Sunday, June 21, 2015

Enrico Pieranunzi: Part 1 - The Early Years [From the Archives]

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“The much-discussed “globalization” of jazz is not always apparent down here on the ground. Take Italy, for instance. It boasts arguably the strongest jazz scene outside the United States, yet most American jazz fans would be challenged to name three Italian jazz musicians.

Enrico Pieranunzi … was schooled in classical piano from early childhood. … His discovery of jazz as a teenager led to a piano style in which jazz and classical languages are unconsciously and organically interwoven. “I love Bach like I love Bill Evans. I love Mozart like I love Paul Bley. For me, piano music is piano music,” says Pieranunzi. He is largely self-taught in improvisation, and speaks of learning to “decode” jazz by studying Erroll Garner records. His single most important influence was Chet Baker, with whom he played frequently in the ’80s.

“Chet and I exchanged maybe 10 words in all the years I knew him,” Pieranunzi says. “We never talked about anything but the titles of songs. Before I met Baker I had been a very extroverted player. But Chet played so few notes—only the essential ones. He was so melodic that he helped me learn something very difficult: to make the piano sing.”

- Thomas Conrad JazzTimes

“The Italian is an elegant performer and an often unexpected composer, a storyteller who very seldom lapses into abstractions. His piano style is a hybrid of Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock, with boppish accents that recall Bud Powell rather than Monk. … He uses all the ground-breaking modern discoveries in modality, rhythm and the broadening of pianistic devices to his own ends.”
Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed. [p. 1197].

Regular visitors to JazzProfiles may recall a series of features that ran on the blog that were comprised of excerpts from Italian Jazz pianist Enrico Pieranunzi’s book about the late Jazz pianist Bill Evans entitled: Bill Evans: Ritratto d’artista con pianoforte/Bill Evans: The Pianist as an Artist.

For those of you who may have missed this piece, it ran as a 6-part series and can be found in the Blog Archives beginning under February 6, 2009 and appearing on consecutive weeks until ending on March 13, 2009. You can revisit via the above link or by clicking here.

Ever since this series of Pieranunzi-on-Evans, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles has been grappling with a way to get its arms around this articulate musician-cum-writer’s extensive career in order to present it to the readers of the blog with some semblance or order and coherence.

Not including his appearances on other albums and with a discography of close to 80 recordings under his own name, attempting to write a feature on this extraordinary musician is a daunting challenge.

With this in mind, while the following feature on Enrico Pieranunzi may not represent success in this quest, it is at least a start.

Born in Rome on December 5, 1949, Enrico Pieranunzi’s development as a Jazz artist has much in common with that of his contemporary, Michel Petrucciani, the late French, Jazz pianist.

Both began studying piano at an early age: Petrucciani at the age of four and Pieranunzi at the age of five; each urged on by fathers who were guitarists. 

Both were classically trained for many years and, as a consequence, developed a style of playing that fused classical technique with Jazz.

Early in their careers, each fell heavily under the spell of, and worked in the harmonic tradition of pianist Bill Evans, and each developed into pianists of considerable technical ability who matured out from under the weight of Evans’ influence to find their own voice.

Both Enrico and Michel performed with a whole host of Jazz luminaries during the formative and later stages of their careers: Petrucciani with the likes of Clark Terry, Charles Lloyd, Lee Konitz, Wayne Shorter, Jim Hall, Dave Holland, Tony Williams, Eddy Louiss, Stephane Grappelli while Pieranunzi has performed with, among others, Frank Rosolino, Sal Nistico, Kenny Clarke, Johnny Griffin, Chet Baker, Joey Baron, Art Farmer, Jim Hall, Marc Johnson, Lee Konitz, Phil Woods, Charlie Haden, Mads Vinding, and Billy Higgins

“When Chet decided that we should play a particular piece it was because at that moment he needed exactly that piece to express himself. For him each piece was a living thing he would return to again and again and whose features, whether happy or sad, he rediscovered every time. He knew the lyrics to almost all of the titles we played, the stories they contained, and in his performances he revived those stories. … His ear was extraordinary, as was his ability to force the audience into listening to what his trumpet and his voice had to say.”
 – Enrico Pieranunzi

Although both Pieranunzi and Petrucciani primarily favor the piano-bass-drums trio format, each has had their original compositions arranged for small group: Both Worlds, a sextet album that features Petrucciani’s works arranged by Bob Brookmeyer and Don’t Forget the Poet on which Pieranunzi arranged his own tunes for a quintet featuring Bert Joris on trumpet and flugelhorn and Stefano D’Anna on soprano and alto saxophones.

