From Italy with jazz

Italian jazz trumpeter Enrico Rava, 68, closes this year's Masters of Jazz series together with pianist Stefano Bollani.

stefano bollani 88 (photo credit: )
stefano bollani 88
(photo credit: )
Enrico Rava is a happy man. The 68-year-old Italian jazz trumpeter, who closes this year's Masters of Jazz series together with 35-year-old compatriot pianist Stefano Bollani, feels he has generally been in the right place at the right time over his long career. "I moved to New York in the late sixties, towards the end of the great jazz clubs there," said Rava in a telephone interview from his home in Genoa, Italy. "I was lucky because, at that time, you could still see all the greats playing the New York Clubs, people like [pianist] Thelonious Monk, [trumpeter] Dizzy Gillespie, [saxophonist] John Coltrane and [trumpeter] Miles Davis. After that, things started changing. There was all this fusion stuff, and rock started impacting on jazz. But, that was the last four or five years of greatness in New York. The scene in the States became less interesting for me after that." Rava has clearly always looked for "interesting" avenues of exploration. He decided on the trumpet after hearing Davis' 1957 record Miles Ahead. And that, quite simply, was that. "That really blew my mind," Rava recalls. "I listened to that record a million times. I think I wore out a few needles on that LP." Back in the forties many aspiring European jazz artists often fed off the sounds they heard on the Voice of America radio jazz show. Lines of communication were not as well oiled as they are today, and jazz records didn't always cross the Atlantic en masse. Typically, Rava was more fortunate than most and had access to a wide range of material. "I was exposed to jazz because there were a lot of jazz LPs in my house. They belonged to my older brother. He had records by guys like Louis Armstrong, [saxophonist] Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and [cornetist] Bix Beiderbecke. I started stealing them from him when I was 6-years-old." It was Armstrong and Beiderbecke who galvanized the young Rava more than anyone else. "I've got everything Armstrong recorded between 1923 and 1953. I had posters of him in my bedroom as a kid. I've got all the stuff he did with blues singers - even before his Hot Five band [which started out in 1925]. That's magical music. And I've got everything Bix ever did too." After playing in a number of Italian ensembles, Rava's relocation to New York was a natural one, but the Italian has generally sought out the less frequented areas of the genre and, besides feeding off the giants of the jazz fraternity, he also began checking out the freer side of the art. "Avant garde players like Steve Lacy, Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp and Ornette Coleman really got me excited. Coleman's first quintet record [Something Else] is amazing." Before long, Rava started sitting in with the free jazz players, aided by Coleman's drummer at the time, Charles Moffett. "Charles took me to all the clubs. I often only just had enough cash to survive but all the jazz doors were open to me." But, as rock began to increasingly make inroads on the jazz scene Rava became disillusioned with the way the art was developing in the States. It was around this time, too, that he was awarded a recording contract by prestigious German label ECM, and Rava happily headed back home. Rava is probably one of the best people to offer his take on the States vs. Europe jazz divide and, despite the passing of the halcyon days, he is excited by the prospects for the latter. "The old jazz scene is over. Nobody today has the creativity and charisma to replace Dizzy, Monk, [diva Billie] Holliday, [Duke] Ellington and Miles. Today, Europe is a bit like the US at the beginning of the 20th century, at beginning of jazz, when there was a lot of immigration to the States," he muses. "Now many immigrants come to Europe, particularly to Italy, from places like North Africa, Albania, Turkey. This will eventually affect the music in Italy. It brings problems, but it will probably also create a scene like New Orleans in the 1880s. In 15-20 years time the jazz in Italy will be different." Enrico Rava and Stefano Bollani close the Masters of Jazz series tonight, Friday, at Tel Aviv's Performing Arts Center, 19 Shaul Hamalech Boulevard, at 10 p.m. Students from the Rimon School Jazz and Contemporary Music will open with an hour-long set beginning at 9 p.m. Tickets range from NIS 115 to NIS 199, for more information call (03) 692-7777.