Pop goes Bollani

Be it rock or pop songs, pianist Stefano Bollani will be presenting them through a jazz prism at the Opera House.

Stefano Bollani 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Stefano Bollani 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Stefano Bollani says he feels at home here. Small wonder, considering the 38-year-old Italian jazz pianist is about to make his fourth Israeli appearance in five years (January 14 at 9:30 p.m.). All his concerts here have been featured in the Opera House jazz series, with Bollani performing very different material on each occasion. Last year he gave his own interpretation of music by iconic Israeli song-smith Sasha Argov. This time, he and his band will put together a program of jazz readings of pop and rock numbers, some well known and others will, presumably, only be recognized by pop and rock cognoscenti.
For his part, Bollani is happy to mix and match. “Every time I come to Israel (Opera House jazz series artistic director] Nitzan [Kramer] asks me to do something else. I like that.”
Even so, the upcoming concert will be very different compared to Bollani’s previous appearance here.
“I was a bit wary before the concert with the Sasha Argov material,” says the pianist. “Argov’s son and widow were there, and the audience knew the original songs. But the audience’s response was great. This time I will be playing jazz interpretations of all sorts of pop and rock songs – some the audience will know well, but there will be ones they won’t be familiar with – like ‘Frame by Frame’ by King Crimson. Of course, they will all probably know Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean,’ but mostly we’re not talking about playing [Paul McCartney’s] ‘Yesterday’ here.”
It is interesting to note that Bollani did not feed off the contemporary pop and rock numbers during his formative years. “I definitely was not into the stuff that came out in the 1980s like Duran Duran and the Pet Shop Boys. I like the music that was around in the 1950s and ’60s, artists like Little Richard, Fats Domino and Chuck Berry and, of course, The Beatles. Everyone loves The Beatles.”
Fab Four fan or no, Bollani says he is very respectful of the original material.
“The Beatles are so perfect, that sometimes I am scared to play them because Paul McCartney’s songs are so perfectly arranged, if you change something there may be something missing.”
Bollani says he won’t be sure about the final program for the Tel Aviv concert until the day before the rehearsals start, just a few days before the concert.
Frank Zappa is another composer whose work Bollani greatly admires, and he says there will probably be a Zappa piece in the concert. “He was an amazing musician, with such a wide range of work. In fact, I am working on a new project based on Zappa material, which I hope to start in March. Maybe, I hope, I’ll be able to bring that to Israel too at some stage.”
Naturally, whichever pop and rock songs do find their way into the Opera House concert repertoire will be presented through the jazz prism.
“I won’t be doing a disco version of ‘Billie Jean.’ It will be based on the way [Brazilian singer] Caetano Veloso did it – much softer.”
Whatever Bollani does decide to put in the concert agenda, he will be bring an expansive arsenal of music weaponry with him. He has been playing the piano since he was five and got a good grounding in classical music before turning to jazz full time.
“I think my classical background comes into what I do today, in the way my playing sounds. I am doing a recording of [French impressionist composer Maurice] Ravel works with an orchestra soon. I think my being Italian comes into it in terms of my love of melody. I wanted to be a pop singer when I was a kid. I still I do. So it is natural for me to play songs.”
But don’t expect Bollani to display his vocal skills in Tel Aviv. “I have sung on a couple of my CDs, but not at this concert. I think the audience will still have a good time.”
Bollani will be joined by Bico Gori on clarinet, Jesper Bodilsen on double bass and Morten Lund on drums.
The concert takes place on January 14 at 9:30 p.m. at the Opera House in Tel Aviv. For more information: www.israeli-opera.co.il or call (03) 692-7777.