August 10, 2020

Michel Petrucciani, a powerful talent with crystal bones | Culture

One of the most beautiful themes of Michel Petrucciani, Looking Up, he refers to the way his illness forced him to face life, throwing his head up and looking up. Barely one meter tall, tormented and disfigured by imperfect osteogenesis, and helping with his little crutches, in the video of the song Petrucciani is seen as a goblin walking through New York, the city he loved so much, surrounded by skyscrapers, joking with his friends, playing a Steinway on a terrace in front of the Empire State Building. The place was well chosen because, in spite of its physical ailments and limitations, in 1989 it was not only in the jazz summit but he had become one of the fundamental teachers of the instrument.

It was also in New York where Petrucciani died of a lung infection a winter 20 years ago. He had just turned 36, three marriages behind him, a son, almost twenty studio albums, more than a dozen live and countless collaborations with some of the greatest contemporary musicians. The anniversary has not gone unnoticed in France, his native country, where concerts, recitals and tributes do not stop happening. It is not the only country where this little giant of the piano is remembered: the Italians Francesco Termini and Matteo Sacher prepare a documentary together with the musician's family, Hidden Joy, which will be released this year and will have to be measured with the fabulous movie Michel Petrucciani, by Michael Radford.

In Spain, the pianist and composer Francis García will perform in April at Sala Clamores in Madrid, his tribute interpreting some pieces by Petrucciani. García will never forget a solo recital at the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid: "I was linking the themes one after the other without caring whether they were his or another's, without fear of appropriating them and transforming them. It was an incredible experience because it turned everything into his touch. It seems incredible how, being so fragile, it gave the impression that he was going to break the piano ".

More than once the opposite happened and it was the little pianist who broke a bone or a tendon in one of the encores. Known as "crystal bones", the degenerative disease that he suffered from his birth did not stop torturing him, between injuries and continuous pain, but with the irrepressible energy of his character, he took advantage to take advantage of his misfortune. Because he could not play sports or play like other children, he concentrated on rehearsals, achieving an amazing virtuosity. He fell in love with the instrument when he was four years old, when he saw Duke Ellington on television and gave so much to the tabarra that his parents gave him a toy piano. But little Michel, seeing that they had not understood him, did not stop until he smashed him with a hammer.

Before the keyboard, the distances in front of the others were blurred and soon his father and brother, guitarist and bass player, could not keep up with him. At the Cliousclat festival, near the family house in Montélimar, trumpeter Clark Terry claimed a piano player and could not believe it when that disabled lad who needed a wooden contraption to reach the pedals began to play. He made the real leap in 1982, traveling to California and meeting Charles Lloyd. The saxophonist had been retired for years and when he heard his powerful pulsation, he decided to return to music. Another of the pianists who had escorted him was Keith Jarrett.

From there, the successes happen and not only in the musical field. With its charm and good humor, Petrucciani had an amazing facility for making friends and conquering women. He got out of the taxi and, before the stairs of the study, he asked a girl to raise him in his arms. When he arrived at the dressing room, he said to the other musicians: "I present to you my girlfriend". I played Kiss Me a lot or Letter Love, his impressive ballad, with crystalline slowness, as if he never wanted to end, while some of his courtships and marriages were as fast as his scales, perhaps because he sensed that he would not live much longer. The Canadian Marie Laure Roperch insisted on having a son of his, Alexandre, who inherited his short stature and his illness, but not his talent. Those lucky enough to see it live say that when jumping on the sidewalk to reach a high point, it looked like a child perched on a toy piano, but it was enough to close his eyes and then the music flooded everything.


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