Rossano Sportiello - That's It !

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2020 CD release.

By the age of 20, pianist Rossano Sportiello had mastered the repertoire of trad jazz, from Jelly Roll Morton and Dixieland to Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller, with special emphasis on stride piano. He did all this while growing up in Northern Italy, learning from records and playing in European trad jazz bands beginning when he was 16. Rossano could have pursued a career in trad jazz after coming to the United States at 22, and did continue to emulate such early model/mentors as Ralph Sutton, Dick Hyman and Dave McKenna, notable for their swing and stride styles.

But Rossano was drawn to jazz not primarily because of the trad style, but because of the possibilities he heard in the freedom of improvisation. His early piano lessons were classical, and hearing improvisation was a revelation to him. Exploring music styles beyond trad and stride is an ongoing source of inspiration, and he incorporates all he's learned into his own playing.  

“I met Barry Harris [New York’s dean of bebop pianists] when I was 26,” says Rossano, “and we have been friends for 20 years. It is so inspiring to hear him play that I came to the conclusion that he knew the truth when he spoke too.”

Barry belongs to what Rossano (like many critics) calls the New York School of pianists, a group including but not limited to the likes of Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones, Sir Roland Hanna and Jimmy Rowles. Rossano cites Hank for “the great lesson that you did not have to bang the instrument to swing, you can play softly, with a couple of fingers, and still swing.”

In his quarter century in the U.S., Rossano has recorded and performed with a wide swath of jazz musicians, including saxophonists Houston Person, Harry Allen and Scott Hamilton; trumpeters Warren Vaché, Clark Terry and Joe Wilder; trombonists Dan Barrett and Slide Hampton, and in many duet encounters with other pianists. He is particularly proud of his solo piano albums. His sixth, That’s It!, comes out on Arbors Records this month.

“This CD is something new,” Rossano muses. “It blends so many elements, but I’m not just mixing them up at random, I am incorporating them all into a mixture that blends completely together into something new. There are elements of bebop, elements of stride piano, elements of classical, elements of swing, and also clear stylistic references to Hank Jones, Dave McKenna, Ralph Sutton, Art Tatum, Bill Evans. I don’t think this has ever happened before.”

A lot of those elements he references appear on the album, which is not really surprising since Rossano says he often doesn’t know what exactly is coming next either. He will incorporate something that he remembers at the moment into what he is playing, no matter how incongruous it might seem. For instance, he begins the Rodgers and Hart tune “Thou Swell” in a romantic, rubato opening then transitions to a fast, striding statement of the melody through the opening chords of Miles Davis’ “Milestones.” Another Rodgers and Hart tune, a lushly treated “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” morphs into a Bach Prelude, because they are both in C Major.

The album is a generous mix of standards, including some Fats Waller-associated tunes right up to Michel Legrand, and five Rossano originals, ranging from the Bill Evans inspired “She Is There” and “Song for Emily” to “Nonno Bob’s Delight,” which bounces exuberantly between 3/4 and 4/4. Throughout the album, Rossano employs stride in more ways than most listeners are accustomed to, from rollicking, full-tilt to soft, guitar-like strumming and every kind of swinging in between.

George Kanzler ~ Hot House Jazz


SKU 78094114792
Barcode # 78094114792
Brand Arbors Records

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