Classical jazz pianist Enrico Pieranunzi has played on 61 albums. His recording history includes solo albums, as well as collaborations with other recording artists like AndrÃ© Ceccarelli, Paul Motian, and Chet Baker. His reaction to this historic achievement is sheer astonishment. "It’s simply wonderful," he elates, "sort of a dream for me. When I was a child or in my teens, I was very much focused on listening to the music and on practicing it. I couldn't imagine what is happening now, not at all."
His most current release, Live In Japan on CamJazz Records, is a live double disc set that was taped in Tokyo, Japan during the three nights he played there with bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joey Baron in June 2004. He recounts, "The first idea of a tour in Japan came to my producer Ermanno Basso, who arranged everything in co-operation with the Japanese partners of CamJazz. There were many good reasons for thinking of this tour as a good idea: first, the opportunity to let this fantastic trio perform for five concerts; second, we knew that my music, my CD‘s, are very well-known and loved there; and finally, I had never visited that country before."
He shares, "It was very exciting for me playing in front of Japanese audiences. I found Japanese people very passionate and respectful. it was a rewarding surprise for me discovering how deeply they love jazz music. I have a very good memory of the sound in the Asahi Shimbum Hall in Tokyo, where we performed three times, I guess."
He remembers, "Great piano, nice sound, very professional sound engineering. About the good moments in the double CD, I'm very happy mostly with the long form tunes - ‘Impronippo,’ ‘Improleaves,’ ‘Improminor.’ I think that these tunes are the highest achievements of this trio ever in terms of interplay, imagination, compositional approach to the improvisation and, last but not least, in terms of pure swing. Check out for instance the last four minutes in ‘Improleaves.’ We three swing hard there and we are able to do it in a sudden, open form situation, totally unpredictable. It’s magic! Also, some ballads are very beautifully and lyrically played there: "When I Think of You" or "If Only for a Time" for instance. There is a lot of feeling in these performances, inspiring."
Performing with his mates Marc Johnson on bass and Joey Baron on drums is a telepathic experience. He reminisces, "We first met in Italy in early 1984. It’s quite a long and somehow funny story that you can find written down in the liner notes of Play Morricone, a CD that the three of us recorded also for CamJazz. However, the musical thrill was there since the first moment we played together, and because of that, we decided to enter a recording studio right after our first meeting. The result was New Lands, recorded for the Dutch label Timeless. After that, we recorded seven other CD’s together - five of these for CamJazz one more is in the can recorded in 2004, still for CamJazz. We are very good friends. I think that somehow we are kind of the same age, born in 1949 myself, in 1953 Johnson, in 1955 Baron. We kind of crossed our late youth together and we're crossing our middle age together, too. We have been in close touch during the last two decades, despite living on different continents. We shared great moments on the many stages we played on, and also off of them."
The jazz trio of Pieranunzi - Baron - Johnson has released several albums over the course of their friendship including Play Morricone, Play Morricone 2, Current Conditions, and their 2006 magical collection Ballads. Pieranunzi relates, "Playing a ballad is somehow like telling a story. Some songs are really nice stories because [of] their combination of nice lyrics and that special melody. This is the case of ‘These Foolish Things’ and ‘A flower is a Lovesome Thing,' two American standard songs that I feel very attached to. By interpreting these stories, they become somehow your story. This is also the case of the opening track in Ballads, a wonderful pop song written in the early ‘60s by a very talented Italian songwriter named Luigi Tenco. This song shows how Italian or American doesn't matter, a nice song belongs to all the world. My original tunes in Ballads are new versions of songs previously recorded that I liked to propose in a trio setting. ‘Sundays’ has been written for this session and recorded here for the first time."
