‘I’m trying to escape from what I’ve learnt’
For The Herald
Stefano Bollani talks to the Herald about influences, both Argentine and foreign
There is always a veiled link between a musician’s way of playing his instrument and the way he communicates with his voice — Italian jazz pianist Bollani is no exception. Like the symphonies he studied during his training as a pianist, once he finds a strong theme there is a certain recurrence throughout the conversation, one that allows him to further an answer even if the dialogue is three questions ahead.
Bollani’s discourse sometimes flows like a rapid-fire succession of notes in a classical music solo, other times it rests in a contemplative hearted answer, with a lively Allegro ma non troppo cadence. And yet, no tempo is fit enough to describe a pianist whose wish to reinterpret tradition leaves no place to define him through classical standards.
So perhaps the fairest description might be a possible deconstruction of the interests and influences that moulded him as a person and the way they slip through his creations. After all, everyone is but a sum of influences, whether you are a musician or a filmmaker with a peculiar fixation on voluptuous female bodies.
Belonging to a long tradition of classically trained jazz musicians, how do you combine the precision of classical music with jazz’s improvisation?
I’m not combining them at all because I’m never looking for perfection when I play or when I make music or think about music. That’s usually what a classical musician or a pop singer looks for, the perfection of a note, of a structure, the perfection of the idea behind the music. Usually I’m trying to escape from what I learned in the conservatory.
So your whole career is trying to escape from what you’ve learned before?
Thinking about that, usually I’m trying to escape from what I’ve learnt.
Your style is characterized by an open posture, your body usually marks each accent on a song. Do you think that the way you play the piano is consequent with your personality?
I was about to say that! Everybody plays the piano the way they usually are. When you look, for example, at some classical musicians like Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, he’s totally absent. He looks absent and maybe he was absent; it perfectly matches his personality.
Do you have any Argentine influences?
I love a lot of Argentine musicians. Within tango, it would be mainly Horacio Salgán’s arrangements, specifically his duets with Ubaldo de Lío, his guitar player; that’s something that really moved me. I still remember the first time I listened to them because I couldn’t understand what they were doing, and when I don’t understand something that usually marks the beginning of a long affair. Also, some of my favourite writers are Argentine. I’m a big Cortázar and Bioy Casares reader because I like how they play with structure.
Do you see Italy’s influence in Buenos Aires?
What I feel is that it’s not typically Italian but European, that’s what I like about BA, I feel that I’m not abroad. Oh! I forgot the most important Argentine influence on me, the most important contribution Argentina gave to the world, in my opinion: Quino! Since my childhood I was always amazed by his humour and his perspective, he’s very clever.
Who would you have loved to jam with, Louis Armonstrong or Thelonious Monk?
I would’ve loved to share the stage with Armstrong because he’s the kind of musician who’s totally open, like Chet Baker. When you look for someone to play with, you need to find someone who’s open. What happens with Monk is that I love his music, but I wouldn’t have liked to jam with him. Whenever I listen to him I think, Wow, I’m so lucky… to have never met this guy! (laughs). The same happens with Igor Stravinsky, I love his music but I wouldn’t go to dinner with him.
Is there any filmmaker you would rather have dinner with?
Oh yes! Specially Fellini, because he had a world of his own. That’s what makes me curious. It’s the same as what happens with musicians, I don’t like skilled musicians, I want to meet and play with artists. Fellini had this big world, which is Italian but also international — he’s not talking about what happened in Italy during the 50s but what goes on in a boy’s mind, like in Amarcord.
And there’s a special underlying tenderness in that movie…
Now that you say that, I reckon Fellini’s main thing was that he was always forgiving. He’s always forgiving his characters, he’s not judging. I think that —at the time — he was the only one not judging his characters, but loving them.
Do you think there could be an underlying relation between his cinema and your music?
I’m always forgiving the music I play. When you’re improvising you always have to forget what you did, because otherwise you get stuck thinking about something you did or you did not do. Who cares? Who knows that you’re doing something different to what you had in mind? You need to not judge yourself.
When and where
Tonight, 8.30pm. Coliseo theatre (Marcelo T. de Alvear 1125).Tickets from 80 pesos available at the venue and www.ticketek.com.ar.