Friday, March 6, 2009

Michel Petrucciani (1962-1999)

I usually try to stick to just blogging music I'm pretty familiar with on Music Fridays. I admit that this week is an exception — I don't have any of Michel Petrucciani's albums, and I've mainly just listened to a few performances on YouTube. I have visited his grave in Paris, reverently located right next to that of another pianist — Chopin.

The New Republic's music critic David Hadju writes this idiosyncratic, vivid essay on Petrucciani, who died just over 10 years ago (January 1999) of a pulmonary infection resulting from osteogenesis imperfecta. That's a genetic condition that kept him around 3 feet tall and 50 pounds as an adult. He died in his 30s, which is another thing he has in common with Chopin.

From the article:

"He was in pain all the time," recalled his father, Tony Petrucciani, a part-time guitarist in the Grant Green mold. "He cried. I bought him a toy piano." The keyboard looked like a mouth to Michel, and he thought it was laughing at him, so he smashed it with a toy hammer, and his father got him an old full-size upright abandoned by British soldiers at a military base. From the age of four, Michel spent virtually all his free time, which was abundant, at the piano.

Petrucciani was twelve years old and looked like a toddler when his father started carrying him into jam sessions around the south of France. . . .
I love this clip of him playing "Take the 'A' Train" with bassist Anthony Jackson and the acclaimed drummer Steve Gadd:

More from the article:
The first time I saw Michel Petrucciani, a friend of his was carrying him into Bradley's, the tiny piano-jazz club in Greenwich Village where I spent most of my nights and salary in the 1980s. . . . The bar crowd cleared a path from the door to the piano, and Petrucciani screamed, "Get out of my way, motherfuckers!" . . .

"I've never been around anyone who loved to live like Petrucciani—and live life to the fullest," says Mary-Ann Topper, his manager during his breakthrough years in New York. "He said to me, 'Mary-Ann, I want to have at least five women at once, I want to make a million dollars in one night'—things that were probably impossible.

But had Michel ever thought that anything was impossible, he would have never done anything he did." As Petrucciani himself said, "I'm a brat. My philosophy is to have a really good time and never let anything stop me from doing what I want to do. It's like driving a car, waiting for an accident. That's no way to drive a car. If you have an accident, you have an accident—c'est la vie."
Here he is playing "Caravan" alone:

And here's "My Funny Valentine," with the great Jim Hall (the video is in 2 parts):

(Photo from Wikimedia Commons.)

UPDATE: More comments over here. One person says:
Wow. I love his take on "My Funny Valentine." So sublime.

His story makes a person appreciate life, in all of its imperfect forms.

And it makes you want to be a little easier on yourself, you know?


Wince said...

Thanks for the intro, never came across him before.

paul a'barge said...

good grief, that guy is the nuts. the absolute nuts.

I can hardly breathe!

Kev said...

Great videos! Thanks for posting them. (More comments over at your mom's site.)

Gabriel said...

I was looking for a picture when I discovered the Michel's grave among them. Thank you for posting such a good material. I will never forget the time when Michel visited Mexico City and everybody was trying to clap hands in the middle of the concert. He found a way to stop them and I knew that wasn't the first time because I saw him doing the same in one of his videos that I treasure. The good thing of the little great man is that I hear his music almost every single day and for me he still very much alive. Thank you again!!