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.