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Understanding Michel Petrucciani's Sound

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This paper examines the music and touch of jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani. This study presents a transcription and analysis from a live recording of his famous composition Looking Up. A biography of Michel Petrucciani is presented along with a review of the different piano techniques he used and which are used in general to achieve a jazz sound. The author uses transcription as a study method and puts a strong emphasis on emulation of the sound of the recording. Also comparison has been used as a tool to analyze recordings. Since Petrucciani was such a colorful figure in the history of jazz, this study addresses to answer the main question: What can we learn from the sound and touch of jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani? To answer this question the investigation was divided into three parts. First, exploring piano techniques to create sound on an acoustic piano and comparing this to Petrucciani’s way of creating sound. Second, discussing influences of Petrucciani who formed his playing and comparing these influences by recordings. The last part is devoted to what we can learn of his famous composition Looking Up, which is discussed by analyzing the form, musical style and melody. Findings in this research proved that Michel Petrucciani was someone who had a thorough understanding about the subject of sound and touch. The different piano techniques that he used to achieve this, can benefit us all as musicians to gain more insight in the possibilities of creating sound on the piano. Petrucciani learned a lot from different jazz musicians that influenced him in different aspects of his playing. His composition Looking Up is the perfect example of his sound and touch. It is a well written and beautiful piece. The transcription I made of Looking Up and also recorded by emulation, gave me more insight in his playing.
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Understanding Michel Petrucciani’s Sound
A Search for the Sound and Touch of a Jazz Pianist
By
Philippe Ramaekers
Student No: 0927821
Main subject teacher: Frank Giebels
Research Coach: Frans Gulikers
Master of Music
Conservatorium Maastricht Zuyd Hogeschool
Maastricht, May 2016
Understanding Michel Petrucciani’s Sound
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Abstract
This paper examines the music and touch of jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani. This study
presents a transcription and analysis from a live recording of his famous composition Looking
Up. A biography of Michel Petrucciani is presented along with a review of the different piano
techniques he used and which are used in general to achieve a jazz sound. The author uses
transcription as a study method and puts a strong emphasis on emulation of the sound of the
recording. Also comparison has been used as a tool to analyze recordings.
Since Petrucciani was such a colorful figure in the history of jazz, this study addresses
to answer the main question: What can we learn from the sound and touch of jazz pianist Michel
Petrucciani?
To answer this question the investigation was divided into three parts. First, exploring
piano techniques to create sound on an acoustic piano and comparing this to Petrucciani’s way
of creating sound. Second, discussing influences of Petrucciani who formed his playing and
comparing these influences by recordings. The last part is devoted to what we can learn of his
famous composition Looking Up, which is discussed by analyzing the form, musical style and
melody.
Findings in this research proved that Michel Petrucciani was someone who had a
thorough understanding about the subject of sound and touch. The different piano techniques
that he used to achieve this, can benefit us all as musicians to gain more insight in the
possibilities of creating sound on the piano. Petrucciani learned a lot from different jazz
musicians that influenced him in different aspects of his playing. His composition Looking Up
is the perfect example of his sound and touch. It is a well written and beautiful piece. The
transcription I made of Looking Up and also recorded by emulation, gave me more insight in
his playing.
Keywords: Michel Petrucciani, Looking Up, jazz, piano, sound, touch
Understanding Michel Petrucciani’s Sound
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Acknowledgements
First of all I must thank my parents Marc and Tonnie Ramaekers for always supporting
me in all of my creative aspects of my life. I would like to thank my research coach Frans
Gulikers for his support and guidance throughout the past two years of my Master study. Thanks
also to my main subject teacher Frank Giebels and to my main subject teacher Math Scheffer
for helping me in every way. Thank you to Daan Arets for sharing his knowledge about Latin
music. I would also like to thank Eungsuk Lee and Max Hilpert for doing the recordings with
me and all of the great musicians whom I had the chance to play with while studying at the
Conservatorium of Maastricht.
Finally, I would like to thank Michel Petrucciani for his beautiful music, which initially
was the inspiration for doing this research and continues to inspire me today.
Understanding Michel Petrucciani’s Sound
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Table of Contents
1. Introduction ............................................................................................................................ 1
1.1 Purpose of the study ......................................................................................................... 2
1.2 Need for the study............................................................................................................. 2
1.3 Research questions and sub-questions .............................................................................. 2
2. Methods .................................................................................................................................. 3
2.1 Transcription ..................................................................................................................... 3
2.2 Emulation.......................................................................................................................... 3
2.3 Comparison ....................................................................................................................... 4
3. Biography of Michel Petrucciani ........................................................................................... 5
4. Results .................................................................................................................................... 7
4.1 Results research sub-question 1: Which piano techniques did Petrucciani used to
achieve a jazz sound? ............................................................................................................. 7
4.1.1 Velocity ...................................................................................................................... 7
4.1.2 Jazz legato .................................................................................................................. 8
4.1.3 Use of weight ............................................................................................................. 9
4.1.4 Pedal ........................................................................................................................... 9
4.1.5 Colors ....................................................................................................................... 10
4.2 Results research sub-question 2: How did other jazz pianists influence Petrucciani in
creating his sound? ............................................................................................................... 11
4.2.1 Bill Evans ................................................................................................................. 11
4.2.2 Oscar Peterson ......................................................................................................... 11
4.2.3 Other influences from jazz pianists .......................................................................... 13
4.3 Results research sub-question 3: What can we learn from Petrucciani’s composition
Looking Up? ......................................................................................................................... 14
4.3.1 Recording ................................................................................................................. 14
4.3.2 Form ......................................................................................................................... 15
Understanding Michel Petrucciani’s Sound
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4.3.3 Musical style ............................................................................................................ 15
4.3.4 Melody and harmony ............................................................................................... 16
5. Conclusion and discussion ................................................................................................... 18
Reference list ............................................................................................................................ 19
Books, articles and recordings .............................................................................................. 19
Recordings by emulation ...................................................................................................... 21
Appendices ............................................................................................................................... 22
Appendix 1: Looking Up Lead Sheet ................................................................................... 22
Appendix 2: Looking Up Transcription ............................................................................... 25
Understanding Michel Petrucciani’s Sound
1
1. Introduction
I'm a brat. My philosophy is to have a really good time and never let anything stop me
from doing what I want to do. Its like driving a car, waiting for an accident. That’s no
way to drive a car. If you have an accident, you have an accidentc’est la vie. (Hajdu,
March 18, 2009)
There is a great difference between what you can play in music or how you can play in
music. Someone can play all the right notes of a melody, but without having a good
understanding of how to play them or how to make them sound well at an instrument, there will
be something missing in the music. For a musician it is therefore valuable to have a good control
over his instrument in order to be capable of creating the sound he or she wants to desire. The
creation of sound on a piano by touch is a very delicate subject and can be considered an art by
itself.
