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Stefano Bollani: And Now For Something Completely Different

By Published: December 12, 2011
AAJ: Are there any plans to do a recording with this band, interpreting Zappa's music?

SB: I wouldn't think so. I have so many projects on the go, so I think by now I'm putting this Zappa thing in a corner. It was perfect for a live show, but it's maybe complicated for a recording. I'm not sure the world is in need of a record of mine about Frank Zappa. Right now, I would like to do another chapter of Brazilian music with this wonderful bandolim player, Hamilton de Holanda. We've just done three concerts and we are playing again in Brazil, in Italy again and in Europe. We'll probably record something because piano and mandolin make a very special sound, and I would love to have it on record.

From left: Stefano Bollani, Hamilton de Holanda

AAJ: This year, at Lacco Ameno, Ischia, you played with Hamilton de Holanda, which was one of three quite different performances you gave, along with your Danish trio, and another with your Italian quartet. Did the idea of playing in a bunch of different scenarios in a short space of time appeal to you?

SB: Well, you got it. It was my ideal, actually, being a resident artist somewhere. I did it in London two years ago. I had four concerts, and I was delighted because I could stay in the same place with the same piano, not maybe with the same audience, though some of them came for four nights, and it was a chance to give them a very open show of what I am doing at the moment.

AAJ: You did a concert entitled: "Stefano Bollani Meets Buster Keaton: The General. Come Vinsi La Guerra." What is that about?

SB: It's the movie by Buster Keaton, The General [United Artists, 1926], where I improvise the music a lot. I have some ideas, and each time I do it as a live show I'm improvising a lot with him. I'm following him. I also released a DVD of that show, which only came out in Italy and France, which was for a series of old movies with new music, and I'm very happy about [it]. Buster Keaton is not a very good artist to have as a partner because he's not reacting to what I'm doing like Chick [Corea] is, of course. But Buster is a very good partner because he pretends to be very serious but he's really very funny. In a way, he's like Martial Solal; Solal is the kind of musician who is very funny but with a very serious face, and a lot of people don't get that, but I do and I love it.

AAJ: You recorded and played live with drummer Paul Motian
Paul Motian
Paul Motian
1931 - 2011
, who died the other day. What are your thoughts about him?

SB: I have such good memories of those two recordings we did together and some gigs we did in New York. It seems useless to talk about the musician because everybody knows Paul Motian was unique, so I would love to talk about the man, because he was really particular. He was a very nice person and an artist in the pure sense of the term. I don't think anybody could play the drums in imitation of him because he was so unique. You could feel it was strange, a very weird way to play the drums, actually. I was delighted to play with him because I was playing with a unique giant.

AAJ: Could you elaborate a little more on what you mean when you say his way of drumming was strange?

SB: Yeah. Strange in the sense he was not playing like a drummer. When we recorded as a trio with Enrico Rava, he was really a kind of third voice but he was never really comping a solo in a normal way. Sometimes he was playing only the snare drum for a long time, and that's not typical of any drummer who usually plays all the drums with two hands and two feet. Paul really sounded like a soloist playing the drums—a singer playing the drums, I would say—because he was playing melodies most of the time. You have to take a lot of risks like that, the way he did, on the drums.

What I remember most about that session was that he wrote a song for the trio and then we recorded it. He said, "OK, you start, and I'll join in after a while." So we started recording this melody, with Manfred [Eicher] on the other side of the studio, and Paul was not coming in, after one chorus, two choruses, three choruses, and then the song ended, without the drums. The first thing you could hear in the headphones was Paul saying, "Man, that was great! You didn't need me. I love it!" I said, "OK, but now we're doing another one with you," and he said, "No, no, no. I don't want to play on this song." This song was a duo song because we were not able to convince him to play, and it was his song. I am still not sure, now, if he did it on purpose just to let us play in a different way, because we are really playing like two people waiting for the third one. If you listen to the track, you have the feeling we are slowing a little bit just to let him in because we were waiting for him, but he was not coming. As I said, I don't know if it was on purpose or if it was an accident, but it was a great artistic idea.

AAJ: Maybe he was another joker who kept a poker face?

SB: Exactly.

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