is always like taking a picture,” says pianist Stefano Bollani. When discussing
plans for Piano Solo with ECM producer Manfred Eicher, the two plotted an album
influenced by classical Russian composer Sergey Prokofiev.
But after a few initial sound checks, a more diverse song list seemed fitting.
It helps when you have someone with different ears than yours try to take
the best of your playing and build a record, Bollani notes.
Bollani has a uniquely Italian approach as his love for the melody mixes with
spirited humor. At a certain point of the record its stating something
different, not only because of repertoire, but also the way Im playing,
he expresses. In a way, the album is constructed in an A-side B-side fashion.
Side A is mainly originals and Prokofiev compositions and Side
B (starting somewhere around track nine) features Louis Alters Do
You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans, Scott Joplins Maple
Leaf Rag, and concludes with the Beach Boys Dont Talk.
Quite an array of genres, indeed. But a fluid listen for sure, as Bollanis
dexterity and consistency allow for a genre-agnostic presentation of a wide range
Even when I improvise, I love to build cages for myself so the musician
Bollani has to try to escape Bollani, the composer, he says. Prior to the
solo effort, Bollani was featured on piano across trumpeter Enrico Ravas
albums including Easy Living (2004) and Tati (2005). Strikingly, Bollani felt
liberated in those quintet and trio settings, respectively. In a way, when
I play with Enrico Rava, I feel much more free. There is another leader and I
do not have to worry about the list of music. As a soloist, Bollani takes
on the roles of both band leader and band.
In comparison to his group efforts, Bollanis touch on Piano Solo is far
more gracefully spry than in the combo setting. The piano I was playing
was so good, I could play very very soft, he emphasizes. I love to
do that. Playing softer means playing faster. What I like is the sound of something
very fast and very soft. It means clarity, lightness. At age eleven, Bollani
recalls his instant enchantment with Oscar Petersons fast piano playing.
Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra, and guitarist João Gilberto are a few of Bollanis
non-piano influences. After playing along with horn players, Bollani admits he
often phrases like a vocalist or horn player. While he gravitated to other quick-playing
pianists such as Art Tatum, he felt players like Bill Evans were too easy.
Even though Bollani is enthralled with fast playing, he is careful not to play
demonstrative music where one does all he can to fit in riffs, runs, and arpeggios
merely to demonstrate his technical strengths. What I like most is what
I play when Im alone, he remarks. Im not what you would
call a nervous musician, and I have no problem with time signatures or structures.
But, I often like what I play at sound checks the most. At sound checks,
Bollani can find a happy place between the practice room and concert hall.
While nearly every other member of the band transports his instruments from gig
to gig, the pianist must accompany himself with a new instrument for each engagement.
When I encounter a new piano, its like beginning a new love affair,
he says. I should record sound checks. On Piano Solo, to an extent
he has. The album was recorded in Lugano, Switzerland. He played to an empty house
of three hundred seats to get the feeling of a sound check. Since it was a solo
recording, there were no headphones to interfere either - just Bollani and piano,
In Italy, there are two different words that mean to play: giocare, as in, to
play golf, and suonare, as in, to play music. Bollani attributes this distinction
to the seriousness placed on playing music versus sports or games. But he prefers
how French and English have a single term for playing. I always try to have
fun - to be happy about the thing that I am doing is the most important,
he says. Piano Solo is a fun, yet rich presentation of piano wit, one sure to
stand the test of time.