In the early twentieth century in classical piano music there arose national piano schools
which had their own thought about piano touch, technique, pedagogy and chosen repertoire
(Lourenço, 2010, p. 6).
In jazz piano music this subject of touch is sometimes overlooked, since there is so much
else to learn about improvisation and players tend to focus on what notes to play.
Michel Petrucciani was someone who had this great touch and control over his
instrument and was well aware of the importance of having a good sound. When Petrucciani
played the piano, his sound and touch were instantly recognizable and it would impress the
listener.
As a musician and being a jazz pianist as well, I have listened to many different styles
of music and have developed a special interest for post-bop jazz and players of this style. The
reason for choosing Petrucciani as the center of my research came quite naturel to me. His
playing style and music stand out, but also his joyful personality, humor and love for life.
Understanding Michel Petrucciani’s Sound
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1.1 Purpose of the study
The purpose of this study is to obtain knowledge about defining aspects of the sound
and touch of Michel Petrucciani. These aspects will be examined by gathering data and by
analyzing a jazz performance of his composition Looking Up.
1.2 Need for the study
Much has been written about the life and music of Petrucciani. There exist a
considerable amount of material in the form of interviews, documentary’s and recordings.
There is however much less written and documented about his sound and touch. Since I am
very interested in the subject and how Petrucciani does this, I think it is valuable to study it and
to bring his ideas under attention.
This research is meant to give more insight and to contribute to the body of knowledge
in this area.
1.3 Research questions and sub-questions
The main research question of this study is:
What can we learn from the sound and touch of jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani?
The sub-question of this study are:
1. Which piano techniques did Petrucciani used to achieve a jazz sound?
2. How did other jazz pianists influence Petrucciani in creating his sound?
3. What can we learn from Petrucciani’s composition Looking Up?
Understanding Michel Petrucciani’s Sound
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2. Methods
To answer the research questions in this study, I used transcription and emulation as my
main methods. I also used comparison as a method to analyze recordings. I collected
information by listening to recordings, going through published music, books, reports, websites,
interviews, articles, video’s and by transcribing.
2.1 Transcription
The transcriptions made in this study are intended to provide evidence for Petrucciani’s
style and for his use of articulation and phrasing. I have transcribed them all by myself, although
some transcriptions were available in a book from his original 1989 recording of Looking Up
(Reynaud & Brun, 2008). The transcriptions were done by listening very carefully to each note,
which is heard as an interval from the previous one and to the way it is being phrased or
articulated. I notated accents marks on the notes where they were needed.
Although a good transcription is of great value for jazz musicians and researchers, there
are certain elements such as phrasing, articulation, dynamics and rhythmic ‘feel’ that are
difficult to notate. These elements are almost impossible to write down in their true and full
meaning. Therefore, the personal listening experience of the recording is just as important as
writing the transcription.
2.2 Emulation
Besides transcription, I used emulation as a study method in my research. Emulation is
a study method where the musician/researcher tries to reproduce the playing and improvising
style of someone else in his or her own playing style. This is one of the key elements of learning
how to play jazz and this study method is used worldwide by jazz pedagogues and well-known
artists. It brings you at the same time closer to the original playing experience of the artist and
gives a fresh look at the study material which you are investigating.
To get a better understanding of how Petrucciani plays the piano, I recorded the
transcription of Looking Up together with a bass player and drummer. The players were all well
prepared for the recordings, so we only needed to work on a couple of matters such as form,
beginning and ending. Although it was played with the transcription in mind, there was still
Understanding Michel Petrucciani’s Sound
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room for freedom and interpretation. From this recording session three different versions were
chosen for the research.
2.3 Comparison
Another method that I used in the research is the comparison of recordings. By
comparing recordings between two or more players or through different moments in time, it is
possible to come to new conclusions and perceive a clearer view about the artist.
Understanding Michel Petrucciani’s Sound
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3. Biography of Michel Petrucciani
Michel Petrucciani, born on December 28, 1962 in Orange of the south of France, is
considered one of the greats in jazz. His career was successful, despite being diagnosed with
osteogenesis imperfecta or glass-bone disease, which caused him to grew only 99 cm tall.