Recently, Pieranunzi composed piano tracks for modern jazz drummer AndrÃ© Ceccarelli’s album Golden Land, which he describes, "It was a great experience, like usually it is playing with AndrÃ©. He is, in my opinion, one of the greatest drummers in the world. He has got a special full, warm sound on his instrument and is able to interact in a very sensitive way with his partners. He is an extraordinarily musical guy, like also the bass player in the sessions, Hein Van de Geyn. It was also nice playing with the two guests on the CD, sax player David El Malek and the singer Elisabeth Kontomanou. Yes, when possible, I like to contribute the session with some originals of mine. In this case, you find two tunes of mine there. A new one called ‘Love Whispers’ is the opening track of the CD."
Pieranunzi reveals about the songwriting process, "Composing and arranging are two very different things. When I'm composing, I follow an inner emotional input. I try to express something unknown that comes up to my hands. I compose almost all my music at the piano. When I'm doing that, usually I don't care about the setting of that music. I mean, it doesn't matter if afterwards I'll play that for trio, quartet or quintet. In those moments, for me, the main thing is only to find the sounds and the form that I am strongly looking for. Afterwards, when I decide, just for myself or for a request from some clients to set one of my pieces of music for a special combo, my musical work becomes a bit more technical--looking for the right key, finding good changes for the blowing sections, etc. Usually my music can be quite easily adapted for stage productions."
Pieranunzi's expressive piano compositions for the album Fellinijazz demonstrate this kinship his music has with stage productions by representing human emotions through music. The album is a tribute to the iconic filmmaker Federico Fellini and one which Pieranunzi speaks of with pride. "The input for FelliniJazz came again from CamJazz. As surely you know, this company is the publisher of all the main soundtracks written for the Fellini movies. Two thousand and three was the 10th anniversary of Maestro Fellini’s passing away, and CamJazz invited me to make special, new arrangements of some of the themes from his movies. It was, for me, a fantastic opportunity to lead a real dream-band whose members actually were selected both because I had previously and extensively collaborated with them, mostly with Motian and Haden, and also, of course, for their very strong musical personalities."
Pieranunzi’s recording experiences have enabled him to make a few life-long friendships. "I consider people like Paul Motian, Joey Baron, Hein Van de Geyn, AndrÃ© Ceccarelli, or Rosario Giuliani really good friends. It depends on circumstances, human tempers."
He imparts that such companionships are an integral part of being human. "The meaning of a day is made by an endless series of small things, sometimes a good meeting, a nice conversation, are much more rewarding than practicing the piano for hours. Let’s say that I like to improvise my life, when possible."
Over the years, Pieranunzi has been exposed to numerous innovations made in the recording industry, but no amount of technological advances can replace creativity in his opinion. It’s "Not a blessing," he muses, "not a harm." He negotiates, "Pros and cons, technology has influenced the language of many musicians very much, but still the main thing is real creativity. If you are creative, you can make great music without using any technologies, and also by using them if you are not. Technology won't make your music better. I believe in quality and still think that practicing or finding your own way to do it will make your playing much better."
As audiences have gleaned, Pieranunzi’s life does not only encompass a lengthy recording history but also a litany of live performances to match, which his latest album Live In Japan encapsulates. His music has enabled him to travel and perform around the globe as an ambassador of jazz. "Getting in touch with different cultural environments really enriched myself," he notes. "I learned a lot about approaches to music and life quite different than mine. It’s a kind of treasure that I keep in myself and makes me realize how wonderfully universal the musical language is."
He discerns, "I can feel some slight differences between the audiences in different countries. The way they react to a nice melody or to a strong rhythmical passage can be very diversified. There are various cultural backgrounds behind them that can also make their perception of the music quite different. Yet, when my playing or the playing of my group gets very much into the music, when my mind and heart and body become only one thing - that is not an easy goal to reach during a concert sometimes - I feel even audiences of different countries react in a more similar way. About what they like of me, this is hard to say. Melodies, harmony, story-telling, my way to touch the piano all this together, I don't know, I think and hope that they catch something in my playing that is beyond my awareness. Artist and audience create a very special, silent relationship between them. It’s a sort of love story and sometimes I feel that a good audience helps me to find musical dimensions, that before, I was not aware of exactly, like it can happen between two partners in a love story."
