Stefano Bollani: And Now For Something Completely Different
SB: There are lots. Some of them are dead, so I can't play with them. Talking about living pianists, I would have to say Herbie [Hancock], of course. At the time I first started listening to jazz, Herbie and Chick were the piano players I was listening to all the time, especially the duets. I really listened to a lot to their recordings as a duo.
AAJ: Something you have in common with Corea is a love of Latin music and, in your case particularly, Brazilian music. You've recorded an entire album of songs by Antonio Carlos Jobim, but your album Carioca (EmArcy, 2008) presented a wonderfully diverse panorama of Brazilian composers. What was your intention with that project?
SB: The idea was to replace the singer with the piano and play with musicians the repertoire of choro and samba. This is unusual because usually it's a singer or it's a bandolim or a guitar playing these kinds of songs. We wanted to see what happens if you put the piano as the main character. I was singing the melodies, replacing the singer in a kind of music I didn't know so well. Of course, I was in love with Brazilian music, but Brazilian music to European musicians, and also North American musicians, I guess, is mostly the bossa nova. It's just one little part of Brazilian music, and it's an acculturated part, I would say, because it's already a mixture of songs with jazz harmonies, and the [trumpeter] Chet Baker style of singing. But choro and samba are really popular in Brazil, and I wanted to see what would happen if we played popular music with an instrument which is not popular at all, with a classical instrument like the piano.
AAJ: Are you surprised that more Brazilian artists are not interpreted by jazz musicians? It seems that most jazz musicians love Jobim, and it's really common to hear a Jobim song in a jazz concert, yet most jazz musicians don't explore much beyond that. What's your impression?
SB: Yes. I have to say that all my friends, all the musicians I Know, are listening to Brazilian music, but I don't see many records with people interpreting things by world-famous composers like Chico Buarque or Caetano Veloso.
AAJ: Or Edu Lobo.
SB: Edu Lobo, whatever. I can understand that people don't have the time or the will or the chance to go and see what happened at the beginning of the last century with choro and the birth of samba, but I cannot understand why people are not listening more to Chico or Caetano, because they write wonderful pop songs. Actually, I've just recorded a new project with an Italian pop singer who is very famous here. Her name is Irene Grande. We recorded a couple of things by Chico and Caetano, sung in Italian, but you don't need to know that they come from Brazil, because it's simply wonderful music.
AAJ: You realized an ambition when you played with Caetano Veloso at Umbria Jazz Festival in 2008. What was that experience like?
SB: He has got the most marvelous voice in the world nowadays. He's my favorite singer. I tell you, he could sing the phone book and it would be the same to me. I'm really in love with his voice, so it was really a great chance and a great honor.
AAJ: You had a fairly uncommon experience in Rio, when you went to play in a favela. Could you tell us that story?
SB: It was really nice. It was only the second time for a pianist in the favela. The first one was Antonio Carlos Jobim, so of course I was honored. It wasn't one of the most dangerous favelas, but we did have people shooting during the concert. Fortunately, they were not shooting the pianist! But they were not close to the stage.
But I can tell you that while I was playing, after maybe one song and a half, and as usual, I forgot where I was. If I'm really enjoying what I'm playing, I forget where I am. The moment of playing is the same, whether I'm in a favela or a theater in Europe. Between one song and another I'm talking to the audience, and I remind myself where I am, which language I should speak and which way I should refer to the audience.
The most incredible thing was the day before the concert, when I had the chance to go to the favela, with the kids from the favela showing me around. That's probably something nobody does, because if I hadn't been with them I would probably have been shot.
AAJ: Thanks for sharing that. You are attracted to a wide variety of different music, and have recorded an album of Scandinavian music, Gleda: Songs From Scandinavia (Stunt Records/Sundance 2005), with your Danish trio of Jesper Bodilsen and Morten Lund. What appeals to you about Scandinavian music?
SB: Actually, almost nothing. I love Jesper and Morten not because they are Scandinavian but because they are wonderful musicians. And they suggested we did a record of Scandinavian music. It was a good idea because I didn't know anything about that, and I didn't listen to the original songs. They just took a lot of songs they liked, and I prepared the arrangements, just having the charts of the songs but never listening to the original versions. That was a kind of weird way of working, but in this way I was proposing arrangements very far from the original ones and from the atmosphere of the original ones. I don't think we discovered a new repertoire, but we used those songs to build something which is really ours.