Stefano Bollani: “I want to be surprised”

imageStefano Bollani is like the Spanish Inquisition. Not the actual Spanish Inquisition, but the one immortalized by Monty Python, at their legendary shows, with the phrase “Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition”. And though Bollani is Italian, nobody expects what will come out of his piano, each time he sits at it – it might be a sea of calmness or an electric tempest, but it will be unique. And he sure likes it that way: “My goal is to go on stage not having decided anything”, he says. “I want to make each concert be different and fresh”. He has an ally in that. Brazilian bandolim (a 10-string mandolin) player Hamilton de Hollanda, with whom he will perform at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival.  A few days before coming to Australia, he picked up the phone and answered to some questions.

AustralianJazz.Net: How would you describe the dynamics of your duet with Hamilton de Hollanda?

Stefano Bollani: It’s no different than working with Enrico Rava or Chick Corea. We may come from different backgrounds, but we share the same empathy towards music. Music tends to let people get together and discuss problems and ideas. You don’t need to speak the same language, you don’t need to talk any language, or even talk at all. You just play and react emotionally to something that each party proposes. We’re having a lot of fun. We begun by playing some Italian and Latin-American songs, some standards and now we play our own songs. But we mostly improvise.

AJN: What is improvisation to you?

SB: I improvise all the time. Not only when I play music, but in my life; when I’m living, I’m improvising. I don’t want to be bored. I want to be surprised. My goal is to go onstage not having decided anything. This way  I can go out and play a chord that I wasn’t expecting. And if I don’t like it, I drop it. It’s all about being open and being in the moment.

AJN: Is this your advice to all improvisers? To proceed without having decided anything?

SB: I wouldn’t give any advice. My general rule is that I don’t like general rules. I try not to think too much. I discovered that this has made me much more open. If I took decisions, I would probably close a lot of doors.

AJN: I think that this kind of openness is what distinguishes European from American jazz. In the US, I think they have this notion of jazz that they have to serve and they teach it in their music schools.

SB: I really don’t like the idea of academia. I don’t want my music to be academic and I’m not interested in the idea of jazz soldiers. There are a lot of musicians out there ruined by the schools. Music is alive. As a student in a conservatory I was never really happy. I want to be onstage, doing something, playing music in front of the audience, singing.

AJN: When did you discover that about yourself?

SF: It has always been this way. Ever since I can remember. I was 5 or 6 years old and I wanted to be a singer, an actor. Nobody in my family was artistic but they understood that piano was a passion for me, it made me happy.

AJN: What inspires you?

SF: All sorts of different things – books, movies, other people’s music. I’m very interested in the concept of structure, this is why I love the literature of Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino. I love his play with reality. I find it very interesting the way he writes about parallel realities and the different meanings of the same word. It’ s the same with music. A chord can mean so many different things.

AJN: What was the idea behind your latest album “Joy in spite of everything”?

SF: This is inspired by literature as well. It’s a phrase by Tom Robbins, who is my favourite writer in the world. I’m looking for joy ever since I was born and what I’m trying to say is that there are all these thoughts that invade our minds, ideas and conventions that are not our own. If we set ourselves free from all these forms we may find joy.