Written by Sandy Hayden from NPR
Born with the genetic disease osteogenesis imperfecta, he only stood at three feet. But with hands unaffected by his disease and an extraordinary talent, Michel Petrucciani is one of the greatest French jazz pianists of all time.
Petrucciani was raised in a highly musical Italo-French family and developed a love for piano at age 3 upon seeing Duke Ellington perform on television. Less than a year later, at age 4, Petrucciani began his studies in piano. Overcoming the obstacles of his genetic disease included building aids to reach the piano pedals, and he played his first professional concert at age 13. By age 18, he’d moved to the U.S., where he began performing with Charles Lloyd. Gigs with Wayne Shorter, Jim Hall and Dizzy Gillespie would follow.
Petrucciani joined host Marian McPartland for this program in 1986, shortly after becoming the first French musician to sign with the prestigious Blue Note label. He began the show with an homage to Ellington, performing an unconventional rendition of “In a Sentimental Mood.” He follows with an original called “The Prayer,” a rich piece with a pensive mood punctuated by brief flashes of brightness. Along the way, Petrucciani and McPartland discuss the obvious Bill Evans influence.
“It’s like life itself,” Petrucciani says. “You have a good friend and they use an expression. You might pick it up and say the same thing.”
Petrucciani also honors John Coltrane, whom he credits with creating modern jazz. In his version of Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” Petrucciani makes the complex clean with rich luscious chords. Ending the program with “Night and Day,” Petrucciani transforms the standard into an intricate contemporary piece, building to an exuberant mix of elaborate chords and delicate notes.
Originally recorded Aug. 21, 1986. Originally broadcast Jan. 22, 1987.