Claudio Filippini: Facing North

Claudio Filippini: Facing North
Robin Arends BY

Sign in to view read count
When I have the chance to play difficult music, I like to play it in a very simple way.
—Claudio Filippini
Pianist Claudio Filippini, born in Pescara in 1982, is one of the bright young stars of Italian jazz. With his album The Enchanted Garden (CAM Jazz, 2011) he was hailed as the new "wonder boy" of Italian jazz. Now he is regarded as a pianist/composer of international stature, with his album Facing North (CAM Jazz, 2013) receiving widespread critical acclaim.

At the age of 11, Filippini enrolled in a course of jazz piano, parallel to his classical studies at the Musical Academy of Pescara, where he had the opportunity to study first with Angelo Canelli and later with Marco Di Battista graduating after five-years with the highest honors. During his studies he met musicians like pianist Kenny Barron, pianist George Cables and trumpeter Jimmy Owens.

At 17 Filippini won his first scholarship to Columbia College of Music in Chicago, followed by several scholarships in Italy and abroad. Filippini was 1st prize winner of the European Competition for Piano Solo—Yamaha Music Foundation of Europe 2002, and the Massimo Urbani Award 2003. In recent years he has played in numerous festivals around the world. In 2010 Filippini began playing with singer Mario Biondi on his numerous tours. In 2011 he recorded The Enchanted Garden for the Cam Jazz label, with Luca Bulgarelli on double bass and Marcello Di Leonardo on drums.

In 2013 Filippini released the CD Facing North with a new trio featuring Palle Danielsson on double bass and young Finnish drummer Olavi Louhivuori which achieved significant critical acclaim.

Over the years Claudio Filippini has performed alongside big names such as Wynton Marsalis, bassist Ben Allison, clarinetist Tony Scott, Dee Dee Bridgewater and guitarist Mike Stern. This year Claudio Filippini will visit North America with his American trio.

All About Jazz: You started to play the piano at the age of 7. Why did you choose this instrument?

Claudio Filippini: The first memories I have about the music go back to my third year. My father used to listen to classical music, such as Listz, Rossini and Verdi and I was completely into that. I remember that I sat next to the stereo speakers for hours, listening to the same vinyl over and over. My father never played any instrument, although he has a really good musical ear. He still can play a melody on the piano after one time listening.

My musical origins probably come from my dad's ancestors. It seems that his grandfather played the cello in the first half of the 1900's. He named his daughter Walkyria, my grandmother, because of his passion for Wagner's music. My grandmother used to play the piano when she was really young but at a certain point she had to stop because of the war.

So that's how everything started. We didn't have any musical instrument in our home except for a very weird toy keyboard which was my favourite buddy at that time. When I was 6 years old I asked my parents if they could buy me a real piano, so they rented a very cheap upright piano just for trying to see if it could become a real passion for me. After the first month at the music school, my first piano teacher told my parents that I was really into the music, so they let me continue to study.

AAJ: You have a classical background.

CF: That's right, I started with classical music but at a certain point I was wondering if there were other ways to make music. Classical music can be very severe, hard and boring for a child, if the teacher doesn't find a proper way to explain the beauty of that music and the pupil doesn't find any motivation to study.

AAJ: How did you discover jazz music?

CF: I always liked to play by ear and played what I was listening to, without any score. One day I knocked at the door of the jazz class and there was Angelo Canelli playing a blues. What a fabulous discovery! I really was fascinated by those "strange" chords and by the rhythm that was coming out from his piano. Then I thought "Wow, that's what I want to do one day. I wanna play like him." So I started to study with him when I was 11 years old.

AAJ: You were inspired by pianists like Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Chick Corea. Which pianists are you inspired by today?

CF: I always listened to the pianists you mentioned, and I still like to hear the pianists from the tradition, but I also like to listen to the new jazz scene, especially from New York. Talking just about pianists, I really love people like Robert Glasper, Gerald Clayton and Danny Grissett for example.

AAJ: They are all American pianists, are there also contemporary European pianists that you admire?

CF: Absolutely. There are also so many pianists that I've been listening to from Europe too: Michel Petrucciani, Tete Montoliu, John Taylor, Enrico Pieranunzi, Eric Legnini, Bojan Zulficarpasic, Esbjorn Svensson and many others.

AAJ: At the age of 17, you won a scholarship at the Pescara Festival Jazz that brought you to the Columbia College Of Music in Chicago. How was it to be there at such a young age?

