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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

How a very personal musical journey lead jazz pianist Manuel Rocheman to Dubai

The celebrated French jazz pianist talks about the influence of Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson and crafting a voice with his first album of all original material, misTeRIO.
Manuel Rocheman. Courtesy Alliance Française Dubai
Manuel Rocheman. Courtesy Alliance Française Dubai

It took Frenchman Manuel Rocheman 10 albums and three decades of music-making before he was ready to unveil his first complete set of original tunes, on last year’s misTeRIO.

It is the music of this 11th release that will form the basis of the jazz pianist’s concert at Sofitel Dubai Jumeirah Beach on Wednesday.

“I always thought I needed a mix of my compositions and jazz standards, just to keep the public happy – I thought that was the important thing,” says the 52-year-old.

“But this time it’s a more introspective, creative process.”

The set list for Rocheman’s UAE debut – part of a maiden Middle East tour alongside his long-standing trio, which also includes dates in Jordan and Lebanon – will be fleshed out with covers, but they venture beyond obvious standards.

The pianist promises numbers by legendary French composer Michel Legrand – who recently performed at Dubai Opera – and an unfinished original work pioneering American pianist Bill Evans was said to be working on at the time of his death in 1980.

Evans continues to cast a long shadow over any working jazz trio of piano, double bass and drums – the format his late-1950s and early-1960s work revolutionised – and Rocheman is the first to hold up his hands and bow down in awe.

His 2010 album, The Touch of Your Lips, was a tribute to mark the 30th anniversary of Evans’s death.

“Every jazz pianist has something from Bill Evans. He has influenced every pianist on the planet – it’s a little intimidating,” says Rocheman. “So maybe that’s why I waited so long: to be mature enough in my life and music to be able to do a tribute.”

However, Rocheman’s first influence was Oscar Peterson, a virtuoso who began recording more than a decade before Evans. Born into a family of musicians, Rocheman began studying piano at the age of six but it was a gift of solo-piano Peterson record Tracks from his older brother four years later that set the course of his career.

“I fell in love with the way the piano sounded: all these harmonies – the rhythm of Peterson’s playing was really incredible,” says Rocheman. “I was playing Beethoven and Mozart, but I wasn’t really satisfied with classical music, and when I heard jazz the way it was played by Oscar Peterson, I was charmed.”

By the age of 12, Rocheman was performing at Parisian jazz clubs, and by 16 he had moved to New York, where he received encouragement from veteran pianist Tommy Flanagan, and was accepted as compatriot Martial Solal’s first and only pupil.

After returning to Paris in the early 1980s, Rocheman formed his first trio, beginning a long career which has also included backing jazz luminaries such as Miles Davis drummer Al Foster and Clint Eastwood’s bass-playing son, Kyle. He has never had a job other than playing piano.

“[Foster] is a great friend – I love him. A great, great drummer, one of the best in the world,” says Rocheman.

But while he is quick to acknowledge his influences, the music on misTeRIO is his most personal to date, marking a deliberate swing away from the influence of his heroes.

“When I play I try to forget about Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, my masters,” says Rocheman. “Because while it’s good at a moment in life to be influenced, it’s like when you eat a meal: you have to digest it. The assimilation of things takes time.

“Now I try to share emotions with people with music that is mine, not Bill Evans’s, or anybody else’s.”

• Manuel Rocheman performs at Sofitel Dubai Jumeirah Beach on April 26 at 8pm, Dh100.

rgarratt@thenational.ae