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Interviews

Enrico Rava: Consummate Fan, Consummate Artist

By Published: December 12, 2005
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.


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