An Interview with Paolo and Stephanie

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Paolo Alderighi & Stephanie Trick in a casual pose (photo by Ugo Galassi)

Having been intrigued by the music played by Paolo Alderighi and Stephanie Trick on their new CD, I thought it might be interesting to my readers to hear from the creators of the music, to get their thoughts on their influences, their style and their future directions. Thus I am pleased to present this interview with them, and thank them for being gracious enough to take the time out of their very busy schedules to give it.

Art Music Lounge: I guess, first of all, I should ask why you chose to record this album on two pianos rather than your usual piano four hands?

Stephanie Trick: After having recorded four CDs together in four hands on one piano (two of which were with the rhythm section), we thought it would be a fun challenge to work on some arrangements on two pianos. Playing on two pianos is very different from playing on one, in terms of the use of same or different registers, the textures you can obtain, and the way two instruments resonate with each other.

AML: One of the things that struck me about this particular album is that, unlike your previous recordings, some of it seemed to be geared towards a straight reading of many songs, particularly in the four medleys. I did notice a few choruses that were improvised, but for the most part these sections of the CD were almost like “orchestrated” arrangements of these tunes given in four-hand piano reductions. Your thoughts?

Paolo Alderighi: Yes. Our concept for this album was to choose some very well-known songs and other more obscure ones and explore their melodic dimension through the possibilities that the two-piano format has to offer. As you rightly pointed out, the element of improvisation is present but not dominant here. Especially in the medleys, our goal was to create a coherent flow of 6-8 minutes of music that sounded natural despite passing through different treatments and moods for each song of the medley. By limiting the room for improvisation, we were able to focus more on the timbral aspect and on the dynamics (a good challenge for us for our first recording on two pianos). Both Stephanie and I were classically trained but mainly work in the traditional jazz scene (where improvisation and the swing feel are basic everyday ingredients). In this album we tried to recall elements learned during our studies in classical music as well as explore other musical landscapes.

AML: By contrast with the medleys, I was really delighted by your re-imagining of certain songs, particularly Marie, The Lambeth Walk, Heartaches, Penny Lane and Mr. Sandman. Here, it sounded as if the two of you were playing around with these songs for your own enjoyment, throwing different rhythms and tempos in just for the fun of it. Is this how you approached them?

ST: Yes. First of all, we had a lot of fun working on this project. Two pianos offer a wide spectrum of possibilities, and most likely this is what inspired the treatment of those songs. The fact that we have a lot of time to practice together enables us to work out arrangements that are more structured than what we’d do if we played in a more spontaneous jam-session-like situation – arrangements with different textures and approaches condensed into a few minutes of music, more like classical pieces of music than jazz tracks. Once the arrangements are worked out, the goal is to play them as accurately as possible without missing an important ingredient of jazz – spontaneity (since there is a component of improvisation in each arrangement).

AML: With each disc you release, I hear both of you moving out a little more in terms of taking risks in your improvisations. On this disc, for instance, I heard some choruses that sounded like a funky blues beat or even some of the kind of propulsive playing that Bud Powell did. Have you been listening to pianists like Powell or Horace Silver? It seems as if there is some of their music in your approach now.

PA: All jazz musicians try to expand the boundaries of their playing, their skills, and the realm of possibility by approaching different styles and even genres. Bud Powell and Horace Silver are two important reference points in jazz history. Both Stephanie and I have listened to them as well as a lot of other artists and kinds of music and it’s hard to say why a certain style emerges and where it comes from. If you hear influences from Silver and Powell in this recording, it wasn’t intentional on our part, but thank you for the compliment!

AML: I was particularly happy to hear your choice of Penny Lane for this album, as this is one of the Beatles’ most harmonically interesting songs. Are you considering arrangements of other tunes from the 1960s or ‘70s?

ST: Maybe. We love the music of the Beatles (as well as other tunes of the ‘60s and ’70s) and it’s gratifying to see that even the jazz fans react positively when we perform songs that aren’t strictly within the classic jazz tradition or the Great American Songbook. So far though, we have mostly focused on songs from these two sources, occasionally allowing a few intruders into our repertoire and our plan is to include more in the future. What we try to do is write arrangements that are stimulating to play and to listen to, so that we look forward to playing them. And starting with a song that we like helps, no matter where it comes from (Broadway, Hollywood, popular music from the ‘60s and ‘70s…). After all, the jazz masters who have inspired us were known to incorporate songs from very different origins into their repertoires. They illustrated time and again that it’s not as much the song (or genre) as it is your treatment of it that matters.

AML: Since I know that both of you have classical backgrounds, I know you both have good “ears” for unusual harmonic movement in music. Can we expect even more changes in this direction in some of your future performances?

PA: The world of classical music is a very big source of inspiration for us. The fact that we had a classical background helps us draw out (or at least, attempt to draw out) certain sonorities from the piano(s). The use of dynamics is an important element that we love to use in our arrangements and one that is essential in classical music. You mentioned harmony: although we use fairly simple harmony, we try to be precise with it. The use of more complex chords does not necessarily result in a better rendition of the tune. When we work on a song, we always try to find out the chords that the composer wrote in the original sheet music and any departure we make is from there, never exaggerating by venturing into territories that are too far from what we can instinctively hear and understand. It has to sound natural: if you aren’t able to feel a certain harmonic structure or movement it won’t sound good when you play it! Having said this, we like experimenting, so we’ll continue searching for different harmonic approaches in the future.

AML: As I mentioned earlier, several of the pieces on this album—even the purely jazz performances—almost struck me as reduced orchestrations. Are either of you thinking of perhaps scoring some of these for an orchestra? I think they’d sound fantastic played that way.

PA: We would very much like to adapt some of our arrangements for orchestra or for piano and orchestra, and also work on new arrangements with the latter ensemble in mind. It would be exciting to deal with the wider spectrum of timbres that an orchestra offers. We hope that this will become a tangible opportunity soon and look forward to having more chances to develop what we have done so far!

AML: Thank you for your time!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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