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Interviews

Stefano Bollani: And Now For Something Completely Different

By Published: December 12, 2011
AAJ: There are moments of exhilarating play, in the middle section of "Orvieto: Improvisation 2," and "Armando's Rhumba," but on the whole there's a lightness of touch about the play on Orvieto. Some of the most arresting exchanges—for example, the end of "Retrato Em Blanco E Prieto" and "Jitterbug Waltz"—have an exceptional delicacy. Was this lightness of mood something you discussed before the gig, or did it evolve on the night?


From left: Chick Corea, Stefano Bollani


SB: I think a lightness of mood is something we share. I can find that lightness in most of Chick's work, and probably in my work too. So the mood and the touch are light and the singing between us is light. Nothing is prepared on this record. For this concert, we just decided on the names of some tunes, but we didn't really think about how to play them or how to arrange them. We didn't really have a list of songs or an order; we just started playing. "Retrato Em Branco E Prieto" came out of an improvisation; the same with "Nardis" and lots of the songs on the record. Only sometimes we decided what to play before putting the hands on the keyboards. I think that was the case with "Valsa de Paola," my song, and perhaps two others, but all the other songs came out spontaneously.

AAJ: Numerous times, in interviews, you've mentioned your early fascination with the speed of pianists like Oscar Peterson
Oscar Peterson
Oscar Peterson
1925 - 2007
piano
and Art Tatum
Art Tatum
Art Tatum
1909 - 1956
piano
. Would you say your own playing is more evenly paced these days?

SB: I don't know. You're asking me to be my own critic, but I really don't know. I would say that I still love those piano players, especially Art Tatum. But nowadays I'm in love with him not only because of his speed but for what he puts in there—I'm talking especially harmonically. He puts all these strange chords in a very fast way. If you slow his music down, you discover a world, especially when he plays alone. You get these bars sometimes in the middle of a song, like "I'm in the Mood for Love," bars which are in other keys, but just for a few seconds, and then he comes back. That's something that all the piano players are doing, but mainly after him. Someone like McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
b.1938
piano
is doing it all the time, but with Tatum we're talking about a pianist of the 1930s. He was doing it so fast that a lot of people were not really aware of it.

AAJ: You and Corea seem to be kindred spirits in many ways. You both have a playful approach to music, you both play in a great variety of settings and are extremely prolific, and you share a love of Latin music. Did you feel with the experience of Orvieto that the two of you connect on a deep level?

SB: Well, when I'm listening to the record, I sometimes feel that it's one pianist with four hands. And really, I can tell you, I don't know how the journalists can divide what I played from what Chick played, because frankly speaking, I sometimes don't know who is playing that phrase or that chord. Chick is a master and he's playing with me, so you have the feeling that everything is fluent. I didn't have the feeling that Chick is playing against me or he was playing something else. He was always playing what was coming to his mind, but answering to what I did. When I first listened to the recording, I was really surprised because, of course, when you're playing you miss a lot of details. I discovered that the speech was really fluent, and I discovered that I couldn't really recognize the piano players.

AAJ: That's interesting to hear. At times, both your personalities are clear, but it is very hard to distinguish who's playing what.

SB: It's the same for me. You know, at the time of the CBS recording with Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, they used to divide the piano players so you had one on the left channel and one on the right channel, and it was very useful if you wanted to know who was playing what. In this case, we didn't do it because we didn't want people to be listening carefully to who's playing what. I like that, because jazz music is a strange mixture between ego and collective experience. We share the feelings from Africa but we put a good amount of ego into the music. Everybody wants to take his own solo, everybody wants to have his own voice, his own language, and be recognizable. But on Orvieto, we are just sharing the music without ego problems, which is very rare.

AAJ: What can aspiring young pianists learn from Corea's playing? What would you recommend they look out for?

SB: Well, like every other pianist in the world, I have my favorite Chick Corea records, but I would say his improvisations on ECM are a good place to begin if somebody wants to get close to his piano playing. Of course, he's a great composer, a great band leader, and he's done a lot of projects which are all different, from Return to Forever to his Electric Band, his trio with [bassist] Miroslav Vitous
Miroslav Vitous
Miroslav Vitous
b.1947
bass
and [drummer] Roy Haynes
Roy Haynes
Roy Haynes
b.1926
drums
, the band with [tenor saxophonist] Joe Farrell
Joe Farrell
Joe Farrell
1937 - 1986
saxophone
, with [tenor saxophonist] Michael Brecker
Michael Brecker
Michael Brecker
1949 - 2007
sax, tenor
, and a lot more. But talking about piano, I think the piano improvisations for ECM are really something special because they sound classical, but it's really improvised music.


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