Dec 17, 2018 9:00 AM
Eric Dolphy: The ‘Prophet’ of Freedom
Whether he was wielding his alto saxophone, flute or bass clarinet, Eric Dolphy was a godsend to the cadre of musicians…
Keith Jarrett is your origin point. Who are other pianists you were closely listening to?
The two big loves for me of the almost-young piano players were Brad Mehldau, who played in Orvieto when he was very young, and Jason Moran, who I remember playing here with his trio with Tarus Mateen and Nasheet Waits. I liked Brad, especially for his concentration, his way of playing ballads, of sounds. With Jason Moran, it was a new way of playing piano. After that, I started listening to Jaki Byard. One of my big loves apart for them is Paul Bley—maybe on top. For concept, for sound. From his first record, that one with Art Blakey and Mingus, when they play standards, when he was 20—it’s fantastic, sort of like Bud Powell. Then for sure, the record Open To Love for ECM, where he plays “Ida Lupino.”
But honestly, I do not listen only to pianists. There are maybe 20 musicians that I really love. The guys from the 1970s who played with Enrico when he was in New York—Roswell Rudd, Paul Motian, Charlie Haden, Carla Bley, Gato Barbieri, Don Cherry. If there was the possibility to be born in another age, I would love to have been there then, and played with them.
Let’s talk then about developing your own personality.
My first record was 2006, for a Japanese label called Venus that a lot of Italians record for. It’s called Tomorrow Never Knows, a song of the Beatles; it’s standards, pop songs.
Then after that, I did the record Indian Summer for CAM, with João Lobo, Francesco Ponticelli (bass) and Dan Kinzelman (saxophone). After that was in a quartet called The House Behind This One, which is the name of a poem of Raymond Carver. After that, there is the record Unknown Rebel Band, a band with 10 elements—it’s a sort of re-elaboration of the Liberation Music Orchestra. After that was We Don’t Live Here Any More that we recorded in New York with Gianluca Petrella, Michael Blake, Gerald Cleaver and Thomas Morgan. That’s when I met Thomas, who is a genius. Every time I play with him, it is an honor. I don’t know if there are other musicians who are so inside the music with every note, who capture everything that’s happening in every moment.
After We Don’t Live Here Any More, I finished with CAM, because I recorded with Rava that record called Tribe, and Manfred asked me to record with him, which for me was a kind of dream. I did my first record with ECM, The City Of Broken Dreams, with João Lobo and Thomas Morgan; then This Is The Day, same trio.
Are you analytical about your playing or presentation? At one concert, you play a certain style, and at another a different style.
Yes ... When I start playing, I am very inside the music, but before the concert, I don’t like to think a lot of what I’m going to play. The big concept is composition on the structure of music. I choose to play very simple tunes ... not easy, but things where all the developments have to happen during the concert. So, I have to think and stay inside the music a lot during the performance.
You folded yourself totally into Bearzatti’s ensemble when you played in his group. Everyone took the lead; it was very egalitarian.
I like only this way of playing jazz. Now, I am really outside of the kind of jazz music where there is one solo, and then clap, then another solo. I love that kind of jazz, if it makes sense—if it’s the tradition or if we are playing at a jam session or in a club. But for my music, I am Italian and 32, with the other influences—I find that it doesn’t make sense to play that kind of jazz.
You do have a lot of different bands, which I guess is something one has to do now—it’s hard to sustain a career if you don’t.
Yes, and there’s a new band with [bassist] Dezron Douglas, [drummer] Joe Dyson, [tenor saxophonist] Aaron Burnett, and [trumpeter] Fabrizio Bosso that will tour Italy and Europe in July and will record. It’s a strange band, because me and Fabrizio—who is very famous in Italy—have never played together. We are very different; Fabrizio is more inside a kind of tradition. But I think that we can find someplace in the middle.
Then I have a duo with Daniele di Bonaventura, the accordionist, who has recorded with Paolo Fresu, and the trio with Rava and Matthew Weber. I am playing piano solo a lot and I have a trio that is very important to me. It’s a kind of garage band, too, with me on Fender Rhodes, Federico Scettri on drums and Joe Rhemer, an American bass player from Chicago who now lives in Italy. This band and the one with David Virelles are the only ones that are completely electric.
Have you been moving more toward that?
Yes, I am also doing this; I always loved that music. I liked 1970s rock, but also electronic music and dance music. But I never thought to play to that kind of music until a moment when I had a lot of time to experiment. For me, I play electronic music the same way that I play piano. I am playing, in a sense, like a child playing with his toys.
Where do your groups play?
With my trio, I play mostly in Europe because it’s ECM—more than in Italy. The same with the band Ida Lupino. With the other bands, it’s mostly in Italy ... . People speak a lot about this great moment of Italian jazz, but I think we are in a transition. There are new musicians, new promoters, new festivals, new agents coming up, but we still are not seeing all these new people very well. I think there is that kind of audience, but we have to find a way to approach them. DB
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