tristano. Nobody even talks about him. It's incredible how far ahead he was in the '40s. It was the most amazing scene. Wherever you look, you find somebody that is not just a great musician, but a real genius ... It's impossible to match that. Now we just need some time to listen to it and digest the enormous amount of music.

"Today the scene is very good. There are some excellent and great musicians and everything. But if you compare with what happened in those magic years, you're going to be sad. There's nobody that can take the place of Duke Ellington. Nobody can take the place of Lester Young. Nobody can take the place of Stan Getz or Coltrane or Rollins, Tristano, Monk or Dizzy or Chet. You name it. Today, who can reach Miles? They need a stepladder. Maybe I'm wrong, but nobody comes to my mind.

Rava cautions, "I don't mean to say, 'Ok. Forget it. They already did it so let's go to sleep.' No. I don't say that. Probably in the scene today there is the embryo of some genius of tomorrow.

The trumpeter says he sees the winds of future change coming about in Europe because of the sociological factors there.

"In Europe, we weren't used to having so much immigration. In the States, when jazz burned, there was continuous immigration from all over Europe every day. The Africans were brought there a couple of centuries before. It was the right situation for a new music to be born. Here in Italy, we have every day thousands of people that arrive from north Africa, from Central Africa, from the far east, from the European eastern countries. It brings problems, but also it brings different cultures, different music, different dance, different language. Here in Italy, probably there will be something that will come out of an encounter of jazz, Italian music, opera, folk music from the people coming to Italy. We're going to have world music, which is kind of a plastic invention. This will be a real thing.

"I think Europe is the place, maybe in 20 or 30 years, we'll see a new kind of music that will be the result of all that. In the beginning of last century, it happened in the States. Maybe I'm completely wrong, but that is the way I feel.

Meanwhile, Rava remains busy, lives a good life—for which he is ever grateful—digs the sounds and digs his number-one job: Fan.

"When I have to speak about jazz, I can go on forever.

Visit Enrico Rava on the web.

Selected Discography

Enrico Rava, Tati< /i> (ECM, 2005)

Salvatore Bonafede, < i>Journey to Donafugata
(CamJazz, 2005)

Enrico Rava, Easy Living (ECM, 2004)

Enrico Rava, Montreal Diary: Plays Miles Davis (Label Bleu, 2004)

Enrico Rava, Happiness Is (Stunt, 2004)

Enrico Rava, Full of Life (CamJazz, 2003)

Italian Instabile Orchestra, Previsioni del Tempo: Forecast (Imprint, 2002)

Tommaso-Rava Quartet, La Dolce Vita (CamJazz, 2001)

Italian Instabile Orchestra, Litania Sibilante (Enja, 2000)< BR> Enrico Rava, Duo en Noir (Between the Lines, 2000)

Enrico Rava, Live at Birdland Neuberg (Challenge, 2000)

Enrico Rava, Shades of Chet (Via Veneto Jazz, 1999)

Enrico Rava, Certi Angoli Segreti (Label Bleu, 1998)

Lee Konitz/Enrico Rava, L'Age Mur (Philology, 1998)

Enrico Rava, Carmen (Label Bleu, 1997)

Steve Lacy, Scratching the Seventies/Dreams (Saravah, 1997)< BR> Enrico Rava, Electric Five (Soul Note, 1994)

Italian Instabile Orchestra, Skies of Europe (ECM, 1994)

Enrico Rava/Enrico Pieranunzi, Nausicaa (EGEA, 1993)

Marc Ducret, Gris (Label Bleu, 1990

Cecil Taylor, Alms/Tiergarten [Spree] (FMP, 1989)

Enrico Rava/Dino Saluzzi Quintet, Volver (ECM, 1986)

Enrico Rava, Nexus Meets Enrico Rava (Four Leaf Clover, 1985)< BR> Archie Shepp, Little Red Moon (Soul Note, 1985)

Barry Altschul, Irina (Soul Note, 1983)

Enrico Rava, Opening Night (ECM, 1981)

Enrico Rava, Enrico Rava Quartet (ECM, 1978)

Globe Unity Orchestra, Jahrmarkt/Local Fair (Po Torch, 1977)< BR> Enrico Rava, The Plot (ECM, 1976)

Roswell Rudd, Inside Job (Freedom, 1976)

Enrico Rava, The Pilgrim and the Stars (ECM, 1975)

Enrico Rava, Quotation Marks (Japo, 1973)

Dollar Brand, African Space Program (Enja, 1973)

Gunter Hampel & His Galaxie Dream Band, Angel (Birth, 1972)< BR> Manfred Schoof, European Echoes (Unheard Music Series/ Atavistic, 1969)

Steve Lacy, The Forest and the Zoo (ESP, 1966)

Related Article

Artist Profile: Trumpeter Enrico Rava (2004)

Photo Credits

Top photo: Jos L. Knaepen

All others: Claudio Casanova

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