© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Over the course of this year  , Dreyfus Jazz, the French-American label, will issue remastered, repackaged, and in most cases expanded versions of the ten albums that Petrucciani recorded for the label in his last years [he died on January 5, 1999 at the age of 36], as well as a two-DVD set of documentary and concert footage not previously released in this country.
The series is an overdue reminder of the ecstatic power of Petrucciani's music. 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.
The power Petrucciani communicated, as a pianist, was the force of a will, a muscularity of the mind. He admired and emulated Duke Ellington, but had to simulate the effect Ellington and some other strong pianists have achieved by using more of their bodies than their hands. (Ellington, like Randy Weston today, put his lower arm weight into his playing to give it extra heft.) Petrucciani generated power through the speed of his attack. His force was willed; but, in the determined gleefulness of his playing, it never sounded forced.
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. "When I play, I play with my heart and my head and my spirit," Petrucciani once explained to an interviewer. "This doesn't have anything to do with how I look. That's how I am. I don't play to people's heads, but to their hearts. I like to create laughter and emotion from people - that's my way of working."
- David Hajdu The New Republic, March 18, 2009
“One midsummer evening in 1978, pedestrians on the narrow unpaved main street of the village of Cliousclat in the Drome region [of France] were startled when what looked like a puppet wearing Count Basie’s yachting cap leaned out of an old tinny Citroen 2 CV and exclaimed: ‘Hey, Baby!’
It was Michel Petrucciani. At the time, they were the only words of English he knew. But the Provencal musicians who lived in the area had spread the word about the 15-year old piano player who lived in the city of Montelimar [near Avignon] and who played Jazz like a veteran.
It’s a good thing he started early because he was not going to last all that long.” [Sadly, it was to last only twenty 20 years, but what a 20 years!]
- Mike Zwerin, writing in The International Herald Tribune, January 1999, a week after the death of Michel Petrucciani from a pulmonary infection at the age of thirty-six ,
“If the death of a musician touches us in a special way, it is because they take their secrets with them — the secret of their unique musical sound, the secret of their precise relation to space, air and the movement of their bodies that they alone knew how to produce.”
- Francis Marmande writing in La Chambre d'Amour
A number of years ago, a friend who lives in Holland, sent me a radio broadcast from a concert that took place on July 10, 1988 at Van Goghzaal at the Congress Center, The Hague, The Netherlands.
The performance was by pianist Michel Petrucciani’s trio and it was part of the 1988 North Sea Jazz Festival [NSJF]. At the time, Michel was touring with Gary Peacock on bass and Roy Haynes on drums. Some group, right?
Michel had left Paris-based Owl Records and was under contract to Blue Note and he had released five tracks with Gary and Roy as part of Michel Plays Petrucciani [Blue Note CDP 7 48679 2] which were recorded at Clinton recording Studio in NYC on September 24, 1987. Given the makeup of this version of Michel’s trio, I was very disappointed not to find more of it available on other Blue Note recordings.
Needless to say, then, I was thrilled when the 8 tracks from the radio broadcast featuring Michel, Gary and Roy at the 1988 NSJF arrived “at the editorial offices of JazzProfiles” some years ago.
And there the matter lay until Michael Bloom, who heads up his own firm which offers Jazz promotional materials to the media, contacted me and asked me if I had any interest in - wait for it - One Night in Karlsruhe - Michel Petrucciani, Gary Peacock and Roy Haynes [SWR Jazzhaus JAH-476].
Recorded on July 7th, 1988 at the jubez karlsruhe öffnungszeiten and comprised of 10 tracks totaling 77’34” of music, the album is a sheer delight from beginning to end, a veritable feast for all the senses offered up by three musicians who have achieved the highest form of Jazz expression and interpretation.
It was around this time in his career that Michel began to write original compositions to serve as the basis for his improvisations and five of these are represented on the Karlsruhe recording: 13th, One for Us, Mr. K. J., She Did It Again and La Champagne. Petrucciani helps us “set ours ears” by blending in four interpretations from the Great American Songbook - My Funny Valentine, There Will Never Be Another You, Embraceable You and In A Sentimental Mood along with one Jazz standard, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps.
