You may recall the Rifftides tip a year ago about a Michel Petrucciani documentary DVD. The film followed the pianist around the world and culminated in a memorable concert shortly before he died in 1999. If you didn’t know about Petrucciani before you saw the film, it is unlikely that you forgot him afterward.
In the current issue of The New Republic, David Hajdu does a fine job of placing Petrucciani in his time, assessing the importance of his music and tracing his refusal to let disability impede his art. Petrucianni’s osteogenesis imperfecta, the “glass bones” disease, stopped his growth at three feet and impaired his mobility. It never overcame his spirit. Here are excerpts from the early part of Hajdu’s piece.
I cannot think of a jazz pianist since Petrucciani who plays with such exuberance and unashamed joy. Marcus Roberts and Michel Camilo have greater technique; Bill Charlap and Eric Reed, better control; Fred Hersch has broader emotional range; Uri Caine is more adventurous. Their music provides a wealth of rewards–but not the simple pleasure of Michel Petrucciani’s. With the whole business of jazz so tentative today, you would think more musicians would express some of Petrucciani’s happiness to be alive.
Giddily free as an improviser, Petrucciani trusted his impulses. If he liked the sound of a note, he would drop a melody suddenly and just repeat that one note dozens of times. His music is enveloping: he lost himself in it, and it feels like a private place where strange things can safely ensue. Today, when so much jazz can sound cold and schematic, Petrucciani’s music reminds us of the eloquence of unchecked emotion.
Hajdu’s article, “The Keys to the Kingdom,” is on The New Republic‘s web site. To read the whole thing, click here.
Here is Petrucciani in Germany in 1993. YouTube identifies what he plays as “C-Jam Blues.” It is, except when it’s Monk’s “I Mean You.”
If you detect similarities between Petrucciani and the pianist in the next exhibit, don’t let it bother you.
I agree Petrucciani had something special going. You can, of course, compare him to Reed, Camillo and the other guys mentioned, but IMHO the two pianists that have taken jazz piano a step further since Petrucciani left us, are Jason Moran and Brad Mehldau.I think those two are following Petrucciani’s tradition of jazz piano invention more than any other young player today (that I know of)
Ken Dryden says
In spite of his severe handicap, Michel Petrucciani always seemed to be in great spirits and enjoying life. I was lucky to get a phone interview with him around 1996 and he was lots of fun. It’s a shame I never had the opportunity to hear him in person.
Jack Reilly says
Hajdu is perspicacious when it comes to recognizing Petrucciani’s unique appeal and the special qualities of Reed, Charlap et al. Michel is one of my all time favorite jazz pianists. What he really has Hadju hasn’t figured out: It’s the quality of authenticity; that is, Michel is concerned with content first and form second.The other players he mentions are only concerned with form first and content second. Putting content first makes everything you play timeless; Putting form first causes yawning!
I never strive for perfection. I’d be in the funny farm by now if I did. I aim for a 90-95% when I play and therefore enjoy every minute like Michel did. The listener never even realized he had a disability.
I met him at an airport (so what else is new?), in the 80’s when he was playing with Charles lloyd. He lived around the corner from me in Brooklyn. We never got to speak. Too busy waiting for flights!
Wonderful blog on this miracle of an improviser. Thank you DR and DH.
(Mr. Reilly’s latest CD is “Innocence: Green Spring Suite” — DR) http://cdbaby.com/cd/reilly11
Andrew Dowd says
I am sure that I am not alone on this, but I have been listening to jazz since childhood (which adds up to about 30 plus years) and despite being very well read on jazz, and working in radio as a jazz DJ, I had never heard Michel Petrucianni until 2 days ago. Why this is, I don’t know. I can say that this little guy could play jazz piano like no other pianist I have ever heard- including Bill Evans. I have always loved Bill Evans and have been looking for jazz pianists whose style style resembles Evans’- and Michel Petruciani’s unique improvisation and use of melody reminds me of Bill Evans. I am currently listening to a 3 CD boxed set from Dreyfus Jazz called “Un Messenger du Jazz”. Amazing…