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Massimo Colombo: Italy's Erudite Jazz Pianista

Jim Worsley By

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I had a giant in front of me. When you are playing with Peter Erskine you are playing with the history of music. —Massimo Colombo
Nestled in Northern Italy, the city of Milano is steeped in artistic tradition. Revolutionary in the historical sense in literature, music, art, science, and other scholarly endeavors, Milano is still today a hotbed of innovation and a source knowledge and creation.

Enter one Massimo Colombo to the forefront of the conversation. A gifted jazz pianist, Colombo was born in Milano in 1961. In addition to his inventive and wide-ranging jazz narrative on the keys, Colombo is a true representative of both the past and present references. As a composer, arranger, pianist, and professor, his work is the embodiment of shared musical knowledge and modern sophistication. A well-respected veteran of the rich music scene, Colombo has some thirty records to his credit as a pianist, writer, or both. In addition, he imparts his knowledge and carries on the tradition at conservatories in Italy.

Here are the highlights of a recent chat All About Jazz was pleased to have with Colombo:

All About Jazz: Your most recent record, Powell To the People (Jazzland, 2018]) is a tribute to legendary jazz pianist Bud Powell. How did this project come about?

Massimo Colombo: Bud Powell is one of my favorite pianists. I've been working on his material for many years. I've studied his style very hard. I had not yet found the courage to record something until I met Maurizio Quantizable and Enzo Zirilli.

AAJ: Tell us about your trio bandmates, bassist Quintavalle and drummer Zirilli.

MC: We met in 2015 at the Conservatory Niccolo Piccinni in Bari. We were all teachers of our instruments and discovered we had similar musical interests. Enzo and Maurizio represent a creative rhythm section. They are always ready to follow my ideas and to propose new ones. As we started to perform together, audiences were astonished by our interaction during concerts. We were surprised by the magic and spontaneous atmosphere on stage. I'm speaking about very special moments that can give a real sense and purpose to what you are doing.

AAJ: Aside from Powell, what other pianists influenced you at an early age?

MC: When I was fourteen, I was a fan of Keith Emerson. He opened up the gateway for me to the world of jazz. He did so in particular with a live album entitled Welcome Back My Friends to The Show That Never Ends -Ladies and Gentlemen by Emerson Lake & Palmer in 1974. During the live session there is a short track where the three musicians play swing. It's not purely jazz, of course, but I was so impressed by that sound I started researching. I then discovered lots of musical references from Bud Powell to Bill Evans, for instance.

AAJ: Do you come from a musical family? At what age did you start playing the piano?

MC: Some of my relatives played piano and I remember my grandmother singing while cooking in her kitchen. She sang the best arias from La bohème by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini. But I can't say that I came from a musical family. We listened to a lot of music and had lots of classical music albums. I started out playing the organ when I was nine. Then I shifted to the piano and it was not easy. They are two completely different musical instruments.

AAJ: As a composer, arranger, and pianist, you have compiled a large volume of music in your career, both as the lead artist and as a writer. Of these, are there a few that stand out in your mind? What would be a good starting point for someone new to your music to begin listening and get a real feel for the essence of Massimo Colombo?

MC: With no doubt, Trio Grande (2015) is my most representative album. It best captures my musical point of view and my trio arrangement concepts. It was recorded in 2015 with drummer Peter Erskine and bassist Darek Oleszkiewicz. I think that writing and improvisation blend together nicely in this record and can be perceived as a whole. That is to say, music, simply flowing pleasantly, without any hurdles. This kind of atmosphere can also be found on my first album, Alexander (1989) with bassist Marco Michell and drummer Francesco Sotgiu. I composed lots of music, all for the piano, to get to the point of being able to create Trio Grande. Chamber Music (2002) has a crucial role as well. It is an orchestral view of my style meant to develop new perspectives.

AAJ: Your records have a variance of jazz influences and styles. Tempered Blues (2017) offers up solo vignettes that are short, soft, and melodic. The aforementioned Trio Grande treats the listener to a union of classical music with jazz. Whereas Virtualmente(2003) underscores the jazz piano with more of a techno pop sound. What leads you in these directions?

MC: I love music and I love combinations. Classical, jazz, ethnic, etc. When an idea comes up, I immediately think of the proper sound. If I need acoustic, I write for an acoustic instrument. If it should be electric, then I work with electric components. My life is not in just one way. I love to explore all possibilities in music.

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