But this didn’t stop him from achieving his goals and dream of becoming a jazz pianist.
Petrucciani came from a musical family. His father Tony Petrucciani played the guitar
and of his elder brothers, Philippe played the guitar and Louis played the double bass (Krenfeld,
2002). When he grew up he was surrounded by the music of famous jazz musicians such as
Wes Montgomery, Miles Davis and other players.
He started with piano classical music at the age of four after seeing Duke Ellington on
TV and was making music with the family band at the age of nine. Around the age of ten he
began listening to the music of Bill Evans. He would be a big influence throughout his career.
At the age of thirteen Petrucciani gave his first concert at a jazz festival in Cliousclat.
He was already was a skilled player and improviser at that time. According to one critic he
sounded like a world-weary black man lost in a piano bar somewhere in Mexico (Michael
Radford, 2011).
Two years later his professional career started when he met and played for drum legend
Kenny Clarke. Shortly thereafter he would also impress trumpeter Clark Terry and guitarist Joe
Pass.
When moving to Paris at the age of 17 years, he recorded his first album
1
(Petrucciani,
Zwerin, Petrucciani, & Romano, 1980) with French drummer Aldo Romano. The drummer
would carry Petrucciani around everywhere, because he couldn’t walk far distances. They
would form a trio together with French double bassist Jean-Francois Jenny-Clark. Petrucciani
became more famous in France, but he wanted more and was longing for America.
A lifetime changer came in 1981 when he traveled to California and was discovered by
saxophonist Charles Lloyd. Upon hearing Petrucciani’s talent, he came out of his retirement
and made him a member of his quartet. They went on to tour at the Westcoast and recorded
together for the coming years. They received the prix d’excellence for their performance at the
Montreux Jazz Festival in 1982 which was issued as an album (Charles Lloyd Quartet, 1982).
During this year Petrucciani also recorded a duo album with Lee Konitz (Konitz & Petrucciani,
1982) and he would marry his first wife Erlinda Montano.
1
For the date of recorded albums which is given as a reference, I used mostly the recording date instead of the
release date.
Understanding Michel Petrucciani’s Sound
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When he moved to New York in 1984 he really found his new home. Now he could play
at the famous clubs and play with all the greats, since this was a real jazz mecca at the time.
During the years he would play with several legendary jazz players such as Roy Haynes, John
Abercombie, Jack DeJohnette, Joe Henderson and Dizzy Gillespie (Michael Radford, 2011). In
the year 1986 he recorded with Wayne Shorter and Jim Hall (Petrucciani, Hall, & Shorter,
Power of Three, 1986). He would make a total of seven albums for the Blue Note Records
between 1986 and 1994.
Life in New York took its toll on his health and Michel returned to France in 1989. He
found his new love in Marie-Laure Roperch and became the father of Alexandre, who inherited
the same condition as him.
At the age of 27 he would enter his best and most musical period of his life. His music
and compositions reached new heights. Around 1993 he signed with the Dreyfus Records label
with a focus on solo piano and piano trio with, among others, drummer Steve Gadd and bassist
Anthony Jackson.
In 1994 he was awarded with the prestigious Légion d’honneeur in Paris. He would have
many performances in Europe and was involved in different projects such as playing with a
string quartet in 1994 (Petrucciani M. , Marvellous, 1994) and a recording with violin virtuoso
Stéphane Grappelli in 1995 (Grappelli & Petrucciani, 1995). He continued to record music and
do concerts in the late nineties, but his health was affected by his intense lifestyle.
Michel Petrucciani, being just 36 years old, passed away on January 6, 1999 in New
York City from a pulmonary infection. He is buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
Understanding Michel Petrucciani’s Sound
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4. Results
4.1 Results research sub-question 1: Which piano techniques did Petrucciani used
to achieve a jazz sound?
Sound can truly impress the listener. When listening to music it is often possible to
identify a player by its personal sound, since sound is a reflection of the personality of the player
itself. Sound consists of different elements which are pitch, duration, amplitude (volume) and
color. On a piano the sound is produced by depressing the keys with our fingers. The touch of
a pianist defines how the instrument will sound. Famous jazz pianists such as Oscar Peterson,
Bill Evans, Keith Jarret, McCoy Tyner, all had their own unique and distinct touch. According
to research, touch is constituted of different factors that includes the hand, the sense of touch
and the piano itself. In this case the hand also includes the whole arm and other parts of the
body such as the muscles of the neck and chest. All in a continuous correlation with the brain
(Doğantan-Dack, 2015/2016, p. 178). Mood or emotional state of a person can therefore affect
the sense of touch. It is possible to develop touch by training the muscles of your hand. Piano
techniques can be used in order to get a better tone at the piano or to manipulate the sound.
Jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani was known for his incredible touch on the piano. His
touch was very direct and dynamic, but also percussive and aggressive at times. Despite his
physical condition, he had normal hands. This allowed him to always use strength in his attack
on the piano and to play everything which is normally possible on the instrument. However, in
order to reach the pedals, he needed a special pedal extension which his father invented for him.
Petrucciani always played on the same piano that he brought with him when having concerts.
He worked with Steinway and considered it to be the best pianos in the world (Petrucciani M. ,
Interview with Michel Petrucciani, 1998). Steinway pianos are top instruments with a long
history of craftsmanship and are known for their rich and powerful tone.
