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Enrico Rava: Consummate Fan, Consummate Artist

By Published: December 12, 2005
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.

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