Pieranunzi issued his first LP in 1975. Since then, he has performed widely with his own group at European and American jazz festivals and in a variety of European Jazz clubs.

His recorded work falls basically into three categories:

[1] as accompanist with others such as Art Farmer, Chet Baker and Phil Woods,
[2] as the leader of various piano-bass-drums-trio configurations and his own instrumental groups and in
[3] his solo piano recordings and his of recorded homages to Italian film composers.

Among pianists working in the harmonic tradition of the late Bill Evans, Enrico Pieranunzi has achieved a rare individuality, bringing an unrivaled sense of line and sheer sonority to the style.

Along with the advanced harmonic language, Pieranunzi belongs to what has been described as a native bel canto tradition that extends to classical pianists as brilliant as Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli and Maurizio Pollini and film composers like Nino Rota and Enrico Morricone, both of whom he has performed with on a number of well-known Italian movies.

Enrico’s teaching experience, in jazz and in classical music, is also noteworthy. He has served as a full professor of piano at the “Conservatorio di Musica” in Frosinone. His latest CD is dedicated to the music of Domenico Scarlatti, which not surprisingly combines jazz improvisation with classical music.

Given the immense size of his discography, perhaps a starting point might be some of the albums that he has made with two of modern Jazz’s most prominent figures; Art Farmer and Phil Woods.

And, just as a point in passing, although it may be difficult to obtain, Phil Woods’ playing on PHIL’S MOOD [Philology W 27-2] is in our opinion some of the best that he has ever recorded.

Isis  [Soul Note 121021-2]

“1949 wasn't necessarily a special year for Art Farmer. He had already been gone from his hometown of PhoenixArizona for a few years, and - although still only 21 - had been back and forth between Los Angeles and New York with such bands as Horace Handerson, Floyd Ray, Johnny Otis, and Benny Carter.

1949 was a very special year for Enrico Pieranunzi. It was the year he was born.

Yet, despite the "generation gap" in their ages, and despite the distance from Rome, Italy to Pine Bluffs, Iowa (where Art Farmer first saw the light of day), Art Farmer and Enrico Pieranunzi are very much soul mates. They both have their roots in bebop, they both are cracker-jack soloists at all tempos, and they both have unashamedly wide romantic streaks in their playing. This album may be named after the Egyptian goddess of the moon, but there is plenty of sunshine in this collection of three bebop anthems, three Pieranunzi originals, and a couple of pop standards, and more than several bolts of lightning.” – Lee Jeske, 1981 insert notes

“Art Farmer’s always lyrical, inviting flugelhorn fit nicely into this quartet and quintet setting matching him with an Italian ensemble. They covered standards, such bop anthems as Dizzy Gillespie's "Blue 'N' Boogie" and Charlie Parker "Ah-Leu-Cha," plus Pieranunzi originals "Little Moon" and the title track. Pieranunzi's light, enticing piano phrases made a nice contrast with Farmer's effortless, shimmering solos, while bassist Furio Di Castri and drummer Roberto Gatto handled rhythm details smoothly, and special guest Massimo Urbani chipped in with vigorous alto sax solos on three cuts. A solid, often delightful session.” – Ron Wynn, review in


PHIL’S MOOD [Philology W 27-2]