4.1.1 Velocity
Velocity is how fast the keys of a piano are depressed. Thus in other words, the speed
when the hammer hits the string. An increase in key-speed means an increase in dynamic tone
value; the faster the key is depressed, the louder is the resulting tone (Ortmann, 1925/2008, p.
33). This also means that if we apply a greater force to the key we will get greater key-speed
Understanding Michel Petrucciani’s Sound
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(Ortmann, 1925/2008, p. 32). The acoustic piano is an highly velocity-sensitive instrument and
it is possible to feel and control the hammer when striking the string.
The position and the height of the finger above the keyboard are also of great influence
on the sound. Touch can be percussive and non-percussive (Ortmann, 1925/2008, p. 36). With
a percussive touch we mean that the finger is moving before striking the surface of the key.
Non-percussive touch means that the finger is already resting on the surface of the key before
it is depressed. As a result you will hear a difference in sound. Percussive touch has a more hard
and ‘woody sound and with non-percussive touch you will hear more the ‘felt’ of the hammer
and a softer sound. Examples where you here this more ‘woody’ sound are in the theme of Easy
Does It by Oscar Peterson (Peterson, Oscar Peterson Plays Count Basie, 1955) and in the solo
version of Looking Up by Michel Petrucciani (Petrucciani M. , Solo Live, 1997).
4.1.2 Jazz legato
Legato is bending the notes together from note to note in a smooth way. The opposite
of legato is staccato, in where the notes are short and not tied together. In jazz music there is
another term called ‘jazz legato’ in where the notes are still tied together, but played with a
more percussive touch (Belfiglio, 2008, p. 75). By keeping this touch, it is easier for the pianist
to articulate and bring out certain notes. Jazz legato should not be confused with the term
portato, when the notes are still detached but sound non-legato. A good example of the jazz
legato in practice would be the A major scale starting on the fifth in the beginning of Looking
Up (Petrucciani M. , Solo Live, 1997), as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1 Beginning of Looking Up
When playing jazz legato in fast passages, it is possible to hear a pearly effect of the
notes. A nice example of this can be found in the fast passages of the piano solo of Someday
My Prince Will Come by Michel Petrucciani (Petrucciani & Petrucciani, 1989, 1990). To play
very fast and light on the piano you will automatically tend to play softer. This is due to the fact
that there is less time to apply force and velocity to the keys.
Understanding Michel Petrucciani’s Sound
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4.1.3 Use of weight
Using weight in your playing can also be a technique to alter the sound. In this case the
weight of the hand, arms and movements of the body are transferred to the instrument, instead
of the mere use of the fingers. This causes a more rounder, deeper and stronger sound. The fact
that Petrucciani could create such a big sound on the piano, when considering his size, was a
remarkable feat.
4.1.4 Pedal
The pedal is another technique to influence the sound. The piano usually comes with
three different pedals. The most used pedal by pianists is the sustain pedal or damper pedal,
which is operated by the right foot. When this pedal is depressed, all strings can vibrate or
sustain freely, because the damper is raised of the strings. Now it is possible for the player to
connect the notes in a legato way, which would otherwise be impossible. Besides this legato
function, the pedal can also be used as an effect to color the sound. A term that would fit the
pedal in this context would be ‘vibrato pedal’. By using vibrato pedal it becomes possible to
create a vibrato effect to the note and bring out or emphasize certain notes.
The left pedal, which is called the soft pedal or una corda pedal, is used to soften the
tone and to change the color to a sound with less overtones. The pedal is operated by the left
foot. When this pedal is depressed, the hammers and the keyboard, are moved slightly to the
right. As a result, only one string is hit instead of the usual three, hence the name una corda. It
has to be noted that with a modern grand piano two strings are hit instead of three strings.
The middle pedal of a modern grand piano is called the sostenuto pedal, which was an
invention by Steinway. Sometimes called the mystery pedal, because of its rare use and so
few people know what it does. When depressing this pedal, only the notes are sustained that
you play before you push the pedal down. The sustain pedal can still be used when the
sostenuto pedal is down and the notes of the sostenuto pedal remain unaffected. It can be used
for example as a pedal point (Chappel, 1982). The sostenuto pedal is operated by the left foot.
Michel Petrucciani stated that he never used the middle pedal of his piano (Willemsen, 1995).
On an upright piano the middle pedal is usually a practice pedal. When depressing this pedal,
a felt cloth is dropped between the strings and the hammer, causing the strings to be muted.
Understanding Michel Petrucciani’s Sound
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4.1.5 Colors
Petrucciani was quite outspoken about the colors of sound in music. He even wrote a
song about it, called Colors (Petrucciani M. , Both Worlds, 1997). In an interview he said You
know, I always talk about music with colors (Willemsen, 1995). He would see the colors and
hear the tone when playing piano. For instance when playing the note G, he would see the color
green and other notes would then be associated with different colors. Combining colors with
sound is a subject often associated with synesthesia, which is the sensation of hearing sound in
colors. There are many people who have this experience. Some notable musicians who had or
have synesthesia are: Franz Liszt, Rimsky-Korsakov, Alexander Scriabin, Olivier Messiaen,
Duke Ellington and Stevie Wonder.
In another interview, when Petrucciani was asked the question how he did chose his
colors, he said:
You don’t choose your colors. I think it’s the… like… well, you know, I must say first
that I’m not the first one to had this kind of vision. Olivier Messiaen was also a visionary
of colors, but it is like explaining himself; it’s more a sensation than musical colors. . .
but it’s not actual colors. It’s things that move with time and is, it’s just a feeling you
know. (Petrucciani M. , Interview with Michel Petrucciani, 1998)
Interestingly, Petrucciani said it is more a feeling to hear sound in colors and that they are not
actual colors. It is indeed true that Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) had synesthesia and could
hear in color. Messiaen once said something similar to French critic Claude Samuel in that he
didn’t hear colors with his eyes, but would hear them intellectually in his head (Brown, 2008).
