1. My Favourite Songs: Les Grelots/Les Feuilles Mortes/Take the "A" Train
2. Trilogy in Blois/Caravan
5. Besame Mucho
6. Looking Up
Interview with Tony Petrucciani
Interview with Aldo Romano
The older I get, the more aware I become of the difficulties facing disabled people, even in today's supposedly enlightened society. Michel Petrucciani was a pianist who, like another great French instrumentalist - Django Reinhardt - overcame disability to establish himself as a star in the tough jazz world. One can tell just from hearing any of his recordings that Michel was a stunning performer but one's astonishment is intensified by seeing him on this DVD. A rare bone disease stunted his growth and one wonders how such a twisted body could produce such wonderful music.
The answer is given in parts of this disc where, in an interview, Michel's father, Tony Petrucciani, admits "I was very strict" and Michel says that he often practised all day and if he didn't satisfy his father "I got a real spanking". Yet Michel obviously felt that the pain brought gain - and, as drummer Aldo Romano says in the second "bonus" interview: "He knew his years were numbered". In fact, Michel died in 1999 when he was only 36.
The DVD starts with Lettre … Michel Petrucciani, a documentary by Frank Cassenti showing Petrucciani playing alone and with groups led by Charles Lloyd and Lee Konitz. This immediately brings home to the viewer what a formidable technique Michel had - although he used it not for show but to make gorgeously lyrical music or to play fast numbers which simultaneously amazed and amused. Much of his work is infused with impish humour.
This is even clearer in the following Concert Solo, given at Marciac in 1996 and also filmed by Frank Cassenti. Petrucciaini begins by playing three of his favourite songs: Les Grelots (composed by organist Eddy Louiss), followed by two jazz standards: Autumn Leaves (where Michel's left hand lays down a strong bass beneath some unusual right-hand chords) and Take the "A" Train, in which the pianist plays an unbelievably fast left-hand rhythm. It's a riotous train journey which speeds along unstoppably - except when Michel abruptly halves the tempo.
Petrucciani's own composition Trilogy in Blois, a piece of romantic rhapsodising, suddenly turns into Caravan, much of which he plays with just his right hand, including some runs that would make Art Tatum jealous. The frantic tempo eases for a meditative Estate which is immediately followed by an up-tempo tune called Manhattan - not the well-known Rodgers & Hart number but a Petrucciani original. Besame Mucho is performed with limping syncopation, leading into Michel's own tune Looking Up, which provides a suitably optimistic climax to the concert.
The DVD closes with the two interviews, in which Aldo Romano makes the interesting observation that Petrucciani was more influenced by Oscar Peterson and Erroll Garner than by the oft-mentioned Bill Evans.
Anyone interested in jazz piano - or in jazz - should get this DVD,
as it provides compelling evidence that Michel Petrucciani was one
of the great pianists of the 20th century, with astounding stamina
and dexterity. He is sorely missed.