Enrico Rava: To Be Free or Not To Be Free
AAJ: You first recorded for ECM in 1975-when the label was a mere pup, at six years of age-with The Pilgrim and the Stars, which was re-released in 2008. How did it sound to your ears after 33 years?
ER: It's funny you should ask me that, because just a few days ago I had this big radio interview where they played a lot of records of mine, and one was "Bella" from The Pilgrim and the Stars. And listening to it now, it sounds like I could have been done it last week. It doesn't sound 35 years old at all. My pianist Giovanni Guidi wasn't even born then. He's a very modern musician, but he keeps saying, "Enrico, why don't we play that tune from Quartet (ECM, 1978) or that tune from Il Giro del Girono en 80 Giorni (Black Saint, 1976)?" He keeps asking me to play tunes that are really old, but in fact when we play them, like "Tribe," it really doesn't sound old at all. It sounds like we did it last week. Some of those tunes feel like contemporary records. I shouldn't say that, because I'm speaking very well of myself [laughs].
Listening to The Pilgrim and the Stars, I was amazed how the three of them sounded-[John] Abercrombie, Palle Danielsson and Jon Christensen. They are unbelievable. I didn't like my playing too much. I am very self-critical. Every time I listen to my playing on records, I get very depressed.
AAJ: So was Giovanni Guidi the driving force behind you going back to revisit some older material on Tribe, like the title track, which dates back to The Plot (ECM, 1976), and "Cornettology" and "Planet Earth" from Secrets (Soul Note, 1987)?
ER: He's the reason for "Tribe." I wanted to play "Planet Earth." I must say that the inspiration for "Planet Earth" comes from Michael Jackson. "Cornettology" is pretty recent, anyway, from TATI (ECM, 2005), and it's a tune that I've kept playing since then because it's a very open tune, in a tribute to [saxophonist] Ornette [Coleman] And the cornet is what Don Cherry used to play, so it's a tribute to both of them. I really like to play it; it's a fun tune.
AAJ: Pianist Guidi is another in a succession of fine pianists: Bollani, Andrea Pozza on The Words and the Days (ECM, 2007). How do you keep finding such great pianists? When did you first come across Guidi?
ER: I first came across Giovanni Guidi when he was four years old, because his father is my agent. He would come sometimes with his father to the concerts. I followed him when he started piano. Besides being my agent, Mario is a very good friend, and every time I phoned him, in the background I could hear Giovanni on piano. It was difficult to talk because there was always this guy playing piano. Then I did a couple of tours in Italy with [saxophonist] Gato Barbieri, and I had Giovanni play piano for the sound check, and I saw that he had something special going on. Then he came to a workshop I did in Siena, and I knew that he was a very accomplished musician.
For a while, I had a band called Under 21, which was all young people, and he was the pianist. When that group disbanded, he became my pianist. In the meantime, I changed the bassist and the drummer, so I was changing a little the rhythmic idea, and I thought Giovanni was better for that equation. Andrea [Pozza] was great on that record, The Words and the Days, and a great band with [drummer] Roberto Gatto and [bassist] Rosario Bonaccorso. Andrea was extraordinary, and in fact, I think some of the best moments of that record are when Andrea solos. But it was time for a change because the music was getting too kind of mainstream in a way, and we were playing all the same stuff, and there was no surprise anymore. Roberto had his own band, so his head was somewhere else. Same thing with Roberto Bonaccorso-who I like a lot-he had his own big band and his composer's head was somewhere else, and the band wasn't happening anymore. I wanted to change everybody, except for Gianluca [Petrella], of course.
AAJ: Petrella's playing is great throughout Tribe. Why make "Garbage Can Blues" a piano trio piece? Why did you and Petrella sit that one out?
ER: Actually, "Garbage Can Blues" was supposed to be only the end of "Cornettology," but Manfred [Eicher] liked the melody so much, and he suggested we do a short version with just piano, some drums and bass, but mainly piano with everybody else like a shadow. It was just to create a little interlude, let's say, though it kind of connects to the end of "Cornettology."
AAJ: These days, Norway has a world-wide renown for producing great jazz musicians, but it seems that there are an awful lot of excellent musicians and composers in Italy, too. Where would you situate Italy in terms of the quality and quantity of jazz music coming from there?
ER: I think Italy today is in a very good position-one of the main countries in Europe for sure, in terms of great young musicians and composers. It's also true that Italy has become one of the best markets for jazz. We have a lot of great American bands playing all the time everywhere in Italy. We have a lot of amazing trumpet players and a lot of really amazing piano players, bassists and saxophonists. We have composers of big band groups, and these musicians get younger and younger. I don't know how it has happened; there are really a lot of musicians. I just ask myself what they are going to do, because in Italy we are in a very heavy crisis at this moment, all over Europe in fact, and the work is much less than before. For well- known people like myself, [trumpeter] Paolo Fresu or Bollani there is work enough, but for the young, unknown musician it's not so easy.
I worry for them. It's very difficult right now. The crisis that everybody is talking about is really there. When I started playing jazz in Italy, there were just three musicians making a living from just playing jazz. There were very good musicians, but everybody else was playing in a radio orchestra or with singers. But people living from playing jazz, and not commercial music, we were three guys. Now there are hundreds, and they just play jazz and they don't want to do anything else, which is what I did all my life. When I was young, it was a very crazy decision, and my family was very worried about me. But today so many people try to live out of jazz, and I hope they can keep doing it.