· By Cristian Martinez Vega

In Conversation: Enrico Pieranunzi On Voyage In Time

Pianist, composer, arranger, Enrico Pieranunzi was born in Rome in 1949 and for many years has been among the most significant and well-known protagonists of the international jazz scene. He has recorded more than 70 CDs under his own name ranging from solo piano to trio, duo to quintet and collaborating, in concert or in the recording studio, with Chet Baker, Lee Konitz, Paul Motian, Charlie Haden, Chris Potter, Marc Johnson, and Joey Baron. ArkivJazz is honored to share this interview with Pieranunzi on his album Voyage in Time.

While Arkiv is very proud of its large and passionate community of classical music enthusiasts, we also have a thriving base of supportive jazz fans. Yet, it seems that Enrico Pieranunzi's work bridges the boundaries between the classical music and jazz traditions. In Voyage in Time, Enrico take us on a journey through classical music from the Baroque period all the way to composers such as Gabriel Fauré.

ArkivJazz: Especially in the months following your previous album, "Something Tomorrow", why is it important for you, and perhaps Jasper Somsen as well, to reflect on your shared love of classical music at this point in your life and career?

Enrico Pieranunzi: Well, the thoughts about how much, and clearly classical music and jazz are intertwined, are always there for both of us. We are European musicians and this means a lot of great  musical tradition behind us. We live with an innate love for this tradition that has nourished our souls from the start of our musical activity. It’s an immense heritage, an undercurrent that has always accompanied our lives, I’d say. And still does.

AJ: Given that you've worked with so many great artists during your career, what drew you to Jasper Somsen for this specific project? Is this the first time you've worked together?

EP: I have known and appreciated Jasper as a musician for many years. We have done many concerts together and recorded for Challenge a nice trio CD - titled "Common view" -with him and drummer Jorge Rossy.

When Jasper told me about these new pieces he composed halfway between "baroque" and modern jazz language I was intrigued....he sent them to me, I played them on the piano, I liked them very much. And "Voyage in time" was born.

Voyage In Time:

AJ: Do you have any favorite moments from this album? And when you think about the making of this recording, is there a specific sound or recollection that comes to mind?

EP: All the pieces written by Jasper for Voyage in Time have something original, hard to choose. In the studio we worked in tandem trying to find the best way to give the pieces the right shape and bring out the narrative power of each one to the fullest. It was a beautiful research work, the musical materials we had in our hands deserved it.... So rather than a single moment I have of the recording session with Jasper the memory of a kind of very intense "cloud of sound" or, better…of a “voyage in time!”

AJ: Could you describe your approach for arranging classical works for piano and bass, as well as how jazz influences were incorporated?

EP: Since I have a strong classical background and also I am able to improvise I bring both of these approaches to arranging. So it happens that a new arrangement idea is invented by improvising, and then it is transferred to paper. In other words, arranging arises from a continuous transition between improvisational and more properly compositional activity. The jazz influence I believe lies mainly in the extreme freedom of mind with which I approach musical problems to solve.

AJ: Once again, Voyage in Time is a clear perspective on classical music. But this isn't new to you; It seems to be a constant in your life and work. So, has it ever been a challenge to perhaps be seen as a former classical musician now playing jazz, or has it never been a problem for you to combine your classical training with jazz?

EP: I never "switched" from classical to jazz, simply because I basically started the two musics on the same days, when I was about five and a half years old. Then I always carried them both forward in parallel. Around the age of twenty I actually lived this coexistence with some discomfort, then, with time I developed the many positive sides of it. Since about fifteen years, finally, even my classical side, which previously lived somewhat hidden in the shadow of my jazz side, I manifested it outwardly without any problems. This was an important transition for me.

AJ: What changes have you seen in jazz throughout your career, and what do you want to see in this music going forward?

EP: Compared to the time when I started playing jazz in public, the 1970s, jazz has changed completely. Or rather, what has changed radically is European jazz. At the time of my beginnings, the repertoire that was played was and had to be 90 percent American standards or pieces composed by American musicians. Now we are the opposite: 90 percent original tunes and only 10 or...0 percent American tunes. European jazz seems to have freed itself from dependence on the "great mother" or "great father" in the U.S. as you prefer. The pivotal moment when everything began to move in this direction was perhaps 1991, the year of Miles Davis' passing.

This newfound freedom will probably allow for the creation of works of increasing originality. Voyage in Time is in my opinion an excellent beginning of this desirable future.

 enrico pieranunzi & jasper somsen - Voyage in Time

AJ: Your music must really inspire many jazz musicians today, perhaps most notably in Italy, but certainly all over the world. Although recorded in the Netherlands, I find it chilling that this album was made only a few months before COVID-19 hit Italy and changed so many people's lives. How has the pandemic affected your career and the jazz scene in Italy? What would you say to those who enjoyed your music during the lockdowns?

EP: The pandemic has left a deep mark on everyone, and as far as artistic activities are concerned, it has been a disaster, practical and mental, everywhere. The fact that many listeners both before, during, and after this period showed interest in my music is a huge gift to me. In particular, regarding the pandemic period, the fact that even for a few minutes my sounds managed to make a day less sad for someone makes me happy. The sharing through the ether of emotions present in your songs with the emotions of the listener is something whose beauty cannot be described in words....

AJ: Thank you for all of your hard work and your impressive discography. What's next for you professionally? What can we expect from you in the coming years?

EP: I thank you very much. It's planned in the coming months to release more of my record work, both physical and digital. And, more generally I hope to be able to write in the future more and more sincere, better constructed music, of ever more deep and more intense inspiration.

AJ: Do you have any recommendations for aspiring jazz players and/or classical musicians who wish to pursue a career in jazz?

EP: I would say the most important thing is to be demanding and completely honest with yourself, whatever stylistic direction you want to take. And to treat music for what it is: an art that is yes knowable and explorable but always capable of maintaining its mystery.