Fortunately, Dreyfus Jazz has released, in DVD format, two Petrucciani shows: a documentary that appeared on PBS and his trio’s concert in Germany. Though they differ in content, atmosphere and intent, both shows reveals two sides of Petrucciani’s personality, musical and verbal.
First the musical aspect. For those who have heard Petrucciani only on CD, The Michel Petrucciani Trio in Concert is a marvel. It shows now only his steadfast connection to his 1998 audience at Kultur und Kongresszentrum Liederhalle in Stuttgart, but also his continuous rapport with his sidemen. Through sheer force of will and a hard percussive attack, even during ballads, Petrucciani commands the direction and the tone of the performances. Most of the eight pieces played in concert are Petrucciani compositions, demonstrating his less frequently recognized skills as a composer. Moreover, Petrucciani’s interests were protean, ranging from the samba references of "Brazilian Like," personalized and refashioned, to the humorous combination of "Chloé Meets Gershwin" to the hard-charging vamp that the pianist adds to "Take the ‘A’ Train." The concert event was professionally taped, with due attention to the subtleties of sound and the visual excitement of a Petrucciani performance captured a year before he passed.
Then there’s the verbal side of Petrucciani’s personality reveals in Roger Willemsen’s documentary that taped him in California, New York and Paris. Accompanied by his own music are he travels and reminiscences, Petrucciani expresses love of life, rejoicing in the natural environment of California’s coastal area, and he records his recollections and thoughts about music and physical limitations, both with a smile or a laugh. Willemsen particularly shows genuine interest in Petrucciani’s thoughts, thereby eliciting from him such disclosures as falling and breaking his nose as a teenager in his father’s garage. Frankness ensues when Petrucciani talks about death, expressing his fear for it but not for the pain for Petrucciani reveals that he is in pain most of the time.
One of the fascinating decisions of Petrucciani’s life was showing up as a teenager at Charles Lloyd’s house and eventually convincing Lloyd to tour with him, Lloyd thereby abandoning his premature retirement. Petrucciani provides his account of the encounter and the reasoning behind it. Additional segments include the pianist’s conversations with actress Charlotte Rampling, a rehearsal with Stephane Grappelli before the release of the Dreyfus CD Flamingo, his conversation on a California mountaintop with Lloyd, where the saxophonist plays alone. All the while, Petrucciani’s words are backed by a soundtrack of his music.
The Dreyfus DVD provides a wealth of information and music concerning Petrucciani, reflective and exuberant. Though he passed too soon, on the other hand Michel Petrucciani contributed an abundance of music within twenty years of his professional career that remains eternal.