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Happy Birthday to Michel Petrucciani, born OTD in 1962!

Happy Birthday to Michel Petrucciani, born OTD in 1962!

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Michel Petrucciani – pianist (December 28, 1962 – January 6, 1999)

Michel Petrucciani – Full Lenght LIVE Concerts (sheet music)

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MICHEL PETRUCCIANI: GENIUS AND THE ADVERSITY OF GENES

Michel Petrucciani was born in the city of Orange, in the south of France, on December 28, 1962, into a family of musicians of Italian origin.

He was born sick, carrier of osteogenesis imperfecta, but also destined to be part of the select group of European pianists who live in the Olympus of Jazz, an elite where, among others, are his compatriot Martial Solal, the British George Shearing and Victor Feldman and the Spanish Tete Montoliu, the few European keyboardists whose recording contribution has an important impact on the history of that music.

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Osteogenesis imperfecta (OI) is a genetic disease characterized by increased bone fragility that produces spontaneous fractures after minor traumatisms and which, in addition, in some types is associated with dentinogenesis imperfecta and, in adult life, hearing loss.

Based on the clinical history, Petruccianni suffered from type III osteogenesis imperfecta, a severe, progressive, disfiguring, non-lethal form. In most cases, it is caused by a new mutation of the COL1A1 or COL1A2 genes responsible for encoding the α chains of type I collagen, although recessive forms have also been described, it is estimated that it is a type I condition autosomal dominant.

Patients usually present fractures in uterus and therefore at birth present multiple rib and long bone fractures, as well as long bone deformities, especially those of the legs. They may have blue or gray sclera, triangular fascia, and dentinogenesis imperfecta, and the vast majority have short stature and serious difficulties in walking.

Current treatment includes multidisciplinary management that considers the pediatrician, endocrinologist, physiatrist, traumatology, dentist, geneticist, psychological support, kinesiology, and occupational therapy, among others.

The most relevant medications used are bisphosphonates, synthetic analogues of natural inorganic phosphates that act by inhibiting osteoclastic function, thus allowing for reduced bone turnover and decreased risk of fractures.

Current treatment includes multidisciplinary management that considers the pediatrician, endocrinologist, physiatrist, traumatologist, dentist, geneticist, psychological support, kinesiology, and occupational therapy, among others. The most relevant medications used are bisphosphonates, synthetic analogues of natural inorganic phosphates that act by inhibiting osteoclastic function, thus allowing for reduced bone turnover and decreased risk of fractures 4,5 .

In 1962, when Petrucciani was born, bisphosphonates were not yet available.

He was born into a world flooded with pain, but also with music. His father, Antoine Petrucciani, “Tony”, was a teacher and jazz guitarist. His older brother, Louis, played double bass and Michel began classical piano lessons at the age of 4, but not before indignantly breaking a toy piano that his father gave him and demanding a real one.

Of all the jazz he grew up listening to, some of his biggest influences would have been Duke Ellington, Charlie “Bird” Parker, John Coltrane, and legendary pianist Bill Evans. In some of his recordings it is easy to notice the influence of the latter.

At the age of 9 he was already playing in a jazz trio accompanying his father and brother, although at that point it was his father who played the piano and he the drums, and at the same time he spent an average of nine hours a day practicing the piano. As he himself would once say, he had the “advantage” that due to his illness he had no option to distract himself with other things for children his age, such as sports or outdoor games.

He constantly suffered from fractures that caused him chronic pain and was only 99 cm tall, and it was only at the age of 17 that he managed to walk on his own supported by a cane.

When he was just 15 years old, he gave his first concert as a professional at the Cliousclat festival, a town located near Montelimar, where he lived. Even then he was carried in his arms to the piano, and used a special attachment for the pedals that his father had designed for him (later on, the prestigious piano brand Steinway & Sons would manufacture a special adapter for his feet). The great American trumpeter Clark Terry came as an international guest musician at that same festival.

Terry arrived requesting a pianist for his performance and Michel did not hesitate to approach and offer to accompany him. The famous trumpet player looked puzzled at this short and unusual-looking teenager, but Petrucciani, who had personality to spare, just said “ let’s play the blues ” and without further ado began to play the piano. Clark Terry was tremendously impressed and included it in his Festival performance. That performance marked the beginning of a breakneck musical career.

His extensive discography began with “ Flash ”, a record that he recorded at the age of 17 in France, in August 1980, and ended with “ Me voi seul ”, a song in which he accompanies singer Charles Aznavour on the CD “ Jazznavour ”, recorded in November 1998, two months before his death.

In 1982, at the age of 20 and already recognized in European circles, he decided to move to California, USA, where shortly thereafter he met the legendary saxophonist Charles Lloyd, who was already retired at that time. The young man managed to motivate him to come out of retirement, and they toured together, which was enormously successful and culminated in 1985 with a concert at Town Hall in New York for a Blue Note documentary.

Petrucciani did not stop playing and recording at a dizzying rate throughout his short life. In total, he participated in 54 recording sessions -36 of them under his own name- which produced the 42 commercial albums in which the many facets of his wonderful art can be appreciated. There is also the DVD “ Power of Three ”, filmed at the Montreau Jazz Festival (Canada) in 1986, and the DVD “ Concert Solo ”, filmed at the Marciac Jazz Festival (France) in 1996.

Great recordings and concerts with many of the great Jazz of his time: Wayne Shorter, Lee Konitz, Dizzie Gillespie, Joe Lovano, Toots Thielemans, Jim Hall, Dave Holland, Tony Williams, and many others, show the importance and gravitation of their interpretations. The concerts and recordings of him as a soloist are also memorable.

During his extensive travels around the world, he made two visits to Santiago: on November 20 and 21, 1992 and later on December 6 and 7, 1994, both times with his own trio.

He had four significant women in his life and only one son, who inherited his illness. He liked social life and lived intensely, fast and at full steam. In the documentary about his life filmed by Michael Radford and premiered in Cannes in 2011, he confessed that he was afraid of death, but when asked if that fear was related to the possibility of feeling pain before dying, he answered no because that was what he was used.

On several occasions, and especially during his visits to Chile, my father was fortunate to meet and talk to him, which gave him the opportunity to appreciate how, after a few minutes of being there while he was talking, drinking, eating and smoking, one completely forgot his very different and initially shocking physical appearance.

Michel died in New York on January 6, 1999 from pneumonia, having just turned 36 years old. He had just finished a year in 1998 in which he had performed more than 200 concerts. His body was later transferred to Paris, where great honors were paid to him.

The President of France at the time, Jacques Chirac, highlighted in it “his courage, embodied in the tenacity and inclination to challenge that seemed to have meant for Petrucciani a triumph of mind and heart over body.” His remains currently rest in the Père-Lachaise cemetery, next to Chopin’s grave.

His spirit transcends time, immortalized in many memorable recordings made in his only 15-year professional music career. It is enough to listen, for example, to his version of “ Body and Soul ” together with saxophonist Joe Lovano to feel in “body and soul” this extraordinary being who, with his genius, managed to overcome his terrible genetic moorings.

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