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  • Writer's pictureClaudio Vignali

Interview by Danilo Bazzucchi


Claudio Vignali began studying the piano at a very young age between classical music and improvisation. He is the winner of the third overall prize at the most important international jazz piano competition: 'Parmigiani Montreux International Jazz Piano Solo Competition 2013', where he had previously been selected among ten jazz pianists under 30 from all over the world. Winner of first prize at the 'Jazz Piano Competition Venezia', semi-finalist at the 'Nottingham International Jazz Piano Solo Competition' in 2012 and 2014 after being selected both times among twelve jazz pianists from around the world, finalist at the 'Premio Massimo Urbani'. In the classical field he won the piano competition promoted by the 'Lions Club of Bologna' in 2011 with a program including music by Rachmaninoff, Ravel and Bach, while in 2002 he won the 'Pio Rocco Zampa' scholarship for young pianists, playing pieces by L.v. Beethoven and F. Schubert. He graduated in classical piano and jazz music with top marks and honors from the conservatories of Ferrara and Adria. He continues to perfect himself with pianists including: Wonmi Kim, Giorgio Gaslini, Ramberto Ciammarughi, Franco d'Andrea, Fausto Caporali (baroque improvisation), Fabiana Ciampi and Daniele Venturi. He has performed in some of the most important Italian and international festivals, theaters and jazz clubs including: 'Montreux Jazz Festival – Grand Palace Montreux', 'Septembre Musical – VeveyMontreux', 'La Nuit des Pianistes' (6 jazz pianists and 6 classical pianists selected from all over the world), 'Oslo Grefsen Jazz Society' (Norway), 'Eldmessa Project Frikirkjan and Iceland National Radio Reykjavik' (Isalnda), 'Japan Tour Kob 2017' (Japan), 'Switzerland Tenero Music Festival' ( Switzerland), 'Bremen Jazzahead Festival' (Germany), 'Sanremo 2019', 'Piano Solo Teatro Comunale di Bologna', 'Piano Solo Conservatory of Bologna' and many others. In March 2017 he played in Japan in trio and solo piano. The tour led him to perform in important jazz clubs and concert halls, obtaining excellent feedback from Japanese critics. In the same year, together with Principato and Hiorth he toured Iceland, where he had the opportunity to play for the national radio in Reykjavik. In 2019 he toured Norway, where he held a piano and improvisation masterclass at the Rønningen FolkehØgkole music academy. The same masterclass is offered at 'SoloQui' Treviso where, together with Principato and Hiorth, he teaches the students of the Oslo conservatory. His artistic history was included in the book 'Buonanotte ai Suonatori' by Marco Cespugli and in the book by the journalist Paolo Natalini in the music and poetry section. His activity has led him to collaborate with important internationally renowned artists including: Joe Locke, Tiger Okoshi, Rob Mazurek, Lucy Woodward (singer of Snarky Puppy), Arne Hiorth, Oddrun Eikli, Gunnar Gunnarsson, Fabrizio Bosso, Flavio Boltro, Francesco Bearzatti, Torstein Lofthus, Massimo Manzi, Andrea Dulbecco, Mauro Negri, Maxx Furian, Fulvio Sigurtà, Achille Succi, Tarun Balani, James Thompson, Diana Torto and many others. Regarding his latest important recording works, his latest album 'Rach Mode On' with Rob Mazurek and Daniele Principato, obtained excellent feedback from critics and was reviewed by prestigious magazines including: 'The Wire – London', 'Jazz Trial – New York', 'Jazzit', 'Percorsi “-Musicali' and many others. Among the various albums in which he took part, it is important to mention the album 'Tiziano Bianchi Relate' which sees the precious participation of Bill Frisell on guitar. He has been a guest on Rai radio programs several times, including 'La Stanza della Musica', 'Piazza Verdi' and 'Battiti'. His records have been reviewed by some of the most important Italian and international magazines in the sector, including: 'The Wire' (London). 'The Jazz Trail' (New York), 'Jazzit', 'Musica Jazz' and many others. He held jazz piano masterclasses at 'Rønningen Folkenhøgskolen' Oslo (Norway). He worked as a piano teacher during the 'L'Eco dei Passi' masterclass from 2015 to 2019, with the coordination of Tiger Okoshi of the 'Berklee Music School' in Boston. He teaches 'theory and reading of the score' at the AERCO course in Bologna.

