Blue Notes: Danilo Rea; and Keith Jarrett's Standards Trio

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 June, 2013, 3:00pm

The Umbria Jazz Festival, which has its 40th anniversary this year, is one of the greatest annual musical events of its kind in the world.

It takes place from July 5-14, and alongside the major attractions - Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, Wynton Marsalis, Sonny Rollins, Diana Krall, Terence Blanchard, Branford Marsalis, Keith Jarrett's Standards Trio and more - there is always a strong representation of Italian jazz musicians.

Danilo Rea is a festival stalwart, and will be appearing this year as half of a duo with veteran pianist and compatriot Renato Sellani.

Jazz is enormously popular in Italy, but few of its jazz musicians - Rea and Sellani included - enjoy the profile their talents warrant outside their home country. This may be because Italian record companies don't seem to do much of a job of promoting or distributing their products overseas.

They are worth hearing, and a trip to Umbria for the festival is worthwhile. For those who don't have the budget for that, there is at least a chance to hear Rea play, solo, tomorrow night at the Youth Square Y-Theatre as part of the Jazz World Live Series.

Rea, 56, is classically trained, and studied at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia in Rome. He came to prominence playing with New Perigeo, a 1980s incarnation of Italy's best known progressive rock band, but found his natural voice in jazz.

He has worked with Chet Baker, Lee Konitz, Michael Brecker, Billy Cobham, Joe Lovano, Phil Woods, Kenny Wheeler and Italian singer Gino Paoli.

What makes Danilo Rea so special is his ability to interpret popular songs without altering the harmonic structures, something most jazz pianists won't do naturally
Ted Lo

Rea, known for reinterpretations of compositions from outside the usual jazz repertoire, last performed in Hong Kong in 2011 in a duo with Italian trumpeter Flavio Boltro. He played opera tunes, and - solo - songs by The Beatles, Elton John and James Taylor, among others.

This concert will comprise unaccompanied reinterpretations of film music, including from Schindler's List, A Fistful of Dollars, and Cinema Paradiso, as well as themes from John Barry's scores for the James Bond movies.

Another of Rea's favourites is Henry Mancini's theme for The Pink Panther - the original recording of which featured the great jazz saxophonist Plas Johnson.

Monday is a night off for a lot of musicians, and quite a few of the leading local jazz players are likely to turn out to hear Rea. Ted Lo is one notable fan.

"There are so many great pianists today who can improvise on just about anything with great technical facilities and jazz vocabulary," Lo says. But "what makes Danilo Rea so special is his ability to interpret popular songs without altering the harmonic structures, something most jazz pianists won't do naturally. He does it so musically and creatively with the full integrity of the composition. This is a real challenge, and Danilo is truly an amazing musician."

For the lucky few who make it to Umbria for the festival, Rea's performance with the now 85-year-old Sellani will be an undoubted highpoint. But the performance likely to attract the most attention will be the return of the Keith Jarrett Standards Trio, after an enforced six-year absence.

The trio, comprising Jarrett - to whom Rea is sometimes compared - bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette, has its 30th anniversary this year.

The members played perhaps their most notorious gig at Umbria in 2007. On that occasion Jarrett, who was apparently upset by flashbulbs going off during the show, treated the photographers and the audience to an abusive harangue, announcing that if he saw another flash he and his bandmates reserved the right to "leave the goddamn city". Some of his other remarks cannot be printed.

The festival organisers banned him from performing there again. All seems forgiven now, if not forgotten. There may be a certain tension in the air, but this time the irascible pianist will presumably be on his best behaviour, and the organisers will be doing their best to stop the flashes going off.

That, however, is not likely to be an issue tomorrow at Youth Square Y-Theatre with Rea.

Take Three

Three albums showcasing the different facets of Danilo Rea's piano playing.

  • Lost in Europe (2000, Via Veneto): Rea in concert, playing a mixed bag of compositions, sensitively interpreted and juxtaposed, plus a couple of original tunes.



  • So Right (2005, CamJazz): Rea with bassist Enzo Pietropaoli and drummer Aldo Romano, accompany singer Maria Pia de Vito through some classic Joni Mitchell tunes, and a handful of Mitchell-inspired originals.



  • Opera (2011, ACT): Rea and Flavio Boltro on trumpet perform jazz interpretations of well-known operatic themes by Italian composers, including Monteverdi, Rossini, Puccini and Bellini.