CF: It was amazing! I was 17 and it was my very first experience in the United States. I left my heart in Chicago. It is such an inspiring city. A lot of things happen there and I also like the people very much. When I was there at that time I was not allowed to go into jazzclubs or play at jam sessions, but I have a lot of great memories of that travel anyway. I met a trombone player from there, he was studying at the Columbia College as well. We spent some hours playing together and listening to some great records in his house. He made me discover Danilo Pérez, he thought that my style was close to his. It was such a great experience, also for the guys who came with me from Italy. I came home with my head full of music and my bag full of music charts and records!

AAJ: Do you feel your style is in any way similar to Danilo Pérez?

CF: I can't say if my style is similar to his, but I like Danilo Pérez very much. In my opinion his language is a very good blending between traditional jazz and latin jazz. One of my favourite records of him is Across the Crystal Sea (EmArcy, 2008) with Claus Ogerman. I also like his playing with the Wayne Shorter Quartet.

AAJ: In 2004 you received a diploma in piano at the Conservatory GB Pergolesi in Fermo. What happened then?

CF: I consider obtaining the piano diploma as one of the many pages in my life. I really liked to play classical music but I've never done it in public. That day was the end of my classical experience because I knew that I could never become a classical pianist. So I studied for that performance so much that I wanted to play the best I could. I played a partita by Bach, a Beethoven Sonata, Ravel's "Sonatina" and some Chopin nocturnes and other pieces I don't remember.

AAJ: What is your connection with classical music nowadays?

CF: Nowadays I still have the passion for the classical repertoire, and when I have time I like to play some stuff that I already studied in the past. Some music from Mozart, Bach or Mendelssohn. I think that every pianist should study the classical repertoire. It gives you the sense of discipline, severity and it allows you to discover the infinite possibilities of the instrument. It also allows you to increase your sound and makes a lot of sound shades. All these characteristics are also useful for playing jazz.

AAJ: Two years after you received your diploma you recorded your debut album Quadricromia (DDE Records , 2006) together with saxophonist Gianni Virone, bassist Davide Liberti and drummer/ percussionist Mattia Barbieri. Ten original tracks. How do you look back on that album?

CF: I have nice memories from that period, we were young and hungry! I was the only member of the band from Rome, the other guys were from Turin (7 hours from Rome). I was so much into what we were doing that I frequently traveled from Rome to Turin just to do rehearsals. We did a lot of gigs, mostly in the northern part of Italy and the thing I liked more was that we liked to improvise collectively.

That record is exemplary of what we were doing at that time, but I didn't like the piano that was in the studio at all and didn't like the sound of that record in general. Probably this is the main reason that keeps me from listening to that album today, but maybe there's something in it that I can rediscover of my playing.

AAJ: You played with Max Ionata on his album Zaira (Wide Sound, 2001). You play standards, like "Waltz for Debbie," "Theme for Ernie," "My Romance" and "Cherokee," as well as originals, like the titletrack "Zaira." A coherent innovative jazz-album. This is the only record you made with Ionata. Can we expect a new album in the future?

CF: "Zaira" was my very first studio experience, It was recorded in 1999 but it was released in 2001. "Zaira" was the name of my first original composition. Max and I met 15 years ago and we are still in touch. He's such a gifted guy, I really have learned a lot from him. Every now and then we meet each other in a band. I'd really like to play with him in a new group and go back in the recording studio. Maybe we'll do it the twentieth year since our first meeting!

AAJ: In 2009 you recorded your solo-album Tintura Madre( Cinik Records, 2009) , a crossover between jazz and classical music, with dreamy, sometimes bluesy, melodies which remind me of Keith Jarrett. How did you experience making this album?

CF: Tintura Madre is a record that I made in only one night. It is an impromptu record that I wanted to do just to vent my feelings on the piano. I sat on the piano and recorded from the beginning to the end. There are some mistakes, dirty passages, and wrong chords but I decided to keep them because that was the sense of the record: an improvised session. Tintura Madre is the pure extract from a plant, bitter but pure.

AAJ: Your first trio- album, The Enchanted Garden (CAM Jazz, 2011) with bassist Luca Bulgarelli and drummer Marcello Di Leonardo appeared in 2011. This alternately, challenging album was well received by, amongst others, your colleague Enrico Pieranunzi, who wrote in his liner notes: "Musical stories full of imagination and depth; Claudio's improvisations reveal to us a language of beauty, generating music of such density and intensity...Bravo!" What does the music of Enrico Pieranunzi mean to you?

