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Interviews

Pete Malinverni

By Published: April 28, 2003
AAJ: What can a musician learn from being told by an audience member (post-performance) that he or she "played exceptionally well" or was "extremely moving" when he or she feels their performance was substandard?

PM: I learned a long time ago not to get too excited either way as regards the relative quality of a performance. We perform all the time, several times a week, so I like to view the whole continuum of my career as a developing body of work. I do, however, get excited if I feel that there were moments on stage for which I was prepared, when everything worked well and the music flowed. Those moments are to be treasured, but I'm careful not to take too much credit for them. This means, conversely, that given an honest effort on my part, I can't be too hard on myself for a less than successful performance. It's an elusive thing. We can only expect to maintain a consistent level of professional quality, knowing that the better moments will come in due season. And, more to the point of your question, of course I'm always pleased when a listener is moved. That really is the goal, after all, of any art form. To express or elicit real feelings, to be in touch with that part of humanity which is perhaps divine—that's the role of the musician in the world.

AAJ: Do you have any preparatory routines or rituals prior to performing live? If so, what are they?

PM: I always spend time practicing earlier in the day of a performance, perhaps a bit less on a night of a long performance, but always at least enough to get warm and loose. I practice technique in a slow, measured, almost meditative way, very gradually picking up speed. It's funny—when I was younger I always hated the scales, etc., but now I find them a relaxing, centering thing which I appreciate. It's sometimes tough to find time to play before a performance, particularly if one is traveling, but I'm always careful to spend time before performing massaging my arms and hands as a way of getting blood to the area, in order to be as warm as possible before playing. I had to develop that approach after severe chronic bouts with tendinitis in my wrists when I was at music school and for several years afterward. I studied massage, Alexander technique, yoga and something called "Body-Mind Centering" in an effort to avoid the tendinitis, and a combination of all those things seems to have worked. I very rarely have those problems anymore.

AAJ: What's the funniest or most embarrassing thing that's happened to you while performing or recording?

PM: I remember playing at a club downtown one time with the great Mel Lewis at the drums, along with tenor saxophonist Ralph Lalama, and Pat O'Leary at the bass. We were cooking, I mean really burning. The tune was "After You've Gone," and I was taking a solo when everything just seemed to be hitting right, on all cylinders, if you will. Of course, if it's really right, it means you're taking risks, and suddenly I guess I got too far out on the limb, dropped a beat or something, and my solo just collapsed. I mean it was a conflagration, out of nowhere. The gig was recorded from the bandstand, and you can hear Ralph asking me what on earth (the question was actually put more colorfully than that) had happened. I love to listen to it—it's just the funniest thing—from the highest of the high to suddenly falling through space.

AAJ: What is the most meaningful or memorable compliment you've ever received?

PM: Two things come to mind: Once I was told that Barry Harris said, "Malinverni sure is funky." From Barry Harris, that's a real compliment. Another time, Reverend Dr. Gardner C. Taylor, who has been called the Dean of American preachers, said to me during a guest sermon at Devoe Street, "If ever I get a tent, you're coming with me." That was an allusion to the old tent revival meetings of an earlier day. Here was this magnificent, elegant and wise man, who by saying that made me feel as though I had been used that day in the right way.

AAJ: What other projects can we expect from you in 2003-2004?

PM: I'm looking forward to the end of my teaching responsibilities this semester so that I can commence taking lessons again. It's time to fix a few things. I have an appointment with Sophia Rosoff in a couple of weeks when I hope to begin the process.

I'll keep writing, for the trio and for my choir. I'm also, as I may have said earlier, looking to do some writing for string quartet and piano. I don't know what form that will take yet, but I'm beginning to hear the sounds. I'll make another trio recording pretty soon. I feel that my own development as a pianist is advanced by the process of preparing for and making a recording.


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