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Stefano Bollani: And Now For Something Completely Different

By Published: December 12, 2011
AAJ: To what do you attribute the phenomenal number of Scandinavian bands, above all from Norway, who are making waves in jazz/improvised music these days?

SB: I think it has to do with education. The Scandinavian countries are not so big. They're not as big as Italy, France, the UK or Spain, and they are going better. We do have problems in our countries. They are well organized. Denmark is the country I know best, and the thing is, they have choirs and orchestras of people who are not professionals. These orchestras and choirs are all over the place, full of people who are lawyers, students or doctors, and they get together in the evening and play. In Italy, that is not possible. Here, you are a professional musician or a student of music. It has to do with education, and that's very important. In Scandinavia, people grow up with music, so you have these twenty-year-old people playing bass and drums, and they're playing great because they've been playing since they were children.

AAJ: Recently, you recorded George Gershwin
George Gershwin
George Gershwin
1898 - 1937
's "Rhapsody in Blue" with conductor Riccardo Chailly, which went Top 10 in the Italian popular music charts. Were you surprised by the success of this album, given popular tastes in music?

SB: Yeah, absolutely. It was a surprise for everybody. It was the first time a classical recording got to that part of the charts. We've decided to go on, and we've recorded Maurice Ravel's piano concerto in G major.

AAJ: Why do you think the Italian public responded so well to this record? It seems to be at odds with most tastes in popular music these days.

SB: Well, I think Gershwin is always a best seller. I think it was a mixture of things which attracted such an audience. The Leipzig Gewandhausorchester is the oldest orchestra in Europe; then you have a famous Italian conductor, a very serious conductor, Riccardo Chailly; and then you have a jazz musician like me playing Gershwin, so it made for good advertising. There is also a great energy in the music.

AAJ: Another completely different project was the series of concerts you performed in early 2011, inspired by the music of Frank Zappa. What was the idea behind that?

SB: I've been a huge Zappa fan since I was a teenager. It was the thing I loved most in rock music, together with King Crimson. I used Zappa as a source of inspiration—not his music, specifically, but his way of using the whole repertoire of music history to build his own thing. I used his attitude, but I had never played his music so much. I just decided it was time to do it because I wanted to have a brand new band but I didn't have new compositions, so I started thinking about a project about his music. We used ideas by him, but everything was so improvised or rearranged that you couldn't really say we were playing Frank Zappa's music, except for a number like "Bobby Brown," which was almost the original version.

The band was [drummer] Jim Black
Jim Black
Jim Black

and [bassist] Larry Grenadier
Larry Grenadier
Larry Grenadier
and these other cats from America, but I never thought for a minute to have them play like a Frank Zappa band. I really wanted a new sound which was the result of the five people on stage. But I can say we were playing it in his spirit.

AAJ: You also had Josh Roseman
Josh Roseman
Josh Roseman

on trombone and Jason Adasiewicz on vibraphones. Did you have these specific people in mind when you decided to do this project, or was it more a question of happenstance?

SB: Yes. I chose them one by one. The most surprising one was Jason Adasiewicz. I did want a vibraphone, which is unusual for me because usually I choose musicians because of who they are, not because of the instrument they're playing. I mean, I love Enrico Rava, I love the musician, so even if he played the trombone or the saxophone, it would be the same—I'm in love with Enrico Rava. In this case, I really wanted Jim Black on drums, I really wanted Larry [Grenadier] and I didn't know why, but I wanted a vibraphone and trombone because I was looking for a different sound to my bands before.

AAJ: Vibraphone is a classic Zappa sound.

SB: Exactly. That's exactly why I wanted a vibraphonist. I really discovered Jason on YouTube, actually. I got some names of vibraphone players, and I went on YouTube and found him. I didn't know anything about him. I just called him to be in the band, and it was a big surprise, not only for me but for the audience. Everybody loved him.

AAJ: A lot of Zappa's music is satirical, humorous—a send-up of people, politicians, et cetera—and you also have a lot of humor in your music and with the impersonations you do. You obviously share Zappa's take that humor belongs in music, but have you been influenced by Italian comics at all?

SB: I'm absolutely influenced by Frank Zappa, and I absolutely believe that humor belongs in music, but I think I'm influenced by a lot of other things, probably also Italian comics. Also people like Victor Borge, the pianist, who was a comedian in the '50s and the '60s. When I started playing the piano it was because I wanted to be a pop singer, but maybe an actor or a comedian, or whatever. The most important thing was being on stage and talking to an audience and communicating with an audience. Music is communication, jokes are communication, and impersonations are communication. It's just a way of saying something to somebody and being on stage.

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