Petrucciani, Jazz Pianist, Is Dead at 36
By STEPHEN HOLDEN
NEW YORK -- Michel Petrucciani, a French jazz pianist and composer with
an international following whose keyboard virtuosity earned him comparisons
to Art Tatum and Bill Evans, died Wednesday at Beth Israel Hospital in
Manhattan. He was 36 and lived in Manhattan.
The cause was a pulmonary infection, said a representative of his French
record company, Francis Dreyfus Music.
Petrucciani was a national hero in France, and his records were best sellers
in Europe. French President Jacques Chirac was among the many who paid
tribute to him Wednesday, praising his ability to "renew jazz, giving himself
up to his art with passion, courage and musical genius." He called him
an "example for everyone."
The career of Petrucciani, who was considered one of the great romantics
of the jazz piano, lourished in spite of a severe physical disability.
The pianist was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as "glass
bones," a disease that stunted his growth (he was only three feet tall
and weighed barely 50 pounds) and weakened his bones. Petrucciani had to
be carried onto the stage, and he used a special attachment to work the
sustaining pedal of the piano.
The ailment didn't affect his hands, however, and he played with a seemingly
inexhaustible vigor and enthusiasm.
Petrucciani was born to Italian parents in Montpellier, France. His family
was musical, and as a child he played the drums in a band with his father,
Tony, a guitarist, and his brother Louis, a bassist. After studying classical
music for eight years, he turned to jazz full time because he loved to
improvise and wanted to write his own music.
He began his professional career when he was 15, playing for the drummer
and vibraphonist Kenny Clarke.
Moving to Paris, he recorded his first album at 17, and he was appearing
regularly at European jazz festivals while still a teen-ager. After a visit
to New York he toured France in a duo with the saxophonist Lee Konitz,
with whom he recorded an album of duets.
While in California in 1981, Petrucciani was discovered by the saxophonist
Charles Lloyd, who made him a member of his quartet. They toured Europe
and recorded an album, "Montreux '82." One of his most acclaimed early
recordings, "100 Hearts" (Concord), was an album of solos.
Between 1986 and 1994, he made seven albums for Blue Note Records, including
"Power of Three" (with Wayne Shorter and Jim Hall), and an acclaimed album
of original songs, "Michel Plays Petrucciani" (Blue Note).
In 1994 he was made a knight of the Legion of Honor in Paris.
For all the comparisons to Bill Evans, Petrucciani had found his own style,
which was more aggressive, fuller and sunnier than that of his idol and
incorporated secondary influences as disparate as McCoy Tyner and Debussy.
A marriage to Gilda Butta, a pianist, ended in divorce.
He is survived by his companion, Isabelle, his publicist said, and by a
son, Alexandre, and a stepson, Rachid Roperch, both of Paris, from a previous
At the time of his death, he was hoping to set up an international jazz
school in France.
"It's my life's work," he said. "Jazz is dying out."