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Pete Malinverni

AAJ Staff By

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I view my role as musician much more as that of a vessel now, believing that my job is to prepare myself as an instrument, ready to deliver to the audience whatever music as may come to me.
"Music can name the unnamable and communicate the unknowable." —Leonard Bernstein

"Music is one of the fairest and most glorious gifts of God." —Martin Luther

"Do you know that our soul is composed of harmony?" —Leonardo da Vinci

To most jazz fans, the intimate connection between music and spirituality is simply assumed.

The aspiration of many jazz musicians to place both themselves and their listeners in direct connection with the divine has been well documented over the years, perhaps most notably with John Coltrane whose music was both unabashed praise and ecstatic thanksgiving to a God of grace and love.

Furthermore, many musicians express the feeling, if not outright belief, that they are merely receivers, or antennae, resonating to a voice that originates from something deep yet residing outside of and beyond themselves.

Pianist Pete Malinverni is certainly a musician who feels that inspiration flows through him as opposed to from him.

Since arriving in New York in 1981, Pete Malinverni has established himself as a highly respected performing musician in local, national, and international club and concert scenes. His well deserved reputation helped earn him an entry in the 1999 Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz, as compiled by Ira Gitler and Leonard Feather. As an educator, he is in great demand, serving as Professor on the Jazz faculties of New York University, William Paterson University, and the Purchase Conservatory. Additionally, he has taught Jazz Appreciation to non-music majors at NYU, and Classical Ear Training at Purchase. In 1999 he was honored with NYU's Marc Crawford Jazz Educator Award, and has successfully presented seminars and master classes worldwide. In recent years he has begun to explore his talents as a writer on music, writing liner notes and contributing to periodicals such as The Piano Stylist and The Record Review. His fifth album, Of One Mind (Reservoir Music, 2000) was picked by All About Jazz as one of the Ten Best Recordings for 2001.

Pete Maliverni's sixth album as a leader, Autumn in New York was recently released by Reservoir Music and features longtime companions Dennis Irwin (bass) and Leroy Williams (drums).

Of this recording, AAJ correspondent Elliott Simon writes: 'With this, their fourth CD together, the players have gelled as a unit'this trio's playing from beginning to end shows them to be experienced partners who easily change moods, yielding a cohesive statement overall'By including new arrangements of timeless pieces written by native New Yorkers Jerome Kern and Harold Arlen alongside his original compositions, Malinverni inspires us to look forward while remembering our past.'

In anticipation of the premiere performance of his new suite for gospel choir and jazz quartet, entitled "Sing a New Song," All About Jazz invited Pete Malinverni to participate in the following interview, which he graciously consented to.

The premiere performance of 'Sing a New Song,' Pete Malinverni's new suite for gospel choir and jazz quartet, will be performed on Saturday, May 3 at 2:00 pm, at Devoe Street Baptist Church, 140 Devoe St., Williamsburgh, Brooklyn, NY. Admission is FREE. Further information can be obtained by phoning (718) 387-5075

All About Jazz: Would you please tell the AAJ readers about where you were born, raised, and what your earliest musical memories are?

Pete Malinverni: I was born in Niagara Falls, NY. At age 7 we moved to a small town near there called Lewiston, but for all intents and purposes I was raised in the Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Western New York region. It's a region which, at the time, was defined by the economic boom provided by the local industries, most of which had to do with the processing of chemicals in all the plants who located there for the cheap hydroelectric power made available by proximity to Niagara Falls. While my Dad and the fathers of most of my friends were employed in these plants, music was valued in the Italian-American heart, so my sister, April, and I were given piano lessons. I was six when I started, with a wonderful and tough teacher named Laura Copia. She's legendary up there, for her excellence in teaching and her passionate and big-hearted dedication to passing on what she knows. I studied classical piano with her until I was eighteen and left for music school. Of course my earliest musical memories revolve mostly around those lessons, but I also remember hearing my Mom sing as soloist in our church choir. It was a Pentecostal church, so I saw early on the easy association of music with the passions of people.

AAJ: What led you to choose piano as instrument of choice?

PM: There was gentleman in our church, Anthony DiGregorio, who led the church in singing every Sunday. Mr. DiGregorio had a friend who was looking to place his grand piano in a good home because he was moving to an apartment the size of which wouldn't accommodate a piano. The match was made, and it changed my life. People don't realize sometimes how large an effect even the seemingly smallest kindnesses can have. Anyway, lessons began right away.

AAJ: How would you describe your musical education? Formal? Informal? Both? Please elaborate.

PM: Certainly my lessons with Miss Copia were formal. We had a lesson each week, rain, shine or snow (a consideration up there in the snow belt). The work was very much European Classical in direction, and Miss Copia also gave me my early theory lessons.

I had a wonderful teacher in high school named Douglas Monroe who also gave me theory lessons, as well as taught me about the beauty of choral music. He was another very strict and passionate musician. As I look back now I see that it's always the teacher who cares enough to be tough who one remembers as having been the most effectual.

