Pianist Michel Petrucciani rose to fame at a very early age. A gifted musician, the diminutive Frenchman perfected his tremendous technical maestria over the course of several years of hard work. This spirited human being developed into a powerful keyboardist despite the congenital bone disease which affected his growth. His frenzied touch, displaying perfect clarity and precision, reminded one of Oscar Peterson, but Petrucciani's lyricism and great sensitivity also pointed towards Bill Evans. Ultimately, he would evolve his own fluid and inventive posthop style.
Michel Petrucciani was born in Orange, in the South of France, in 1962. The son of jazz guitarist Antoine Petrucciani, he was just a toddler when he sat behind a toy drum set in the family band - along with his brothers Philippe, also a guitarist, and Louis, a double bass player.
After watching a Duke Ellington concert on television, Michel set his mind on becoming a pianist. And so he devoted himself to classical piano for eight long years, perfecting his technique and developing a formidable discipline, all of this in the face of the congenial bone disease which affected his growth - only his hands would grow to their normal size.
Although during his training he came to observe a steady and strict diet of Bach, Debussy, Ravel, Mozart and Bartók, Petrucciani never lost his appetite for jazz. He showed a particular taste for the work of fellow pianist Bill Evans, who was an important influence early in his career.
In 1978, Petrucciani made his first professional appearance at the jazz festival held in the French town of Cliousclat. There, as well as playing a set of his own, he shared the stage with trumpeter Clark Terry. In 1980, he recorded his first album in the City of Lights with the aid of his brother Louis. At this stage, the artist's star was shining brightly all over France.
The States I am in
Two years later, Petrucciani left Europe for America. After settling in California, he encountered saxophonist and flautist Charles Lloyd, who had kept a low profile since his heyday in the 1960s. Buoyed by the young pianist, Lloyd reacquainted himself with the jazz scene. The two musicians piloted a quartet which cut their teeth on the West Coast before embarking on a two-year international trek. A date in Montreux was immortalized on A Night in Copenhagen, a recording released in 1983.
The same year, Petrucciani launched his first American album, 100 Hearts, on the Blue Note label. This solo effort comprised of a couple of self-penned compositions and reinterpretations of Ornette Coleman's Turn Around, Sonny Rollins' St. Thomas and Charlie Haden's Silence, among others.
The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal welcomed the pianist for the first time in 1984. Shortly after offering a remarkable solo performance as part of the Pianissimo series, the Frenchman joined trumpeter Freddie Hubbard's All Stars at Théâtre St-Denis. This tour de force turned Petrucciani into a Festival darling overnight.
Inevitably, the musician was asked back the following year. This time, he played with drummer Eliot Zigmund and double bass player Palle Danielsson. The trio was then in the middle of a world tour which would be followed by the recording of celebrated studio album Pianism.
For the Power of Three (1986), another Montreux live performance committed to wax, Petrucciani teamed up with renowned guitarist Jim Hall and saxophonist Wayne Shorter. This was just one of many high-flying collaborations: during the 1980s and 1990s, the pianist also worked with big time players such as Lee Konitz, Charlie Haden, Joe Henderson, Gary Peacock, Stanley Clarke, Lenny White and Jack DeJohnette.
After having returned to Montréal in 1989 and 1991, Petrucciani paid his last visit to the Festival in 1998. On this occasion, he played with a star-studded sextet and debuted material from Both Worlds, his 20th opus.
The pianist passed away on January 6, 1999, in New York City, due to a pulmonary infection. He was buried in Paris, at Le Père-Chaise cemetery, near famous pianist and composer Frédéric Chopin.