The Rossano Sportiello Trio: Lucky to Be Me Arbors Piano Series, Volume 22 Notes by Michael Steinman I was lucky enough to hear Rossano Sportiello’s music for the first time in 2004 when Dan Barrett played me Rossano’s first solo compact disc. I listened, astonished: this young pianist was a great improviser. His ballads were tender; his swing irresistible. A few weeks later, I met Rossano in person: youthful, slender, gracious, enthusiastic, and I was part of a group that embarked on a legendary jazz night. Rossano played magnificently: with Dan and Becky Kilgore in a New Jersey club; then at a jam session (where he not only strode the keys off the piano but played fine rough-hewn New Orleans trombone in the ensembles); around 2 AM, he became 1938 Teddy Wilson while Becky delicately sang These Foolish Things. I saw for myself that there was nothing young Maestro Sportiello couldn’t do superbly, and hearing him play in a variety of contexts for the last six years has only solidified this feeling. Although he likes to play both Willie “the Lion” Smith and Barry Harris, Rossano is no synthetic jazz chameleon. Some musicians have aimed at surface mastery
of as many styles as possible, but they can offer only a collection of unconvincing mannerisms. Rossano’s understanding of jazz from ragtime into the present is deep, intuitive, and internal, and what comes out is his own timeless Mainstream piano. His playing is simultaneously a loving homage to the great players but also a personal expression of what he feels about that particular chord sequence, that melody line, right now. And if you haven’t been lucky enough to hear Rossano live, he is one of those rare improvisers, wholly comfortable in the recording studio: his recorded music accurately reflects what he does in performance. And he has good taste in musicians. None of the three players on this disc needs to be introduced: but if they are known by the company they keep: the long list of their associates would include Ruby Braff, Count Basie, Buck Clayton, Scott Hamilton, and many more. Here’s what Rossano had to say about this session: On this recording I just played tunes I love: somehow it worked out this way! When I met Frank Tate in 2003 for my first appearance at the March Of Jazz we became friends from the very first moment. Frank is one of those bass players that knows every song , so you can just start playing whatever you feel and he’ll be there playing the
right notes! Mat Domber heard Frank and I playing late one night during that March of Jazz weekend with nobody in the room, just for the pleasure of making music. Mat remembered that night and this session is the result. When we decided to make this recording, I thought that adding a drummer would be even more fun!
So I remembered when in 2004 Hank Jones came to Milan, at the Blue Note, I was literally shocked by that trio playing the most beautiful music, great tunes played magnificently. Listening to the drummer, I thought he was the drummer every pianist would like to play with. His name was Dennis Mackrel -- more than a drummer but an angel playing music! Having Dennis on drums also probably influenced my playing in the way that I was thinking a lot about Hank Jones and often, during the recording, was trying to recreate the sound of the trio I heard in Milan in 2002, in my own way. Then it happened that shortly after the recording session Hank passed away. I have been dreaming for years of getting the chance to spend some time with Hank Jones at the piano but it never happened. It is one of those things I’ll regret for the rest of my life. Also, unfortunately, a few weeks before we made the recording session John Bunch passed away. I knew John very well and of course I loved his playing. John and Hank both had the most beautiful touch on the piano and every time I listen to their records I really get inspired to the point I can feel the keyboard under my finger even if the piano is physically not there! For these reasons I dedicate this CD to Hank and John.