He remarks about his audiences, "Some tunes of mine became over the years quite known and beloved. People and musicians have a special affection for them. I can mention ‘Don't Forget the Poet,’ ‘Je ne sais quoi,' ‘Seaward,’ among many. Also, albums like Ballads or the recent Live in Japan are succeeding. Maybe they sound original to them and I feel happy about this. Maybe that, without any conscious planning, I was able to mix my classical background with the jazz language. Again, it’s hard to say. Describing or explaining a musical language by words is quite difficult, exactly because music is a not-by-words language and it’s especially difficult for the one that makes that music [not to become]too much involved in it. I prefer that people tell me something about it, so in this case, for fun, I'd like to turn the question at least to you: Why do you think people like my music so much?"
In response, I believe that people enjoy the love and attention that Enrico Pieranunzi puts into his piano verses. He plays the piano with the elegance of a harp, the bluesy mood of the guitar, and the boldness of a saxophone streaming series of beaded notes which swell and float into an enthusiastic delirium, forming picturesque tones that decorate the other musician’s rhythmic slides. Translating this mode of playing to music students proved to be arduous for him when he taught at the Conservatoire di Musica in Frosinone. His overview about the experience was, "I learned how difficult is learning."
Books, technology, and instructions can give pupils the means of making compositions, but it is creativity which actually does the job as Pieranunzi shows. Making music is a manifestation of life’s discoveries, which Pieranunzi observes, "I think that there is so much in music to discover. It’s an endless research and I'd like to develop and renovate radically, my musical expression every time I'm able to do it. I'm always looking for new musical territories. One of my dreams is composing a real concerto, or more than one, that mixes my current language with the classical music forms, not necessarily for piano and orchestra. An artist who I'd like to collaborate with is the composer and arranger Johnny Mandel. I really love his way of composing and arranging. It would be fantastic to have some of my tunes arranged and orchestrated by him. There is a tender lyricism, a sense of melody in his musical approach that fits perfectly, I think, with my way to play the piano."
For aspiring musicians, Pieranunzi encourages quality in one’s musicality over all else. It is easy to be lured by high profiled publicists who work as spin doctors, but as Pieranunzi’s discography proves, it is the music that makes a lasting impression on audiences. "As I told you before, I believe in quality and there is no publicist in the world that can give you this if you don't work hard to achieve it. I know that a good promoter, a good staff, a good press agent, can create a phenomenon. I don't think they can create an artist. My advice to aspiring musicians is easy - just keep in mind the alphabetical order and note that music comes before show and before success."
Many musicians today are turning to the Internet as a means of publicity and making contacts in the recording industry. And though this interview was conducted by email and Pieranunzi has a myspace site at www.myspace.com/enricopieranunzi, he says that he does not use the Internet often, but he accepts that much like making music, using the Internet is a personal choice. "Again, pro and cons," he reflects. "I'm not a frequent user of it. It can be useful. It can be really time-consuming. It depends on the usage. It can help you in communicating, of course, or make your life filled with plenty of unnecessary things. It’s a very personal question of choice."
Pieranunzi lays out his plans for this year as one that builds anticipation about his future. He tells, "I'll be playing in many European countries--France, Holland, Germany, Norway, performing in piano solo or in trio, mostly with my European trio - Hein Van de Geyn on bass and AndrÃ© Ceccarelli on drums. Also, I'll be performing some duo concerts along with a very good Italian saxophone player whose name is Rosario Giuliani. Finally, during the coming autumn, I'll be presenting in some classical concert halls in Italy for a special program of music by Domenico Scarlatti, a fantastic Italian composer of the baroque age. Two thousand and seven is the 250th anniversary of his passing away, whose music is one of the richest of imagination and sense of the form that you can find. I'll be performing a selection of his wonderful sonatas and will improvise around them."
He comments about the future of jazz as "I’m very confident that the future of jazz is very good. I feel optimistic about this. Despite many people for years have been saying that jazz is about to die, it is still there and it will be there for many, many decades. Jazz has to do with creativity, vitality, and these things will be forever special features of every human being."