“There are many people who consider Philip Wells Woods to be the finest alto saxophonist alive. But sadly that is no­wadays less of a tribute than it might seem: after all, most of the great ones are dead. Parker, of course; Stitt; Cannon-ball; Art Pepper; Paul Desmond; Willie Smith; and the inef­fable Hodges. Of those that remain, Benny Carter is still as good as ever in his 80s; Jackie McLean and Ornette Cole-man continue to delight; and then there is a heartening num­ber of young players, amongst whom Briton Chris Hunter, Austrialian Ray Swinfield and American Richie Cole have gi­ven this writer very considerable pleasure. But the field is a shrunken one, compared to the glorious days of jazz. So I must make a further declaration, more contentious but I believe properly in keeping with Woods' stature. He is, quite simply, one of the best altoists ever; and one of the most pleasing things about jazz during the last ten years or so has been the long-overdue emer­gence of Phil as an undoubted heavyweight who — at last — has been given regular and sympathetic opportunities to record.

For there was a time when it seemed to me that Phil would probably be chiefly known as one of the jazz world's best, and largely unsung, side-men. Despite early promise as a leader for Prestige (Woodlore, in particular) his recorded work was predominantly that of a guest or ensemble player. One thinks of the magnificent Monk Town Hall Concert; his important role in Benny Carter's Further Definitions, alongsi­de Benny, Charlie Rouse and Coleman Hawkins at his most imperious; and several splen­did Quincy Jones dates where Phil's contribution was vibrantly central. Above all, there are the albums Phil made as part of the orchestra of his close friend Oliver Nelson — The Jazzhattan SuiteMore Blues And The Abstract Truth and Full Nelson come most readily to mind. Less happily, one also recalls that the majority of his staple studio work was a waste of his prodigious gifts. Most days would see him asked to record an hour's worth of assorted Jingles and TV commercials; and although his artistry was properly employed on a few Jimmy Smith dates, most of his other jazz-oriented session work was ephemeral, merely a part of the anonymously stellar line-up with which Verve's 60s boss Creed Taylor saw fit to pad out the work of Wes Montgomery, Cal Tjader and other. And as David Waddington points out in an illuminating essay on Woods (Jazz Journal International, June 1989), the only album Phil cut in America during this period was the "infamous" Greek Cooking for Impulse, which the altoist has since dismissed as an "unadulterated gimmick".

The 1960s were thus a time of frustration and disillusionment for Woods, and precipitated his emigration to Paris. His reasons were chiefly musical ones, although he had also become disenchanted with many aspects of the American system, not least in the way it threatened his part-Negro stepson. He left America in 1968, and almost at once his fortunes impro­ved. He completed a memorable engagement at Ronnie Scott's in London, and shortly afterwards founded the cele­brated "Phil Woods and His European Rhythm Machine". They recorded a great deal; all of their work is excellent, but I'd particularly commend the Live At Montreux 72 album (Pier­re Cardin STEC 131) and the Birth of the ERM (Philology 214-W-16/17): the latter is notable for the range of material and catholicity of musical invention. And this European re­nascence gradually rekindled American interest in Phil's work. He cut the magnificent Musique Du Bois for Muse in 1974 in New York, and since then has recorded regularly on both sides of the Atlantic. Of his most recent work, Phi­lology's three-album set The Macerata Concert with long-term confrere Mike Melillo on piano perhaps deserves pride of place, although Denon's Gratitude, with trumpeter Tom Harrel and pianist Hal Galper, is har­dly less fine.

Of course, choosing favorite records is a wholly subjective activity; what is a matter of objective fact is Woods' towering stature amongst today's jazz artists. It's been a long time a-coming, maybe; let it continue for at least as long. This album teams Phil with Italy's award winning Space Jazz Trio, who made the exquisite Little Girl Blue with Chet Baker in March 1988 (Phi­lology 214-W-21).

In 1990 the prestigious Italian jazz maga­zine, Musica Jazz, voted them Italy's 'Best Group'; furthermore, leader Enrico Pieranunzi took the 'Best Musi­cian' spot. Enrico is not only a very fine pianist; he is also a notable composer. All the tunes on this album are his, with the exception of bassist Enzo Pietropaoli's Upstairs, and they show that his pulsating lyricism as a player is beautifully com­plemented by a muscular sense of form and feel for melody when it come to writing. In addition, both as accompanist and composer, there can be few musicians so instinctively sympathetic to Woods' multifaceted art. The set gets off to a richly satisfying start with New Lands.