CF: I discovered Enrico Pieranunzi when I did a workshop with him in 1999. I was eager and I wanted to learn as much as I could from anyone. Pieranunzi insisted on the fact that I should play more by ear. He's a wise and brilliant man, he has a deep culture in every field and you can listen to his stories full of experiences for hours. He can play in a lot of styles and when I was with him I tried to steal his phrases as much as I could. Enrico Pieranunzi is one of the best realities we have in Italy and I'm very lucky to have the opportunity to study with him.

AAJ: This year your second trio-album, Facing North (CAM Jazz) appeared. How did you experience working with Palle Danielsson? How did you meet the gifted drummer Olavi Louhivuori ?

CF: The collaboration with the two Scandinavian musicians was born in a certain sense by the courage and foresight of the artistic producer Ermanno Basso from Cam Jazz label, whom I proposed to record a CD with a foreign rhythm section. Among the several names that came to our mind we thought that Danielsson and Louhivuori may could work together. I knew them both for their musical collaborations, but I also knew that they had never played together. Both me and Ermanno were tremendously curious which sound would come out. So after checking our schedules we found some days available for everyone and we went to Ludwigsburg, Germany in the fabulous Bauer Studios. The CD is the result of our first meeting, playing together for the first time.

AAJ: With drummer Lorenzo Tucci you recorded this year the live-album Tranety (Albore Jazz, 2013), dedicated to the work of John Coltrane. What role has John Coltrane played in your musical development?

CF: Both me and Lorenzo are really in love with Coltrane's music, and we decided together to make a tribute to him without saxophone. John Coltrane was a true innovator, his style changed a lot of times during his short career. I really have an admiration for his approach and for his music that sometimes is very complex and very challenging to play.

AAJ: Do you prefer playing challenging music to more simple, groove-based music?

CF: When I have the chance to play difficult music, I like to play it in a very simple way. When the chord changes are difficult and there are not so many connections between them, I like to make very simple melodic lines in order to make the chord changes understandable for the other musicians and for the audience. I really don't like to play difficult stuff in a difficult way, trying to do what I can't do. In this way I feel breathless and tense. On the contrary if I'm playing for example a very fast piece with very difficult changes, the first thing I do is to relax, and play one note at a time, listen to each other and try to do simple things in a good way rather than difficult stuff in a bad way.

AAJ: Do you regard yourself as part of a common jazz tradition? Your music prooves jazz is still alive and growing. How do you think jazz music will develop?

CF: Jazz music is constantly changing, it always has been changing. It is a music that comes from contamination, and it is a blend of different cultures. I think nowadays a lot of people find in jazz a way to communicate. We live in 2014, the world is getting smaller and smaller and thanks to Internet we can discover music from each country of the world.

I could not set a list of people who have contributed in recent years to the growth of our musical heritage, I can only say that fortunately there is so much excitement and so much material to draw from. Despite the hard times for the musical industry, it's a solace that we have thousands of great jazz players in the world that don't care about the commercial part. All they want to do is to play what they feel inside.

AAJ: What projects do you have in store for us?

CF: I'm working on the second CD with Palle Danielsson and Olavi Louhivuori that should be out soon. This CD is called Breathing in Unison" and will be released by Cam Jazz Label. It contains both original compositions of mine and standards. I'm also composing music for a new trio with musicians from Chicago with which it will record a new CD and I will be on tour next April.

AAJ: Are you excited about this project?

CF: I'm really excited about this new project, I hope it will be a new point of departure for a new musical journey and I hope it will last over time.

Post a comment



Shop Amazon


Jazz article: John Clayton: Career Reflections
Jazz article: Chien Chien Lu: On The Right Path
Jazz article: Murray Brothers: A Law Unto Themselves
Jazz article: Zakir Hussain: Making Music, Part 2-2
Jazz article: Norman David: Forty-Year Wizard of The Eleventet
Jazz article: Dave Holland: More Than Just Notes
Jazz article: Steven Feifke: Kinetic


Read Wayne Shorter: An Essential Top Ten Albums
Read John Clayton: Career Reflections
Read Mark Murphy: An Essential Top Ten Albums
Read Fire Music: The Story of Free Jazz
Read Immanuel Wilkins: Omega is Just the Beginning

Get more of a good thing

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories and includes your local jazz events calendar.