About The dream before us
A RAINBOW DUO
(From an interview of ENRICO PIERANUNZI and MARC JOHNSON by Paul Benkimoun published in Jazz Magazine, issue n° 41O, in December 1990)
How did the duo come about?
E.P. In June 1990, Marc invited me to come out to a festival of classical music in Virginia. We played together in a trio with Peter Erskine and, outside of the concert context, we explored the possibilities of a duo.
M.J. lt's very exciting to play with a musician like Enrico. He has a fantastic ear and everything is possible harmonically, rhythmically. Without a drummer we can further experiment on the tempo. I play more in this album than in any other. We discovered that in a duo, the best comes when we play a little bit less.
During your concerts as a duo, it looks as if you are roaming, while allowing the possible routes of improvisation to emerge, before borrowing them...
M.J. That is the conception which Enrico had in mind: to intertwine improvisation and standards without setting a beginning, a middle and an end. A more organic process if you prefer.
E.P. The duo is the best format for this type of playing. It is difficult with a drummer. We're trying to go into the music and see what we can meet up with. Let's take "All the things you are" for example... We're not particularly trying to play it at the regular tempo, we might very well break up the harmony or the tempo, change the melody or use its core, take the first four notes and build something up from them. It is a dialogue where we give prompts to the other. Sometimes we talk at the same time, other times each plays alone.
A musical relationship such as this one is not very frequent. Have you already had this type of experience during your career?
E.P. Once: with Lee Konitz. Lee is very open, he is the one who gave me the courage to launch into this type of adventure. It may seem strange to see a man over sixty react in this way, but he remains an avant-garde musician.
M.J. The Bill Evans trio during the late 50's most probably showed the way to this type of improvisation, dialogue, exchange and communication. In the trio, the bass no longer stayed in the background but played a melodic role. For a long time people thought I could only do that. I was never called for walking gigs (where the bassist plays every three or four beats of the bar in a walking bass style). People are finally beginning to realize that I also know how to do that. It is a maturing process.
Marc, one of your latest albums was made up of duets (with notably Toots Thielemans, Gary Burton). Would you situate it at the same level as this album with Enrico?
M.J. Yes and no. That project was the producer's idea, Kiyoshi Koyama. If I had been given the green light, I would have played some tracks with Enrico and others with a percussionist, that's all. But the album was supposed to be with established musicians, relatively traditional and not too avant-garde.... I therefore chose pieces that I knew well.
Enrico, you teamed with Chet Baker. How would you situate this experience with regards to your duo with Marc?
E.P. You have to be curious, look for stimulating experiences. Playing with Chet was outstanding because it was Chet! He was out of the ordinary, he had the capability of going straight to the essential and to play the notes he wanted to express his feelings. A great lesson for me. When I play now, I try to put everything I picked up before into it: the experiments, the sounds, the memories, and synthetize them. With Marc, we have a solid classical background in common, which gives us a good grasp of form...
E.P. ...and improvisation; in order to give life to what you're playing. Marc and I are very interested in French XXth century music, in Bartok, Stravinsky, Hindemith. I still teach classical piano and I continue studying. I don't restrict myself to jazz.
Enrico, you stated that you attach more importance in the way the piano rings by voicings rather than by the pedals. What do you mean by that?
E.P. For years, I have been turning around not the notes themselves but their colour. In this way you can give a meaning to the group of keys you activate. I study harmony and voicings a lot. That's what made me interested in Bill Evans.
The first time I played with Marc, I sensed that he had this natural feel for colours, which he develops continuously. When we play standards, we can go through the piece without playing one single chord from the Real Book, but it doesn't matter. You have to forget about it, keep the melody and perhaps add an entirely different harmonic sequence.
A pianist friend said that one must forget about "the mathematics of music"...
E.P. Exactly! Memory is a big problem, because it gives an impoverished approach, it makes you focus on the fact that a theme is in B flat minor or A minor... You have to try to place your hands somewhere on the instrument and maybe you will find what you are looking for. That is what Marc and I do. For the album, we prepared a few pieces but most of the time we played long improvisations.
What you do today is made possible by your skill and your instrumental culture, by the other musical experiences you have had...
E.P. Of course, you need training, but for the most part, you have to eliminate more than apply. What facilitates our relationship is that we also have fun. You can draw a horse in a realistic way, but you can also move its head... small signs will remain which indicate that it is a horse, interpreted by me. In the some way, I can play two notes and it will be "Alice in Wonderland" seen by me.
M.J. We also try to give form to the tempo. I don't know how to describe that, but it resembles different parts of a mobile, all linked to one central point. We move on elliptical orbits around the center. We link choruses together, each one in a different portion of time. It is fascinating for me to be involved in this process and all of a sudden, bam! to emerge together...