The theme is quintessentially boppish in style and feel, arpeggio-based and semi-chromatic, and Woods tears into it as to the manner born, his torrential solo a celebration of all that is finest in bop, although the harmonies are frequently modernized. Enrico deftly slows down the pace at the start of his solo before launching into a coruscating reading that, while recalling Bud Powell and Chick Corea, reveals a mature and independent piano voice. Then piano and alto merge in a thrilling contrapuntal cadenza before closing the piece with rhapsodic intensity. To these ears, the second take is both smoother and even more enterprising. For two choruses Phil wails over Pietropaoli's bass before the piano rejoins, and underpinned by the trio's fiery brilliance Phil es­says a solo even more authoritative than on the first take. The arrangement remains essentially the same, however, and listeners have a fascinating opportunity to hear the art of improvisation in raw practice — and of course to make up their own minds which one they prefer!

The CD then allows us Night Bird. Its theme is accessible but haunting; it is also decidedly bluesy, and the quartet are soon to be found digging into its muscular sequences with raunchy power. Phil's solo builds in intensity before Enrico explores his fine composition with delicacy and sprung tension. A warmly cogent bass solo gives way to an exchange of fours between Woods and Kramer, and the piece ends in arrestingly 'suspended' fashion. Chet is a deeply felt tribute to Mr. Baker in which Enrico Pieranunzi perfectly evokes the trumpeter's amalgam of tough lyricism and delica­te power. The theme is adventurous, flowing, suitably threnodic, and alto, piano and bass take superb solos. Back to bop's core with Phil's Mood, urgent in theme and fiery in exploration. The same kind of virtuosity from all four men that characterizes New Lands is on hand again — a celebration of Parker-Gillespie Inc.'s bounteous gift to music which is nevertheless entirely con­temporary in its harmonic imagination. And listen for Phil's concluding glissando — it's really so­mething! All great jazz musicians have an instinctive sense of programming; and after the molten power of New Lands Phil offers us the tenderly contrasting Blue Ballad, unquestionably one of the album's high spots. It is a ravishing melody which Phil milks with love and profound under­standing: indeed, this performance exemplifies Phil's rare ability to captivate utterly while just playing the melody — a characteristic he shares with Hodges, Rollins, Getz and Webster. His long silky lines are quietly devastating, and his gorgeous solo is enhanced by Enrico's outing, full of grace and sensuality. Woods is rightly feted as a ballad player, and I find this track definitive in its reverent melodiousness and understated passion.

Enzo Pietropaoli's Upstairs, like New Lands, offers two intriguingly contrasting takes. Again, the second is perhaps the more assured, retaining the first's cooking excitement while achieving a greater integration and serene authority. The theme is angular yet melodic, and establishes Enzo as a composer of promise. Finally, the set's loveliest tune, Hindsight, finds Phil on clarinet. His exquisite tone and the fluid purity of his lines makes one wish that he featured himself more often on the instrument than he does — except then we'd be robbed of some of that glorious alto. Ah well, one can't have everything — even on this album.”

-Richard Palmer 1991

Staff writer, Jazz Journal International; contributor, Musica Jazz; author of Oscar Peterson (Spell-mount, 1984) and Stan Getz (Apollo, 1988).

Elsa [Philology W 206-2]

PHIL WOODS / ENRICO PIERANUNZI "ELSA " (the Ferrara, Sala Estense, concert - July 31, 1991)

"’I have been on tour now for two weeks with what I consider one of the finest pianists in the world,’ Phil Woods proudly explained to the packed and captivated audience which had assembled in Ferrara, Italy, in July 1991 to witness one of his rare European appearances.