If you reflect on the characteristics of Michel’s playing that are detailed by David Hajdu in the opening quotations to this posting from his piece in The New Republic, they will provide you with a number of keys to unlock, what Marmande refers to as Michel’s “secrets” as an improviser.
When Michel digs into a solo, its full speed ahead: he never repeats himself; there are no resting places; he just inventively surges ahead in an effort to seize the moment - occupandi temporis His entire career was like that: a career of urgency.
In the following notes to One Night in Karlsruhe - Michel Petrucciani, Gary Peacock and Roy Haynes, Ralf Dombrowski expands on this later theme by labeling it -
CARPE DIEM [“Seize the day”]
“Michel Petrucciani's career had picked up speed. Some wild years were already behind him. In Paris, he not only played as a teenager with Kenny Clarke and Clark Terry, but, in addition to performing music, tried to take in as much life as possible. Some recognized his extraordinary talent: the drummer Aldo Romano and the owner of Owl Records, Jean-Jacques Pussiau, who promoted the boy with brittle-bone disease to the utmost of his abilities. But it was America that first put him on track, especially Charles Lloyd, whom he visited in California in 1982 and so impressed him that the saxophonist ended his hitherto cultivated retreat from the music business and went on tour with Petrucciani.
This band was the door opener to an international reputation. Press and colleagues became aware of him; in 1984 he settled in New York and established new social networks. Two years later, his first album for Blue Note was released: "Pianism", a recording with Palle Danielsson and Eliot Zigmund which was linked to several earlier projects with comparable ensembles. With his predilection for the piano trio as a central form of expression, Petrucciani was out of step with the mid-eighties. Although Keith Jarrett chose this option with some success, on the whole the piano tho had been considered exhausted since the death of Bill Evans.
Petrucciani was not impressed by this view and steadily engaged new partners to join him. For example, in December 1987 he entered a sound studio with Eddie Gomez and Al Foster to record some of his own compositions. A few months earlier, he had realized the same plan with Gary Peacock and Roy Haynes. The recordings were released the following year under the title "Michel Plays Petrucciani", and the pianist took some of them with him on tour. When he stopped off in Karlsruhe on 7 July 1988, he had "13th", "Mr. K.J.", "La Champagne", "One of Us" and "She Did It Again" in his musical baggage. The remainder of the program consisted of evergreens from the Great American Songbook and freestyle pieces of modem jazz such as John Coltrane's "Giant Steps".
Michel Petrucciani was a driven man, playing in his most active period more than one hundred concerts a year, with the feeling deep inside him that, given his illness [osteogenesis imperfecta, brittle bones disease] he had less time available than other people, a feeling which he repeatedly mentioned in talks with friends and journalists. He wanted to condense his music, releasing energy under tension in an awaited discharge.
The bassist Gary Peacock and the drummer Roy Haynes were the perfect partners. One had been socialized in post bop, sowed his wild oats in Free-Time and later, as a partner of Bill Evans, Paul Bley and Keith Jarrett among others, perfected his trio playing. Roy Haynes had personally experienced the birth of bebop and was one of the busiest jazz luminaries in his field.
This concentrated experience and musicality combined with Petrucciani's need for communication to form a tonal language that was extremely compact even in its redundancies and constantly conveyed immediacy.
The audience in Karlsruhe therefore experienced a jazz evening that had everything: intimacy and exaltation, subtleties and fireworks, modernism and Old School, For it was listening to a trio that played as if it were a matter of life and death - according to Petrucciani's motto: ‘to see the big picture in each moment.’”
- Ralf Dombrowski. Translated by Jonathan Uhlaner
In full flight, Michel is mesmerizing; an artist possessed. He’s one of those exceptional, electrifying musicians who comes along once in a lifetime, albeit, in his case, a very short one.
Given these circumstances, you won’t want to miss adding this recording to your collection.
In A Sentimental Mood