Would this mean that Petrucciani is also an synthesiast? I think he was, since he was very
outspoken about colors and his perception is similar to the sensation of Messiaen. Petrucciani
had the gift to produce the sounds he saw in colors on the piano.
Understanding Michel Petrucciani’s Sound
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4.2 Results research sub-question 2: How did other jazz pianists influence
Petrucciani in creating his sound?
Before Michel Petrucciani found his own voice and style, he was influenced by many
other jazz pianists who all had their unique way of playing. Since jazz has a long aural tradition,
these influences inspired him and formed his playing as a musician.
4.2.1 Bill Evans
I think of him a lot when I play. I hear myself a lot of times and I say, ‘That’s Bill Evans’
signature’” (Landsberg, 1987, p. 21).
Bill Evans (1929-1980) has been the major influence for Petrucciani. This is especially
noticeable for the first part of his career. Petrucciani’s lyricism, use of harmonies and sensitivity
all point towards Evans. This influence becomes apparent when comparing the two pianists in
their recording of the Cole Porter classic Night and Day.
In Bill Evans’ recording (Bill Evans Trio, Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, 1977), after a
contrapuntal duet by Lee Konitz (alto saxophone) and Warne Marsh (tenor saxophone) over the
theme, Bill starts alone, improvising eight note lines in tempo. Then the bass joins after eight
bars and after that the drums in the second A. We will soon hear the rhythmic displacement,
which is one of Evans stylistically trademarks. After two choruses of the piano solo, the solo
of Konitz begins.
In Michel Petrucciani’s recording (Petrucciani M. , Both Worlds, 1997) we here similarities
in style and approach. Petrucciani must have heard the recording of Bill Evans before. In his
recording he also starts alone and plays in a similar tempo, albeit a bit faster and freer. Here the
bass and drums join Petrucciani after a bit longer than the theme. In his solo you can also hear
the rhythmic displacements. They both use left hand voicings, but the voicings of Petrucciani
sound different and a bit more modern in the style of McCoy Tyner (1938). This is due to his
use of fourth voicings.
4.2.2 Oscar Peterson
Oscar Peterson (1925-2007) has been another great influence for Michel Petrucciani.
This influence became apparent especially in the latter part of his career when he began to
perform as a soloist. Petrucciani’s virtuosity, fearless touch and display of great clarity and
Understanding Michel Petrucciani’s Sound
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precision show a lot of resemblances of Oscar Peterson in his best days. This can be heard very
clear on Petrucciani’s recordings of Caravan and Take the A Train from his solo album
(Petrucciani M. , Solo Live, 1997). Here you can hear Petrucciani playing very long phrases
with a fast right hand. Also, the attention to articulation and phrasing is a noticeable
resemblance between Petrucciani and Peterson. This resemblance can be heard on for example
Oscar’s famous solo version of Take the A Train (Peterson, My Favorite Instrument, 1968),
when he plays fast runs with very strong accents on certain notes.
There is a delightful interview between Dick Cavett and Oscar Peterson, where Oscar
talks about his stylistic influences such as the stride piano of Art Tatum, the lyrical octave work
of Errol Garner and the relaxed block chords of George Shearing (Peterson, Oscar Peterson
Piano Lesson, 1979). He then goes on to demonstrate these different jazz styles masterfully at
the piano. One of these styles is the two-finger percussiveness of Nat King Cole, as shown in
Figure 2.
Figure 2 Oscar Peterson plays the two-finger percussiveness of Nat King Cole
Oscar tells us that each note has its own articulation, rather than being an insipid phrase
(Peterson, Oscar Peterson Piano Lesson, 1979). As a result this makes the whole phrase
interesting and alive. Oscar also tells us about Nat King Cole that he used mostly the front end
of his hand to accomplish this and that it was articulated like you do in speech.
When we look at Petrucciani’s style of playing, we can see that he also uses this concept
when playing. When playing accents in Caravan for instance, you see him making big
movements with his right hand and fingers, using a lot of strength to create the desired sound
(Willemsen, 1995). He also delves deeply into the keys of the piano, which you can see clearly
when looking to his little finger.
Understanding Michel Petrucciani’s Sound
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4.2.3 Other influences from jazz pianists
Keith Jarret (1945) has also been a great influence for Petrucciani, but to some lesser
degree. Jarret is known for his lyricism and improvisational explorations. His lyrical style can
be heard in for example his composition Country (Jarret, 1977). Jarret also played in Charles
Lloyd Quartet between 1966 and 1968, which was 15 years before Petrucciani joined the
quartet. A notable example where Petrucciani plays in a lyrical way is in his beautiful
composition Why (Petrucciani M. , Marvellous, 1994). In this piece he plays a long, expressive
and singing melody. It sounds very legato, which is a quality Jarret also has in his playing.
Petrucciani was also influenced by Errol Garner (1923-1977) and Art Tatum (1909-
1956). He remembers these records played by his father when he was a child (Landsberg, 1987).
In his Bebop lines, you can also hear the influence of the great Bud Powell (1924-1966). The
precise execution of these lines can be heard very well in his up tempo piece My Bebop Tune
(Petrucciani M. , Music, 1989).