This session – a neat dozen tunes, reminiscent of the long-playing records some of us grew up with – is decisive in its swinging clarity. Thus it amuses me that the first title is a shoulder-shrugging gem, I Don’t Know, composed and recorded by Cootie Williams in 1944, the session being the debut recordings of a very young Bud Powell. It wouldn’t take a novelist to envision the scene in the Hit recording studio after a successful take had been recorded: “Cootie, what do you call that tune?” “I don’t know!” This trio is perfectly in unison on this ambling riff-based original, although the three distinct personalities shine through – egalitarian jazz. Rossano’s playing mixes dancing single-note lines that suggest both Count Basie and Nat Cole with his own contemporary rhythmic and harmonic feel. In his accompaniment and solo, Frank Tate reminds us of what the acoustic jazz string bass should sound like – and his melodic approach harks back to his apprenticeship with Bobby Hackett, master of embellishment and improvisations. Dennis’s conversational brush work is mobile rather than mechanical, suggesting those masters of this nearly lost art: Dave Tough, Sidney Catlett, Denzil Best and onwards. No pyrotechnics here, just casual brilliance. Lady Luck, by two late-period Basieties, Thad Jones and Frank Wess, continues this strolling feel: it’s delicate and fervent at once. Rossano is the most generous of leaders, so this session offers both Frank and Dennis ample space to display their singular approaches and sounds. And Dennis’s
remarkable cymbal sound begins this musing performance of J. J. Johnson’s Lament. It’s mournful music that never forgets its pulse. Pulse is at the heart of Rossano’s own Bluesy Basie – both heartfelt tribute and uncliched evocation of The Chief, the Holy Main. Imitation, as this trio knows, is a dead-end, but they sound refreshingly like the late Pablo sessions that Basie recorded with Ray Brown and Louis Bellson. And behind Frank’s solo, Dennis shows just how much music a wise drummer can get out of his stick and the stem of the hi-hat cymbal. After Rossano’s chorus (where he creates single-note lines that could happily be arranged for brass and reeds) Dennis has his say: propulsive but never clamorous. (Dennis is a late-period Basie alumnus himself: he learned that authentic rhythmic feel directly from the source.) Those dancing drums bring on the trio’s version of Bill Evans’ Show-type Tune (one of those compositions Evans said came to him all at once). Rossano doesn’t put on a different hat to play Kansas City blues or more “modern” compositions; rather, he brings his own definite musical personality to the material. I delight in Frank’s robust but never intrusive sound, his climbing lines. Leonard Bernstein’s simple yet arching line from On the Town (reminiscent of Kern) Lucky to Be Me, is one of the session’s gorgeous highlights. Hear how Rossano states a musical phrase and then delicately answers it – as if he were play-
ing both halves of the most subtle duet. Frank and Dennis provide the most comfortable, intuitive interplay, while Rossano shows his true mastery: how to play a simple melody at a slow medium tempo and make every note sing. His brief coda is worthy of the greatest players. I think of Lester Young asking Sonny Stitt, “Can you sing me a song?” Rossano has often performed the sweet When I Grow Too Old to Dream as a stride extravaganza in the manner of the much-missed Ralph Sutton. Here, stride fireworks give way to an irresistible medium-tempo bluesy bounce that suggests Ray Bryant in a happy groove or Sonny Rollins, way out West. Something tells me that Rossano knows how to stay on his own trusty steed over the Plains. Some listeners might think “Oh, Rhythm changes again!” when they hear the first bars of Beat’s Up by one of Rossano’s heroes, Tommy Flanagan. But those harmonic changes still inspire improvisers, eighty years later: and his stride (Rossano admires Sutton and Dick Hyman, elders of the tribe who beamed when they heard him play) is natural, swinging, not transcribed from someone else’s performance. And, yes, you did hear sliding phrases reminiscent of Parisian Thoroughfare as this trio swung itself into good health. Porter’s Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye – because of its sad title and even sadder
lyrics – often gets played as a dirge, but Rossano seems to be thinking of the way Teddy Wilson and Billie Holiday would take a grieving song just a little faster (as on These Foolish Things and Trav’lin’ All Alone) which, paradoxically, intensified rather than diluted its emotional impact. Frank creates his own touching embellishments on the powerful line before Rossano, chiming, respectfully delineates Porter’s melody. Should I? goes back to a 1930 musical film no one seems to recall, Lord Byron of Broadway. (The best thing about the film is the appearance of Cliff Edwards, but “Joe,” Cliff’s character dies.) A swing-friendly melody, this Arthur Freed - Nacio Herb Brown melody encourages this trio into tumbling flourishes. I hear Hank Jones and John Bunch in this version of Just as Though You Were Here, a pretty early-Forties line (with surprising harmonic twists), but Rossano, Frank, and Dennis will I hope forgive me if I think also of the wonderful work of Teddy Wilson, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones: Frank’s final bridge has all the sweet seriousness of a great horn player. Rossano’s classical training at the Conservatory in Milan shows throughout this session – his wonderful dynamics, his lovely touch. But his solo reading of this brief episode from The Well Tempered Clavier could pass for a serious etude
of his own: pensive and melancholy, the up-and-down of Baroque mathematics smoothed out and made a quiet tribute not only to Bach but to the great transformative power of jazz improvisation. Going back to the title of this disc, I will say only that we are so lucky that Rossano Sportiello is himself, his own man, a quietly joyous mature artist who has decades of music to give us in his and our futures. – Michael Steinman, August 2010 (Michael Steinman celebrates music on his widely-read, influential blog, JAZZ LIVES (http://www.jazzlives.wordpress.com). He’s also written liner notes for many Arbors releases and his work regularly appears in Cadence and All about Jazz.)
