Pete Malinverni readily admits that when he was six years old, the thought of taking piano lessons "was a cool idea."
"But it wasn't that long after that that I started to kind of battle my folks, unfortunately. But they prevailed, and, of course, I'm thankful," he added. "I guess I showed a certain amount of talent, but it's hard for a kid to really want to do it from the get-go."
"To play [classical] piano as a kid, it's really a pretty solitary thing," he said. "Other instrumentalists have band class in school and they play with other people. As a pianist, I never played with other people until I started getting my little band together."
An uneasy truce was struck that had the young classical piano student balancing practice time and sports, which eventually led him to having his own band in high school, playing music by the likes of Sly Stone with some improvisation. "I loved that. Then, I could see where it was all headed.
"Then, it was that give and take amongst the musicians, which is really such a big part of, for me, of what I do," he said.
"That's why my son [Peter Luca] is playing piano, but he's also playing the drums and I make sure we play together and he gets that feeling: what it feels to fit in rhythmically and conceptually with other musicians, because to me that's so much of the joy of playing music."
Malinverni's early days as a reluctant student ceased in his last two years in high school, he said. "I was back in the fold. I really wanted to play music. I really wanted to learn and I grew to really love the classical stuff, too.
"My senior year in high school, I played 'Rhapsody in Blue' with my high school orchestra. For me, that was a real turning point in my life. Because I really put in the effort because I wanted to learn that piece."
Malinverni's latest demonstration of the give-and-take is the Reservoir album The Tempest, which features his working trio of bassist Dennis Irwin and drummer Leroy Williams. In his liner notes for the album he mentions his current teacher Sophia Rosoff, who also counts among her students Barry Harris, Fred Hersch, Ethan Iverson and drummer Jorge Rossy.
"She's a great musician, but she's also really a good intuitive teacher," he said. "She doesn't necessarily follow a boilerplate thing.
"Her thing is basically understanding the emotional core of the music and getting out of its way, really being a vessel for it," he said.
Malinverni was still studying classical and playing rock and funk in college when he encountered jazz musicians. "It seemed like such a finer textured music [than rock]. These people were actually intent on playing together. Their craft, the hard work that they did learning their instruments, went toward arriving at something together in an ensemble. I hadn't had that feeling before. (In classical music) it seemed like people learned stuff that they can show off."
Malinverni points to Rosoff's technique as an example for the difference in his latest album. While previous works have been noted for Malinverni's introspective style, this one has attracted attention for a more lively, at times fiery feel.
"I find that on the bandstand now there's so much better a flow," he said. "And that's too, why, this record's a little bit different."
He recalled a discussion with fellow pianist Dick Katz, in which the elder musician noted a pronounced difference between Elmo Hope's recorded and live works.
"Dick said that to me upon hearing me live one time, after hearing my recording" he said. "It occurred to me that I really wanted as much as possible to have the feeling on this record being that of a live performance, with all the chance-taking, et cetera, that goes along with that, blemishes and all."
"Very often in recording, you're set up in such a way that you can't get good eye contact, you're not hearing a person live, you're closed off in separate rooms," he said, "Very often there's a producer concerned with selection length. Very often people record and if they play a tune and if they don't quite love the way it came out they turn around and play it again. And again and again until they have one they think they can keep. There's no one there as an audience, generally speaking. Many producers and record companies insist on an all-star lineup these days. None of those things are present on this record."
"I invite a handful of people to come and actually sit in the studio as an audience," he said. "I set up the tunes as they're going to appear on the record and I play them as a set."
"It's not perfect, but that's the way I want it," he continued. "Because it shouldn't be perfect. I forget who it was that said, 'The sweetest fruit is furthest out on the limb.'"
"It's what you say more so than the language that you speak," he said. "When you hear some people, it's like they get into some schools of musical thought where there's only one kind of valid thing, and that's just ridiculous; it's not the language, it's the message."
The obvious difference between his new album and the previous Reservoir one is the sentiment behind each one, he explained. Autumn in New York was a reflection on his somber mood following the deaths of two friends in the September 11 World Trade Center disaster, while The Tempest is a reaffirmation of the joys of life. "Autumn in New York, to me, really was dedicated to two old friends and the city I love," he said. "I was just feeling like I want to express that. I think it's important that we find artistic expresion of real human things, and that's what that record was about for me. Having done that, one moves on and one learns lessons, and one of the important lessons is that life is really to be lived to the fullest every moment. This is not a rehearsal."
That having been said, there is one underlying theme in Maliverni's music: his faith. "Let the Sea Roar", a tune on The Tempest, draws its inspiration from the 98th Psalm of David and is one of his continuing body of works for gospel choir and jazz group. "Little David", from his previous album, was based on the 17th chapter of Samuel. While the titles and allusions are just passing references in the liner notes, he doesn't bludgeon the casual listener with his belief, but it is undeniably there.
"I believe that music is the voice of God, I really do," he said. "I know from studying the earliest musical history that music is actually a physical thing. When one strikes a string or any object or blows air through a tube, there is a fundamental pitch which represents a physical moving of air which creates a sound. It's like an actually real, quantifiable thing that exists in the universe as, I believe, one of its base elements. That's not man-made. That's where music comes from. Music is just as part of the real physical world as anything you can see, touch, smell or feel. As such, we have to give it up that that was here before us."
Malinverni performs his more overtly religious works as minister of music at a Black Baptist church in Brooklyn. "That's the service I go to every week and my family comes with me.
"What's really interesting is this church is a predominantly African-American Baptist Church, but it started as the first Italian Baptist Church of Brooklyn," he said. "In its way, the church's history is like my own. I grew up playing in this Baptist Church, came to love jazz and I'm now doing it also in the church. I write music for the choir. I write these suites for gospel choir and jazz quartet and we put on concerts of that music. Steve Wilson played on the last one.
"In my musical life, and my personal life as well, it's all coming together at the same time - the thing I do at the church, my playing on the bandstand and my classical playing and my life in general. Also, my teaching life." he said. "It seems like it's all about allowing the thing to flow in its most organic way and to really be a vessel for what's going on, what's coming at the moment."
Visit Pete Malinverni on the web at www12.brinkster.com/malinverni/ .
2003 AAJ Interview