Understanding Michel Petrucciani’s Sound
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4.3 Results research sub-question 3: What can we learn from Petrucciani’s
composition Looking Up?
Michel Petrucciani’s original composition Looking Up (Petrucciani M. , Music, 1989)
is a bright piece filled with joy and positivity. It became one of his most well-known songs and
he even played it on top of a skyscraper in New York (Willemsen, 1995). In my opinion this is
one of his most interesting and beautiful compositions. There are several reasons why I think
so. First of all the melody is strong and playful like a children’s song and can be easily
remembered. The atmosphere of the song feels very open and relaxed because of long notes in
the melody. Underneath the melody there are beautiful jazz harmonies written, which
Petrucciani plays as an ongoing montuno pattern in his left hand. Combined with the driving
drums and bass this creates a very full and strong effect. The form of the song is unusual, since
there are three parts with the main melody which end differently every time and it is quite long.
The tonal center of the song is E major, which is also unusual for a jazz composition. With all
these elements combined together, I believe you have a recipe for a great composition.
4.3.1 Recording
Petrucciani recorded Looking Up for the first time for his Blue Note album Music
(Petrucciani M. , Music, 1989) and later many times more throughout his career in different
settings and occasions. It is a piece where his touch and sound are heard in optimal form.
Petrucciani plays the melody with a powerful touch and relevant notes are accented. In my work
I transcribed the theme and solo part of Looking Up from his Blue Note album Live (Petrucciani
M. , Live, 1991), which was recorded at The Arsenal in Metz, France. On this live album
Petrucciani played with a great rhythm section with Victor Jones on drums and Steve Logan on
electric bass. Noteworthy is his collaboration between Adam Holzman on keyboards and Abdou
Mboup on percussion, which creates an extra layer of depth to the music.
Some other notable recordings which include Looking Up are: Flashback (Petrucciani
& Petrucciani, 1989, 1990), Dreyfus Night in Paris (Miller, Petrucciani, Lagrène, White, &
Garret, 1994) and Solo Live (Petrucciani M. , Solo Live, 1997).
Understanding Michel Petrucciani’s Sound
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4.3.2 Form
The basic form of Looking Up is an ABACAB form in 4/4 time and it has an interlude
of 8 bars between every new chorus. The songs starts with an intro of 8 bars (in the live
recording this is 16 bars) where the piano plays a clave pattern on a pedal note. After this intro
the theme begins when the drummer and bassist play a Latin groove. After the theme and
interlude, the solos begin over the form and the interlude. When the last theme is played, the
song ends with a coda, vamping on the same chords as the interlude.
The ABACAB form consists of the A part (16 bars), which is alternated by different
sections; the B part (eight bars and the last time four bars) and the C part (8 bars). What is
unusual about this form is that it is in fact three times the A part with variations at each end.
Also, the ABACAB form is quite long with 68 bars and with the interlude combined it’s 76
bars in total. Because of surprising twists in these variations it remains interesting to the listener.
I noticed that the form of the song is often notated differently in published music. In
some publications the whole chorus is written out without using the subdivisions of the different
A, B and C sections (Petrucciani P. , 2000) (Reynaud & Brun, 2008). In another publication
subdivisions were used on a smaller scale (Maury, 1993). In my transcription I choose to use
these subdivisions, because I think it is helpful to show clear distinctions between the different
sections.
4.3.3 Musical style
The musical style of Looking Up is Latin and can be described best as a mixture of
influences from Afro-Cuban music and Brazilian music. Influences from the Afro-Cuban
music include the bongo’s heard in the intro, the montuno pattern in the piano and other
rhythmical patterns. The bassist plays a combination of the tumbao (Cuban) and the baião
(Brazilian). The drummer plays a sort of baião pattern with a backbeat (syncopation on the
off beat). In the baião, this backbeat normally is heard on the fourth beat. Influences from
the Brazilian music include the triangle pattern. With the added synthesizer and keyboard
sounds in the background, clear influences of jazz fusion can also be heard.
Understanding Michel Petrucciani’s Sound
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4.3.4 Melody and harmony
The main melody of Looking Up starts in the A part and consists of notes of the A major
pentatonic scale. When we look at the melody, the most important notes or ‘target’ notes are E
in bar 1, C# in bar 2 and B in bar 3. The first motif consist of a descending minor third (E-C#),
the second motif of a descending minor third-major second (E-C#-B) and the third motif at the
end of bar 4 consist of an ascending and descending major second (A-B-A). These motives
form the building blocks of the melody in the first four bars. This melody is then slightly varied
in bar 5 till 8, as shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3 Melody of Looking Up
In bar 9 till 12 the target notes are played with different harmonies underneath it and the melody
develops further. Noticeable is the third motive of bar 4, which returns in bar 12 in a different
key. In bar 13 till 16 the melody comes to a rest point with a long note, while the drums and
bass play kicks underneath it. The harmonic device used here is CESH (Contrapuntal
Elaboration of Static Harmony), because there is a descending line (D#-D-C#-C) in the chords.
In the live recording this line is (D#-D-C#-D-C#-C). Petrucciani keeps this line also in his left
hand when playing his solo.
In the B part the melody then reaches its climax, since there is an ascending line with
the target notes E in bar 17, F# in bar 18 and the highest note G# in bar 19, which then lead
back to the note E in bar 21. For the last four bars of the B part, Petrucciani uses a deceptive
ending with the C# minor chord instead of resolving to the expected E major chord. Then the
A part with the main melody starts again, which remains the same.
