'Whenever we Italian musicians appear abroad, people think we all know each other personally. But that's not true; there are many jazz musicians in Italy, and they play in various styles. What maybe does make Italian jazz special is our background of opera and folk songs, which are very melodic." So explains virtuoso jazz pianist Stefano Bollani in a telephone interview on the eve of his trio's arrival for a show at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center tonight. Jazz flourished in Italy only after World War II; Bollani reports that, under the fascist regime, it was forbidden to play the American genre. He notes that like many of Italy's jazz pianists, he comes from a classical background, having taken up classical piano at 11 at the urging of his parents. "Maybe something will come out of it," he recalls their saying. What did result - after Bollani heard a Charlie Parker recording - was the realization that improvising was the only thing he wanted to do. "Improvisation is freedom," he says. Bollani made his professional debut at 15. Since then, he has been involved in more than 70 records and in concerts staged at prestigious festivals around the world. He's performed with the leading Italian and international jazz musicians, and with famous Italian pop singers. Critics have called Bollani's playing ironic, but he himself finds it difficult to define his style. "I like the language of jazz, but I play everything," he says. "I like different jazz styles, from that of the early thirties to the so-called avant-garde. For me, it's not what you play that is important, but rather how you play. The most important thing for me to understand was that I do not have to demonstrate my style or virtuosity [Bollani is known for his ability to play two melodies simultanteously, one with each hand]. I am trying to learn how to play music that is not empty - which is not easy, since quite often jazz becomes an exhibition of ego." The first half of tonight's concert, which starts at 10, will be a solo recital by Bollani based on his well-received album Smat Smat. During the second half, in which he will also sing, Bollani will be joined by Ares Tavolazzi on bass and Walter Paoli on drums in a program of his own original work, as well as selections from the popular Italian repertoire and works by Brazilian bassa nova composer Carlos Jobim.