Spaghetti momma loshen

Italian Jazz pianist Mirko Signorile and his trio to perform at Tel Aviv’s Opera House Jazz Series.

Jazz (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Opera House Jazz Series has hosted a number of well known Italian artists over the years with some, such as pianist Stefano Bollani, making several appearances on the prestigious Tel Aviv stage. Next Friday (April 20, 9:30 p.m.), Israeli jazz fans will be introduced to a debutante from across the water, in the form of 38-year-old pianist Mirko Signorile, who will front a trio of compatriots including double-bass player Giorgio Vendola and drummer Fabio Accardi, with Tel Aviv Jazz Festival veteran saxophonist Roberto Ottaviano guesting.
Signorile says he knew he was destined to tickle the ivories for his bread and butter. “I started to touch the keys of the piano at age three,” he recalls. “I took my first lessons when I was five or six years old.”
Even so, it took him a while to find his way onto the improvised side of the musical tracks, and he started out with a purely classical education.
“I studied for eight years at a music school in Modugno,” he says, referring to the town he and his family moved to, near his birthplace of Bari, when he was just a year old.
That was followed by more tuition at the Niccolò Piccinni Conservatory in Bari, before Signorile’s educational continuum took a left-field turn, when he studied, privately, for three years with experimental pianist Gianni Lenoci.
Improvisational music really began to take a hold on the young pianist.
“I studied jazz at the Conservatory of Bari and graduated in ‘Techniques of Improvisation’ at the Nino Rota Conservatory of Monopoli,” says Signorile. “I attended the Siena Jazz seminars for two summers and took a private lesson with [New York jazz pianist] Richie Beirach and attended a master class with [American saxophonist] Bob Mover, and one with [American avant garde saxophonist] Dave Liebman.”
In fact, Signorile notes he grew with an eclectic range of sounds and rhythms, which he simply calls “all the music that my ears were listening to.” He is similarly noncommittal on his sources of inspiration. “There are so many that perhaps you would need a whole newspaper to contain them,” he declares.
Even so, there were some important junctures in the pianist’s musical development during his formative years. “When I was a child, my father called my attention to a television program on Rai (Italian national broadcasting company) where a black musician played piano.
I felt the enthusiasm of my father, and I think it was a first approach to black music. I remember well when I was 15 years old, my music theory teacher Pino Alfonsi gave me a tape containing some tunes played by the [jazz guitarist] Pat Metheny Group. I loved it immediately. Honestly, I do not remember the first concert I’ve seen. At age of 18, I started to go to a few pubs in Bari where there was live music. Perhaps the first concert I can clearly remember was the one of Miles Davis in Bari.”
Considering Signorile’s wide-ranging musical education, it is perhaps only natural that the repertoire for his Tel Aviv concert will incorporate diverse material.
The trio will play numbers from Signorile’s 2009 release Clessidra (Hourglass), and some from his forthcoming new album La primavera del 2012. In recent years, the Opera House Jazz Series has featured jazz renditions of a large number of Israeli staples, and next week’s concert will include Signorile’s singular readings of songs originally written in Hebrew and Yiddish.
Surprisingly, the pianist says he has a strong affinity with the “mamma loshen.”
“I know the Yiddish culture very well. In fact, I recorded a CD, entitled Betàm Soul, with singer Giovanna Carone, which focused on songs by [Jewish Polish songwriter Mordehai] Gebirtig, [Russian writer-poet Aaron] Zeitlin, [Russian songwriter Herman] Yablokoff, and [Vilnius-born singer-songwriter Kasriel] Broydo,” he notes.
Signorile says he feeds off both the musicality, and the historical and cultural baggage that comes with the language. “I deeply love the sound of Yiddish language, the richness of cultural crossroads that it has in it, and then I love the message that each of these artists have given through their words,” he says. “They had the strength to sing [about] the joy of living, despite everything.”
Many of the writers whose works the pianist will perform here did not survive the Holocaust.
At the end of the day, for Signorile, it is all about what gets him going. “My relationship with the music I love does not change with its geographic origin,” he states. “I approach those sounds, notes, rhythms and harmonies not in a philological way or with reverential respect. If the music makes me feel something and it is in tune with me and my vibration frequencies, then I find my way of playing it.”
The pianist evidently found something to tickle his musical funny bone in the Israeli Songbook, too.
“In Tel Aviv I will also play some Israeli songs that the artistic director, Nitzan Kremer, asked me to rearrange in a personal and more jazzy way,” he says. “I am looking forward to April 20th.”
Mirko Signorile will perform at the Israeli Opera House in Tel Aviv on April 20 at 9:30 p.m. For tickets and more information: 03-6927777 and