In the C part, which can also be seen as a little bridge, the melody is developed into new
harmonic territory with a II-V-I modulation to the G# dominant chord. New motives can also
be found here; as for example in bar 42 we have (D#-F#E-D#), which is then used as a modified
Understanding Michel Petrucciani’s Sound
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sequence in bar 44. In this bar, the last interval is a minor third instead of a minor second. In
bar 48 we find an unexpected D7 chord which doesn’t resolve, as is demonstrated in Figure 4.
Figure 4 The bridge of Looking Up
After this little bridge, the A part is played for the last time and there are four bars left forming
a ‘half’ B part. The melody then finally resolves into E major when the interlude starts. The
interlude acts at the same time as a pedal to go back to A major.
The tonal center is of the piece is E major and there are several reasons for this. The
piece starts with an E major-A/E pedal, the interlude and coda are in E and the song also ends
with an E major chord. When looking at the melody of the piece there are a lot of E’s in it.
When counting all the E’s in the melody which sound, including the E’s of the A major scale
played as a pickup before every A part and the first note of the interlude, you will find no less
than 32 E’s.
Even though the tonal center is E major, this might not be obvious to the listener. This
is because the main melody starts in the key of A major, which also is the IV degree of E major.
The key signature of A major is used, for ease of reading and because this key is so present in
the piece. The ambiguity of E major and A major makes the piece interesting and resembles the
intro. In that sense, one would almost ought to think that Petrucciani tries to fool its listener!
Understanding Michel Petrucciani’s Sound
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5. Conclusion and discussion
In the beginning of the research I asked myself the question: What can we learn from
the sound and touch of jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani?
On the basis of this research, it may be concluded that Michel Petrucciani was someone
who had a thorough understanding about the subject of sound and touch. The different piano
techniques that he used to achieve this, can benefit us all as musicians to gain more insight in
the possibilities of creating sound on the piano. In my study I found that Petrucciani’s touch is
very percussive based and that he used jazz legato. There is a strong emphasis on color in the
way he envisions music.
Petrucciani learned a lot from different jazz musicians that influenced him in different
aspects of his playing. I learned that it took him quite a while to find his own voice and that
there are many similarities in his playing style when compared to Bill Evans and Oscar
Peterson.
His composition Looking Up is the perfect example of his sound and touch. It is a well
written and beautiful piece. By analyzing the composition I found that there are some unusual
elements in the form and tonality that make the song even more interesting. The transcription I
made of Looking Up and also recorded by emulation, gave me more insight in his playing.
Finally, I would hope that more research is done to contribute to the understanding of
sound and touch. Having knowledge about how to make the notes sound separates the best from
the rest. The secret to success in jazz.
Understanding Michel Petrucciani’s Sound
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Reference list
Books, articles and recordings
Belfiglio, A. (2008). Jazz, Fundamental Rhythmic Characteristics of Improvised Straight-
ahead. The University of Texas, Austin.
Bill Evans Trio, Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh (1977). Crosscurrents. Berkely, Carlifornia,
United States: Fantasy Records.
Brown, G. (2008, January 25). How Olivier Messiaen heard in colour. Times newspaper.
Retrieved from Mark Rowan-Hull: http://www.rowan-hull.com/the-man-who-heard-
colour/
Chappel, J. (1982). THE USE OF THE PEDALS. Retrieved from Jeffrey Chappel - Pianist:
http://jeffreychappell.com/pedaling.php
Charles Lloyd Quartet (1982). On Montreux 82. Montreux, Switzerland: Elektra/Musician.
Doğantan-Dack, M. (2015/2016). Artistic Practice as Research in Music: Theory, Criticism,
Practice. New York: Routledge.
Grappelli, S., & Petrucciani, M. (1995). On Flamingo. France: Dreyfus Jazz.
Hajdu, D. (March 18, 2009). Keys To the Kingdom. Retrieved from New Republic:
https://newrepublic.com/article/62498/keys-the-kingdom
Jarret, K. (1977). My Song. Oslo: ECM.
Konitz, L., & Petrucciani, M. (1982). Toot Sweet. Paris, France: Owl Records.
Krenfeld, B. (2002). The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, Second Edition. Oxford, United
Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
Landsberg, M. (1987, June 18). Jazz pianist Petrucciani already veteran at 24. The Sumter
Daily Item, p. 21. Retrieved from
https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1979&dat=19870618&id=xF0yAAAAIBAJ
&sjid=pK0FAAAAIBAJ&pg=3716,3237077&hl=nl
Lourenço, S. (2010). European Piano Schools : Russian , German and French classical piano
interpretation and technique. Journal Of Science And Technology Of The Arts.
Retrieved from http://artes.ucp.pt/citarj/article/view/7
Maury, B. (1993). Michel Petrucciani Note For Note. Paris: Editions Musicales Françaises.
Michael Radford. (2011). BIOGRAPHY. Retrieved from My French Film Festival:
http://medias.myfrenchfilmfestival.com/medias/80/196/50256/presse/michel-
petrucciani-presskit-french.pdf
Understanding Michel Petrucciani’s Sound
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Miller, M., Petrucciani, M., Lagrène, B., White, L., & Garret, K. (1994). On Drefus Night in
Paris. Paris, France: Dreyfus Jazz.
Ortmann, O. (1925/2008). The Physical Basis Of Piano Touch And Tone. Read Books.
Peterson, O. (1955). On Oscar Peterson Plays Count Basie. United States: N. Granz.
