May 18, 2024

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Michel Petrucciani – Small man, big talent: Videos

28.12. – Happy Birthday !!! Small man, big talentI had not heard of Michel Petrucciani before I started making a film about him; nor had I made a documentary for 25 years. But every documentary is a journey of discovery, and I finished it with a sense of wonder.

Petrucciani was born in Orange, in the south of France, in 1962, with every bone in his body broken. Diagnosed with osteogenesis imperfecta – or “glass bone disease” – he only ever grew to 99cm. He could not walk and was not expected to live beyond the age of 20. His bones fractured constantly. But he was blessed with two things: he had immense charisma, and he was a musical prodigy.

He never went to school. He stayed in his room for his whole childhood, and played jazz piano for 10 hours a day, under the guidance of his tyrannical father, a local musician and jazz fanatic. By the age of 13 he sounded, according to one critic, “like a 38-year-old world-weary black man lost in a piano bar somewhere in Mexico”.

Petrucciani became famous locally, and started to make records, but he dreamed of America. So on his 18th birthday he upped and left with a friend, whom he persuaded to carry him. He ended up in California where by chance he met jazz saxophonist Charles Lloyd.

The meeting was to change his life. Stunned by his talent, Lloyd came out of retirement and they toured together for the next four years: and Michel, aged 20, married his first wife.

Petrucciani was immensely attractive to women. And he knew it. It wasn’t good enough for him to find a woman he liked (and who could carry him), he had to betray them (hundreds of times if possible). Drugs, women, food: his appetites were enormous, his desire to experience everything insatiable. He lived fast, too fast: but he wanted to taste it all.

It was when he went to New York that he really found himself. In the 80s it was a jazz mecca, and all the greats were playing there. And Petrucciani was playing with them. He signed to Blue Note Records (the first European to do so) and made albums with, among others, Wayne Shorter, Roy Haynes, Jim Hall, John Abercrombie, Jack DeJohnette. And still his body broke. Even while he was playing, tendons snapped, shoulder blades fractured, fingers shattered. He just continued, seemingly oblivious to the pain.

In late 1989 he met the woman who was to become the mother of his child, Alexandre, who was born with the same condition as him. Petrucciani was devastated; but at the same time, it was an affirmation, the acceptance that he craved. “I don’t regret being born,” he said. With his new family he returned to France, and it was there that he became a real star. His compositions became more elegant, his style of playing more simple and profound. The series of records he made at that time are some of the finest in the history of jazz.

He could not keep away from New York, however, and he couldn’t keep away from the fast lane. By now he was playing more than 200 shows a year, to audiences of thousands, and his body was deteriorating fast, ravaged by the disease that was slowly asphyxiating him. In January 1999 he was rushed to hospital in New York City. He was 36 years old. “Two years older than Charlie Parker,” as he liked to point out. He didn’t recover. He is buried in Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, next to the tomb of Chopin.

Was he one of the greats of jazz? I think so. What he communicated was the essence of humanity itself, with all its frailties and contradictions and imperfections. If that’s not great art, what is?

Michel Petrucciani, a French jazz pianist and composer with an international following whose keyboard virtuosity earned him comparisons to Art Tatum and Bill Evans, died yesterday at Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan. He was 36 and lived in Manhattan.

The cause was a pulmonary infection, said a representative of his French record company, Francis Dreyfus Music.

Mr. Petrucciani was a national hero in France, and his records were best sellers in Europe. The French President, Jacques Chirac, was among the many who paid tribute to him yesterday, praising his ability to ”renew jazz, giving himself up to his art with passion, courage and musical genius.” He called him an ”example for everyone.”

The career of Mr. Petrucciani, who was considered one of the great romantics of the jazz piano, flourished in spite of a severe physical disability. The pianist was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as ”glass bones,” a disease that stunted his growth (he was only three feet tall and weighed barely 50 pounds) and weakened his bones. Mr. Petrucciani had to be carried onto the stage, and he used a special attachment to work the sustaining pedal of the piano.

The ailment didn’t affect his hands, however, and he played with a seemingly inexhaustible vigor and enthusiasm.

Mr. Petrucciani was born to Italian parents in Montpellier, France. His family was musical, and as a child he played the drums in a band with his father, Tony, a guitarist, and his brother Louis, a bassist. After studying classical music for eight years, he turned to jazz full time because he loved to improvise and wanted to write his own music.

He began his professional career when he was 15, playing for the drummer and vibraphonist Kenny Clarke.

Moving to Paris, he recorded his first album at 17, and he was appearing regularly at European jazz festivals while still a teen-ager. After a visit to New York he toured France in a duo with the saxophonist Lee Konitz, with whom he recorded an album of duets.

While in California in 1981, Mr. Petrucciani was discovered by the saxophonist Charles Lloyd, who made him a member of his quartet. They toured Europe and recorded an album, ”Montreux ’82.” One of his most acclaimed early recordings, ”100 Hearts” (Concord), was an album of solos.

Between 1986 and 1994, he made seven albums for Blue Note Records, including ”Power of Three” (with Wayne Shorter and Jim Hall), and an acclaimed album of original songs, ”Michel Plays Petrucciani” (Blue Note).

In 1994 he was made a knight of the Legion of Honor in Paris.

For all the comparisons to Bill Evans, Mr. Petrucciani had found his own style, which was more aggressive, fuller and sunnier than that of his idol and incorporated secondary influences as disparate as McCoy Tyner and Debussy.

A marriage to Gilda Butta, a pianist, ended in divorce.

He is survived by his companion, Isabelle, his publicist said, and by a son, Alexandre, and a stepson, Rachid Roperch, both of Paris, from a previous relationship.

At the time of his death, he was hoping to set up an international jazz school in France.

”It’s my life’s work,” he said. ”Jazz is dying out.”

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