From high school I went on to the Crane School of Music in upstate New York. It was there I first heard jazz music, at that time sort of an outlaw form as far as the school was concerned. So my real education in jazz began, on the bandstand with my peers.

AAJ: Was there any watershed moment where you decided (or discovered) that you simply had to become a musician? Please elaborate.

PM: I mentioned Douglas Monroe earlier. During my senior year in high school the director of the concert wind ensemble was interested in performing Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," and had plans to hire a soloist. Some of the musicians in that group, like clarinetist Laura Ardan and saxophonist Pat Perez, have gone on to great careers in music, so it was a serious ensemble. Mr. Monroe suggested that I be given the chance as piano soloist, and I took it, with both hands. I suddenly stopped spending all my time down at the gym and began stealing moments during the school day to practice the "Rhapsody." I was determined to learn and memorize it in time for the concert in April, and I did. I still remember the feeling of that accomplishment and of having the whole ensemble with me. I said, "This is for me."

AAJ: When did your first exposure to jazz occur? What was your reaction?

PM: At the Crane School I was walking down the hall one day and heard music coming from a practice room. I opened the door—onto what turned out to be the rest of my life—and heard a quintet playing a form of music which was strong yet elegant, intricate yet ebullient, and I had to learn about it. It was, of course, jazz music. I'd had a lot of fun playing in a funk/rock band in high school with my cousin, a wonderfully lyrical guitarist named Paul Chiodo. We wanted to play music that felt that way, but we didn't know where to look, for vocabulary or colleagues. I knew I'd found it in jazz music.

AAJ: Who or what are your most profound sources for influence and inspiration? (this can include nonmusical items) Why or how do these influence and inspire you?

PM: As for music, the influences have been as profound as they have been many, running the gamut between players and composers, in many musical forms. Many of my teachers have inspired me, from those I've mentioned to Elena Belli, an amazing classical piano teacher in NYC and Anthony Newman, the famed composer and keyboardist with whom I studied piano and counterpoint while taking my Masters in Music from the Purchase Conservatory of Music. Of course, my musician colleagues continue to inspire me. The collaborative elements of jazz music require us to be open to each other in the give and take of improvisation. There is no substitute.

My greatest inspiration, though, is my family. My parents and sister have always been supportive of me, for which I'm grateful. And my son, Peter Luca, and stepson and daughter, Guss and Hayes, are a constant reminder of the importance of one's legacy—every moment on the bandstand and in the recording studio is important and is to be cherished. And my wife, Jody Sandhaus is a source of great strength. She is a musician too, a singer, so she understands the life and business of making music. As a collaborator she's also an inspiration, as can be heard on her own recordings.

AAJ: 1987 finds the release of your first recording, Don't Be Shy (Sea Breeze Records). What were the circumstances regarding the making of this?

PM: It was April 1987, and I had been playing some trio dates around NYC with Dennis Irwin and Mel Lewis. Most people were unaware, I think, of what a great trio drummer Mel was. He had a way with the brushes that I've never heard duplicated. Anyway, I booked Rudy Van Gelder's studio, and in we went. It was a memorable experience for me all around. I was producing the date, so I had to take care of all the business as well as decide on material, arrangements, etc. I designed the cover and wrote the liner notes too. I got Enid Farber to do the photos, which were excellent. I remember spending time with the people who made the packaging for both the LP and the cassette, and I spent quite a bit of time at the LP pressing plant. I learned more about ink and vinyl types than I ever wanted to know. Then I spent a few months shopping the tape around in hopes of getting a label to buy it. The bad news was I found only a company, Sea Breeze, who basically acted as a distributor, so I had to handle all the costs associated with the recording and production, but the good news is that I own the recording and so have complete control. I'm pleased to say the recording, with a couple of added tracks, has been leased for 2003 release as a CD in Japan. I would be happy to release it in this country as well when the right opportunity presents itself. Dennis and Mel played beautifully, Rudy was wonderful to work with, and I remain happy with the results today.

AAJ: As follow ups, what was the most difficult thing about making this recording? What was the most enjoyable? In retrospect, what did you learn from this experience that has proven to be of the most value in your career?

PM: I would say the most difficult thing about making "Don't Be Shy" was the part over which I had no control, and that was waiting for feedback and decisions from the various record companies I approached. I had gone to several record stores looking for piano trio recordings, noting the names and contact information of the record companies involved. Most of them are by now long gone, but at the time they were the whole ball game. I then began the long process of calling, writing and sending tapes to everyone. I still have the 3x5 cards on which I kept track of my communication with the principals at the labels. It was a good lesson in the business of music including handling rejection, always a part of the life of a freelance artist. It made my resolve stronger in the way fire tempers steel, and, as I said, I sure learned a lot about the business.

Really, the best part of the whole thing was the music. It was a magical day at Rudy Van Gelder's, for me a very special place. I had decided to record, as I have since then, as though on a live date, by sequencing the selections in the tentative order in which they would appear on the eventual recording, with no repeats until a "set" was completed. For that reason, the music flowed well, and the result is a relaxed, musical session. And of course that's the artifact which remains.
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