Q&A with Giovanni Guidi: Fruitful Projects

Pianist Giovanni Guidi maintains a handful of different performing projects and records for ECM Records. (Photo: Umbria Jazz)

Giovanni Guidi offers his formidable chops in service of ensemble imperatives, while always letting listeners know that he can execute any idea he might think of.

His performances at the 25th edition of Umbria Jazz Winter in December reinforced that notion. At one concert, Guidi, 32, presented an hour-long improvisation that began with an aria-like opening motif, and morphed into various pathways before returning to its home base. At the other, Guidi joined Coltrane-to-Ben Webster tenor saxophonist Francesco Bearzatti and accomplished drummer Michele Rabbia, in a master class of spontaneous recomposition of familiar themes.

Two months before his playing in Orvieto, Bearzatti performed with Guidi’s working trio (Thomas Morgan, bass; João Lobo, drums) and guitarist Roberto Cecchetto on the pianist’s fourth ECM recording, to be released in late 2018. It’s a very different configuration, and presumably a different sound, than its ECM predecessor, Ida Lupino.

Ida Lupino is your third record for ECM. It’s very different than the first two.
Ida Lupino has [trombonist] Gianluca Petrella, [clarinetist] Louis Sclavis and [drummer] Gerald Cleaver. I played with Gerald a lot before, because he played on my quintet record, We Don’t Live Here Anymore with [bassist] Thomas Morgan, [tenor saxophonist] Michael Blake and Gianluca Petrella. Gianluca and I have played with [trumpeter] Enrico Rava many hundreds of times. We chose to do a record in duo, but with some guests. We invited Gerald, and Manfred Eicher suggested we invite Louis Sclavis, who records for ECM. There is maybe only one tune in duo, and it’s totally different than what we usually do together. But I am very happy to have had the opportunity to play with Louis Sclavis, who is a maestro of European improvisation music, and playing with Gerald is always a great pleasure. In fact, in May I am doing a new band with Gerald on drums, Dezron Douglas on bass and David Virelles on keyboards. David is a very close friend; I play Fender Rhodes and he plays Wurlitzer and Juno-64. It’s an electronic band.

Rava launched you into the broader world of performing after pianist Stefano Bollani’s career started taking off.
I started playing with Enrico when I was 18 or 19. I was not ready, but he understood that something was happening, and he put together this band called Under 21 with all young guys—me, Francesco Bigoni on tenor saxophone, Giulio Corini on bass and Emanuele Maniscalco on drums. After that band, there was one called New Generation and then the band Tribe, a quintet with Gianluca, Gabriele Evangelista on bass and Fabrizio Sferra on drums. Now, we are mostly playing together in a trio with the electronic musician, Matthew Herbert, a British guy—a genius of electronic music, a guru. It’s a strange band, with Enrico, who is almost 80, and me. We will do a record with this band—it’s completely different than anything Enrico has done.

How did you meet Rava?
I knew him from when I was a child, because of my father, though we met musically at Siena Jazz. I knew all his music, all his tunes. [Mario Guidi,] my father, was one of the first jazz managers-agents in Italy, which gave me the great opportunity to meet all the musicians who passed through Italy from when I was 2-3 years old: Joe Lovano, Miroslav Vitouš, Jan Garbarek, Gato Barbieri. I remember them eating lunch at my house—like family. But I didn’t like jazz until I was 16.

But you started piano when?
I grew up in Foligno, 20 minutes outside of Perugia, and I started piano at 8 or 9. But I played classical music, and I liked also rock of the 1970s. When I was 16, my father went to the Montreal Jazz Festival with Enrico, and then on a tour—they stayed away maybe 20 days. I asked him to buy me 20-25 records of rock music in Canada. But during those 20 days I started listening to Köln Concert and the other records of Keith Jarrett. After he came back, I never opened all the records that he bought for me. So, when I was 16 and 17, I went to Siena, playing with Enrico.

Talk about your learning curve during your first years with Rava.
I learned a lot about volume on piano—we played ECM kind of things: very slow, very rubato. But we also played groove things where the left hand is important, as is the volume and stability of the sound. But if you’re in Enrico’s band, you’re already inside his world. After three months, I played an important festival—and you have to be ready, like Bollani, like Bobo Stenson when he played with him, or like Geri Allen.

So it’s an apprenticeship, like an American musician in the ’80s being with Art Blakey.
Yes, a similar thing. On stage, he never speaks. When he starts to speak a lot with a musician, they are one-two months before they stop playing with him. When he says, “No, maybe we have to do this,” “Maybe play drums like this,” then we are almost at the end. He speaks a lot about other things—about books, about movies.

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