Peterson, O. (1968). On My Favorite Instrument. Germany: MPS Records.
Peterson, O. (1979). Oscar Peterson Piano Lesson. (D. Cavett, Interviewer) Retrieved from
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ec-FrnaU0rs
Petrucciani, L., & Petrucciani, M. (1989, 1990). On Flashback. France: Edouard
Detmer/Louis Petrucciani.
Petrucciani, M. (1989). On Music. New York, United States: Blue Note.
Petrucciani, M. (1991). On Live. Metz, France: Blue Note.
Petrucciani, M. (1994). On Marvellous. France: Dreyfus Jazz.
Petrucciani, M. (1997). On Solo Live. Frankfurt, Germany: Dreyfus Jazz.
Petrucciani, M. (1997). Both Worlds. New York, United States: Dreyfus Jazz.
Petrucciani, M. (1998). Interview with Michel Petrucciani. (C. d. Kloet, Interviewer) North
Sea Jazz Festival, The Hague, The Netherlands. Retrieved from
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guTpJwqyWq8
Petrucciani, M., Hall, J., & Shorter, W. (1986). On Power of Three. Montreux, Switzerland:
Blue Note.
Petrucciani, M., Zwerin, M., Petrucciani, L., & Romano, A. (1980). On Flash. France:
Bingow Records.
Petrucciani, P. (2000). Michel Petrucciani Songbook. Paris, France: Francis Dreyfus Music.
Reynaud, A., & Brun, J. (2008). Michel Petrucciani The Book. Paris, France: Editions Henry
Lemoine.
Willemsen, R. (Director). (1995). Non Stop Travels With Michel Petrucciani [Motion
Picture].
Understanding Michel Petrucciani’s Sound
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Recordings by emulation
The recordings of Looking Up by means of emulation have been recorded on April 1st,
2016. The musicians on the recordings are: Philippe Ramaekers (piano), Eungsuk Lee
(electric bass) and Max Hilpert (drums). The recordings took place in the dependance
building (room 14) of the Conservatorium of Maastricht, Netherlands. The piano used in the
recordings is a Steinway grand piano.
Looking Up 1 take 1 (8:55 min)
Looking Up 2 take 2 (9:00 min)
Looking Up 3 take 3 (9:00 min)
Understanding Michel Petrucciani’s Sound
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Appendices
Appendix 1: Looking Up Lead Sheet
Understanding Michel Petrucciani’s Sound
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Appendix 2: Looking Up Transcription
Understanding Michel Petrucciani’s Sound
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Article
Full-text available
The goal of this research is to characterize representative performances by famous pianists in order to determine main influential trends in performance, derived specifically from traditional piano practices referred to as National Piano Schools. Previous research (Lourenço, 2005, 2007) has shown strong musical correlation of particular characteristics, namely the aesthetic, the technical, the historic and the repertoire. The concept of piano interpretation school is a useful concept for analyzing the universe of piano performance. Piano pedagogy literature of each European National Piano School has been analyzed together with an empirical audio analysis of recordings through a check-list survey. Overall the main National Piano Schools consist of three essential branches: the Russian school; the German school; the French school. The identification of National Piano Schools provides a powerful framework of study and an awareness of Europe's elusive music heritage and it main influences. Furthermore, as pianists use their whole body to enhance their communication of the music's spiritual, emotional and dramatic essence, this study also aims to contribute into research on performance practice.
Keys To the Kingdom. Retrieved from New Republic: https://newrepublic.com/article
  • D Hajdu
Hajdu, D. (March 18, 2009). Keys To the Kingdom. Retrieved from New Republic: https://newrepublic.com/article/62498/keys-the-kingdom
On My Favorite Instrument
  • O Peterson
Peterson, O. (1968). On My Favorite Instrument. Germany: MPS Records.
The Physical Basis Of Piano Touch And Tone
  • O Ortmann
Ortmann, O. (1925/2008). The Physical Basis Of Piano Touch And Tone. Read Books.
Artistic Practice as Research in Music: Theory, Criticism, Practice
  • M Doğantan-Dack
Doğantan-Dack, M. (2015/2016). Artistic Practice as Research in Music: Theory, Criticism, Practice. New York: Routledge.
Interview with Michel Petrucciani. (C. d. Kloet, Interviewer) North Sea Jazz Festival, The Hague, The Netherlands. Retrieved from https
  • M Petrucciani
Petrucciani, M. (1998). Interview with Michel Petrucciani. (C. d. Kloet, Interviewer) North Sea Jazz Festival, The Hague, The Netherlands. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guTpJwqyWq8
Director) Non Stop Travels With Michel Petrucciani [Motion Picture
  • R Willemsen
Willemsen, R. (Director). (1995). Non Stop Travels With Michel Petrucciani [Motion Picture].
On Marvellous. France: Dreyfus Jazz
  • M Petrucciani
Petrucciani, M. (1994). On Marvellous. France: Dreyfus Jazz.
Oscar Peterson Piano Lesson
  • O Peterson
Peterson, O. (1979). Oscar Peterson Piano Lesson. (D. Cavett, Interviewer) Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ec-FrnaU0rs
Jazz, Fundamental Rhythmic Characteristics of Improvised Straightahead . The University of Texas
  • Reference
  • Books
  • A Belfiglio
Reference list Books, articles and recordings Belfiglio, A. (2008). Jazz, Fundamental Rhythmic Characteristics of Improvised Straightahead. The University of Texas, Austin.