Performer Profiles: Rossano Sportiello

rossanoWhat/who are your musical influences?
My musical influences are many, first of all I must say my first piano teacher, the late Italian pianist Mr. Carlo Villa, with whom I studied for 13 years from age 9 until age 22 when I concluded the studies of classical music at the conservatory in Italy.
And then I should mention Ralph Sutton, Teddy Wilson, Fats Waller, Dave McKenna, Dick Hyman, Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Ellis Larkins, Bud Powell, Erroll Garner, Bill Evans, George Shearing, Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Vladimir Horowitz, Arthur Rubinstein, Barry Harris, Dan Barrett (these last two to be considered my American mentors). Classical music in general is a strong influence in my piano playing and harmonic conception.

What have been your musical highlights/accomplishments over the last year? It’s an highlight any time I get the chance to play for an enthusiastic audience with the musicians that I mostly admire. And I consider an accomplishment to have a very busy schedule of concerts in the US and Europe over the last 8 years, in other words since I moved to the USA.

Where do you see Traditional Jazz in today’s musical landscape? Its’ influences & importance?
I can say that Traditional Jazz it’s a great way to make music. It’s very enjoyable for the players and the public at the same time and should be the basic common knowledge of every jazz musician. To play properly the so-called Dixieland or Chicago style or New Orleans style and so on it’s extremely difficult, it requires intelligence, deep culture through the history of the great jazz recordings of the 20s, 30s, 40s and so on, very good hears and a fully developed instrumental technique. It’s a music that you can’t really fake otherwise it sounds terrible. Today there are many young musicians that try to play it, some of them are extremely good, so I think it’s a good sign.

What separates the North Carolina Jazz Festival from other festivals that you have participated in?
The North Carolina Jazz Festival is a very well organized event that manage to be growing every year in spite of the fact that many other similar events in the US are slowly disappearing for lack of audience. It’s very important to keep trying to reach out to the schools. I have to say that in these same regards the San Diego Jazz Party does also very well.
What similarities does the NCJF have with other festivals that you have participated in?
I’d say the concept of hiring musicians and put them together in different combinations during the week end. Sometimes you’ll hear a band of artists that never played together and still they sound like they have being rehearsing for years. It’s always nice to experience that.

What has been your most memorable moment performing on stage?
There are times when you perform and you feel that musically, emotionally, the personal chemistries on stage, everything falls perfectly into place. When improvisation becomes a very inspired spontaneous musical conversation and the audience itself seems to become part of it, completely absorbed in it. When this happens, I’m the happiest guy in the world. I keep studying and playing music because of that particular feeling. Every time it happens it’s a memorable moment.

Anything else you would like to add?
Well, I was born and raised in Italy so I’d like to apologies for my English that sometimes might sound a little odd.
As a tribute to my American colleagues and to the American jazz audience I’d like to tell a little story:
When I was still living in Italy, myself and some of my Italian friends and colleagues in the Milan area, we felt that there was something very special in the way some American musicians played Jazz, we recognized what I’d call artistic authenticity together with a very special balance of emotion and technical consciousness in the playing. We marveled anytime we would get the chance to hear a live concert of a Barry Harris, or a Harry Allen, or a Scott Hamilton, or a Dan Barrett (to mention only a few). We felt they could play “The Real Thing “, that special thing we were trying so hard to understand and emulate because we liked it so much.
So, when in Milan one of us would play particularly well on a certain occasion, the most beautiful compliment we could give to each other was: “Bravo! Tonight you sounded like an American Jazz musician!”
Now you can imagine how proud I am to be living and working in the USA as a jazz pianist.