Joey Calderazzo Bounces Back


Pianist Joey Calderazzo, who has a new leader album, frequently has collaborated with saxophonist Branford Marsalis.

(Photo: Chris Charles)

For his new album, Joey Calderazzo aimed to capture the spontaneity of a concert in a renowned club. “I love studio trio records, the ones I grew up listening to, but I’d rather do it live,” the pianist said, referring to Live From The Cotton Club, Tokyo, Volume I (Dot Time). “I wanted to put out a project that documents where I’m at as a player today. It was my idea to call it Volume I, because I plan on doing it again.”

The program contains six tracks culled from four nights of performances with bassist Orlando Le Fleming and drummer Donald Edwards in February 2017.

“I just called the tunes and whatever happened, happened,” Calderazzo explained by phone from his home in North Carolina, where he was taking time off before returning to the road with the Branford Marsalis Quartet. Two of the compositions from the Tokyo set—“Cianna” and the ballad “Free”—are slated to be included on a forthcoming album by Marsalis’ group, although the latter will be given a different title.

“Both [arrangements] are much different with the quartet,” Calderazzo said. “The ballad is looser and freer in the trio, but the song is better in the quartet setting. Branford played great on it.”

Calderazzo’s leader debut, 1991’s In The Door (Blue Note), counts contributions from Michael Brecker (1949–2007), Marsalis and saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi. And in 1998, following the passing of pianist Kenny Kirkland, Calderazzo became a member of Marsalis’ quartet.

“I still feel a lot like a student,” Calderazzo said. “I still want to grow. That’s why I play standards on some of my gigs, because I think playing the standard repertoire is a pretty good barometer of where [one is] as a jazz musician.”

Yet, after a recent bout with cubital tunnel syndrome, Calderazzo is lucky to be playing. It was during a 2017 tour in South Africa with Marsalis that he noticed something was wrong.

“It felt like I slept on my arm funny,” he said. “My pinky and ring finger on my right hand were numb, and I thought, ‘That’s so weird.’ We tried recording Branford’s record and it was even worse. I played a whole record basically with three fingers.” Hand surgery and rest were the suggested treatments.

“They cut my elbow, they cut my nerve, they had to rebuild the tunnel to the nerves,” he said. “It was scary. I was out for a while. ... The good news is, I have no nerve damage and I’m playing.”

In between working on Marsalis’ album in June and hitting the road with the saxophonist in the fall, Calderazzo did something he hadn’t done in years: He took some time off. “I had my son 75 out of 90 days this summer and had one of the best summers I’ve ever had,” he said about his 5-year-old. “He learned how to swim, we went to the beach and I took him on a helicopter ride.”

Now fully healed, Calderazzo is back at the piano, sketching plans for future recordings.

“I sit at the piano and I want to write,” he said. “My life is interesting. I’m not 30 years old living in New York City, running around playing in the clubs. I have another story to tell.” DB

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January 2024
Samara Joy
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