OTHER ARBORS RECORDS BY ROSSANO SPORTIELLO Rossano Sportiello: Heart and Soul, Arbors Piano Series, Volume 14 ARCD 19321 Rossano Sportiello and Nicki Parrott: People Will Say We’re in Love ARCD 19335 Nicki Parrott and Rossano Sportiello: Do It Again ARCD 19387 Scott Hamilton and Rossano Sportiello: Midnight at the Nola Penthouse ARCD 19413 WRITE ARBORS RECORDS FOR A COMPLETE CATALOG Arbors Records, Inc., 2189 Cleveland Street, Suite 225, Clearwater, FL 33765 Phone: (727) 466-0571 Fax: (727) 466-0432 Toll free: (800) 299-1930 E-mail: [email protected]
Internet address: http://www.arborsrecords.com
THE CREDITS Produced by: Executive Producers: Recorded: Recorded, Mixed and Mastered by: Cover Photo: Cover Design:
Rossano Sportiello Rachel and Mat Domber for Arbors Records, Inc. April 20 and 21, 2010 at Nola Studios, NYC Jim Czak and Bill Moss Alan Nahigian Luke Melton
NEW FROM ARBORS RECORDS Johnny Mandel: The Man and His Music ARCD 19419 Howard Alden: I Remember Django ARCD 19401 Janet Carroll: Lady Be Good ARCD 19420 Allan Vaché: Look to the Sky ARCD 19396 The International Hot Jazz Quartet: Havin’ a Ball ARCD 19407 Bob Wilber is Here! ARCD 19402 The Pizzarelli Boys: Desert Island Dreamers ARCD 19412 Terry Myers: Smiles ARCD 19405 Dave Bennett: Clarinet is King ARCD 19409 Ehud Asherie: Welcome to New York, Arbors Piano Series Volume 21 ARCD 19406 Bill Allred: The New York Sessions, Featuring John Allred ARCD 19395 Warren Vaché and John Allred: Top Shelf ARCD 19399 John Sheridan’s Dream Band: Hooray for Christmas! ARCD 19397 John Bunch: Do Not Disturb ARCD 19403 Evan Christopher: The Remembering Song ARCD 19383 Carol Sloane: We’ll Meet Again ARCD 19400 Buck Pizzarelli and the West Texas Tumbleweeds: Diggin’ Up Bones ARCD 19394 Randy Sandke’s Jazz for Juniors ARCD 19385 Dick Hyman’s Century of Jazz Piano ARCD 19348 Nicki Parrott and Rossano Sportiello; Do It Again ARCD19387 The Diva Jazz Trio: Never Never Land ARCD19393
The Rossano Sportiello Trio: Lucky to Be Me Arbors Piano Series, Volume 22
“Rossano’s understanding of jazz from ragtime into the present is deep, intuitive, and internal, and what comes out is his own timeless Mainstream piano. His playing is simultaneously a loving homage to the great players but also a personal expression of what he feels about that particular chord sequence, that melody line, right now. And if you haven’t been lucky enough to hear Rossano live, he is one of those rare improvisers, wholly comfortable in the recording studio: his recorded music accurately reflects what he does in performance.” – Michael Steinman celebrates music on his widely-read, influential blog, JAZZ LIVES (http://www.jazzlives.wordpress.com). 1. I Don’t Know (Cootie Williams) (6:40) 2. Lady Luck (Thad Jones, Frank Wess) (5:52) 3. Lament (J. J. Johnson) (4:47) 4. Bluesy Basie (Rossano Sportiello) (6:33) 5. Show-type Tune (Bill Evans) (6:29) 6. Lucky to Be Me (Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Leonard Bernstein) (4:27) 7. When I Grow Too Old to Dream (Oscar Hammerstein II, Sigmund Romberg) (5:41)
8. Beat’s Up (Tommy Flanagan) (4:12) 9. Ev’rytime We Say Goodbye (Cole Porter) (3:59) 10. Should I? (Arthur Freed, Nacio Herb Brown) (5:31) 11. Just As Though You Were Here (Eddie DeLange, John Benson Brooks) (6:34) 12. Prelude 14 in F# Minor, Volume 2, Well Tempered Clavier (Johann Sebastian Bach) (2:57)
Rossano Sportiello: Piano Frank Tate: Bass Dennis Mackrell: Drums Produced by ARBORS RECORDS, INC. © 2010 Arbors Records, Inc. All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication is a violation of applicable law.