I would like to start with how your musical journey began, at what age did you discover the piano and was it your choice or did someone push you?

It was my choice. My parents were very passionate about music and so was my sister, who took piano lessons. I started on my own at 8 years old, playing by ear and improvising on the piano we had at home, until my mother and father took me to see a piano school perform. From that moment I was fascinated and decided to start studying this beautiful instrument. I then attended the conservatory and graduated in classical piano. At the same time I have always followed and practiced jazz".

What was the reason that made you choose jazz as a musical genre for your profession?

«Already as a child I improvised on the piano, but naturally I didn't know jazz in depth. The transition happened when they gave me a Michel Petrucciani CD, which I fell in love with. From there I began to discover and become more and more passionate about this genre, and then chose it as a profession".

In this period of pandemic, naturally you won't be able to do concerts and maybe even other things you would like, how do you organize your days, how do you spend your time?

Well, a bit like many of my colleagues are doing, I continue with online teaching. I also invest time in production, on some of my projects that I have had in the pipeline for some time and which, taking advantage of this situation, I try to carry forward".

Despite being young you have made records, concerts, collaborations with very important artists. Is there anyone with whom you got on better and bonded more and maybe even became friends?

Yes, there are quite a few. For several years I have been playing with the Norwegian trumpeter Arne Hiorth, with whom I have developed a beautiful relationship. I met him thanks to Daniele Principato, producer and dear friend, with whom I often collaborate. There is also a great synergy and friendship with Rob Mazurek. With him I recorded my latest album 'Rach Mode On' and we did several concerts, always with Principato on electronics. These two artists are certainly the ones to whom I am most attached both from a human and expressive point of view. Finally Tiger Okoshi, with whom we sometimes play in a quartet, and hold masterclasses for musicians at the 'Teatro Bismantova' organized by Tiziano Bianchi. I have had the fortune and pleasure of collaborating with other fantastic musicians in Japan, Germany, Iceland, Norway, France, England, Poland and at the 'Montreux Jazz Festival'.

Tell us something about your latest recording: 'Rach Mode On', which you made with Rob Mazurek and Daniele Principato.

«The idea for this album was born after years of instrumental research, compositional study and experiments in interaction between acoustic and electronic music, together with Daniele Principato. The fulcrum of everything is improvisation which is not relegated only to 'classical' instruments, but becomes a sound experience between electronics and acoustic instruments. The 'real time loop remix' or real time sampling has a fundamental aspect in this work. The piano is, in fact, recorded and remixed extemporaneously, adding effects, changing pitch, overlapping loops; all this while I play and interact with the electronics which in turn improvises together with me. On the album there are sounds deriving from jazz, classical music (in particular the prelude in Rachmaninoff's Gm op.23 n.5 and Faurè's string quartets) and obviously from electronic music. It was published on Marco Valente's 'Auand Beats' label and received excellent feedback from critics. The reviews have been published in major magazines including 'The Wire', 'NY Jazz Trail' and many others.

What do you think of jazz music? Many consider it niche music and for people of a certain age. How do you judge the situation in Italy.

«It is certainly a particular type of music that requires greater attention than other genres. In the new productions there are very interesting mixes and contaminations, which perhaps can attract a wider and younger audience. Jazz conservatories and music courses in various academies have also contributed to the spread of jazz among the new generations, who I believe are showing more interest in this musical art form".

What is your favorite concert, if there is one obviously: I mean do you prefer to play alone or in a trio/quartet, do you have a formation that you feel better with or is it indifferent?

This is a good question, maybe I'm a bit vague, I wouldn't be able to answer you well. I have moments where I really like playing solo piano, others where I prefer the trio, and finally others where I am interested in integrating the sound of the piano with electronics. I like playing with artists with whom a musical and human relationship of mutual respect is established; with which you can create a real working group, but also friendship".

Classic final question, current and future projects and whether there is a dream in the drawer.

«I'm working on two new projects, one in solo piano and the other in quartet. As for my secret dream, it's very simple: right now I'd like to travel abroad again. It is certainly a desire dictated by the fact that this situation confines us and blocks all of us in a very strong way. I have wonderful memories of a year in particular in which I had the opportunity to play and travel a lot in Europe and Japan; I miss always seeing new things and interacting with different people. When this difficult situation ends, I hope to travel a lot again.


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