The subject of this generous and richly-deserved testimonial was Enrico Pieranunzi, leader of Italy's premier small jazz group, the immensely talented Space Jazz Trio. For one splendid and unforgettable fortnight that summer, Italian jazz fans were treated to a short series of duet and quartet performances featuring Phil, Enrico and the two remaining members of Space Jazz, Enzo Pietropaoli on bass, and Roberto Gatto on drums. The duet album you are about to hear, and its companion album, Phil Woods and the Space Jazz Trio Live at the Corridonia Festival (Philology W 211.2), comprise an invaluable documentary of this truly memorable season. We are indebted to Phil's great supporter and admirer, Paolo Piangiarelli, not only for organizing the tour, but for ensuring that so much of the marvelous music produced by Phil and the Space Jazz Trio has been made available to a wider listening audience.

‘Out of this world!’ was Paolo's understandably proud and enthusiastic description of this musical collaboration between two of his closest friends. Certainly it seems like a pairing made in heaven. A month prior to this date; Woods had participated in another outstanding duet recording for piano and saxophone - the ravishing Flowers for Hodges session with Jim McNeely (Concord, CCD - 4485). The handsome and professorial-looking Pieranunzi had also taken part in a recent succession of highly acclaimed duet recordings for the Philology label, including a ballad album with the legendary trumpeter, Chet Baker in 1988 (The Heart of the Ballad -Philology W 20.2, Chet's last studio album), and a studio session alongside another great American alto player, Lee Konitz in 1989 (Solitudes -Philology W 28.2).

Add to these credentials the fact that Woods and Pieranunzi had worked together previously on the excellent Phil's Mood [Philology W 27.2] 1990 album [see below], which united the saxophonist with the Space Jazz Trio, and it becomes easy to appreciate how they were capable of achieving such rare musical compatibility. From the jaunty, confident opening bars of Have You Met Miss Jones? Woods' opulent, lucid alto playing is superbly complemented by the intelligent lyricism of his partner. It soon becomes evident that while Pieranunzi's uniquely variegated style defies obvious comparison; his playing is occasionally redolent of some of Phil Woods' all-time favorite pianists, such as Bud Powell and Bill Evans.

Woods' hot, glowing sound is as spellbinding as ever arid, even on this opening track there are appetizing signs of the empathy and understanding which pervades the entire album. The American's wonderful solo on the second track, September Song, ranks alongside his finest ballad performances. The alto is attractively underpinned by delicate work from Pieranunzi whose own extended solo is cascading and effusive-a musical waterfall. Night Bird is quite simply a jazz masterpiece. Robust and energetic, it boasts some glorious musical interplay between two mature talents playing at the pinnacle of their abilities. The beautiful Elsa contains suitably moving contributions by both men. A smoothly executed segue then transports the audience into Someday My Prince Will Come, easily the lightest and most relaxed piece on the album, and one on which Pieranunzi plays with characteristic eloquence and virtuosity. The harrowing Goodbye Mr. Evans is delivered in faltering, heart-rending style by Woods, his occasional paroxysms of anguish suddenly flowering into a brief, show-stopping cadenza. Then just as instantly, the tune is transformed into Willow Weep For Me, a piece of unremitting creativity by both men. You and the Night and the Music feature Woods at his smoothest and most buoyant -a latter-day Johnny Hodges, while the album's final piece, Chet, is Enrico Pieranunzi's beautiful, gossamer-winged tribute to the beloved trumpet star. Deft and disarming from its outset, the tune grows progressively tenderer, eventually reaching an intensely poignant climax. The music on this album conclusively supports the claims of those people who regard Phil Woods as the finest alto saxophonist of his generation. If there is any justice, it will also guarantee Enrico Pieranunzi the international recognition his talents undoubtedly deserve. I doubt whether you will hear a finer and more satisfying musical collaboration all year. Let us hope that it is merely the first of many more between them.”

Dr David Waddington (Sheffield, UK, May 1992)

The following video features Italian Jazz pianist Enrico Pieranunzi performing his original composition "Ein li Milim" [  Hebrew for "I Don't Have The Words"] with bassist Luca Bulgarelli and drummer Walter Paoli.

Alto saxophonist Phil Woods performing pianist Enrico Pieranunzi's composition "New Lands" which also features Enirco on piano with Enzo Pietropaoli [b] and Alfred Kramer [d].

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