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April 2008

Michel Petrucciani
Non Stop Travels with Michel Petrucciani/Trio Live in Stuttgart

It would have been easy and obvious for a documentarian to make a film focusing on how Michel Petrucciani became an extraordinary jazz pianist despite a degenerative bone disease that kept him tiny his entire life. Thankfully, director Roger Willemsen chose not to take that route. While the late musician’s osteogenesis imperfecta is of course a formative part of his life story—Petrucciani died of a pulmonary infection in 1999 at age 37—it’s assumed that most people who would watch Non Stop Travels with Michel Petrucciani (1995) and the live 1998 German concert that occupies the second half of the DVD are already aware that he had this condition, and so it’s treated matter-of-factly. That leaves the music and the musician as the heart of the program, and what a musician Michel Petrucciani was. In both the beautifully filmed Stuttgart concert, at which bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Steve Gadd accompanied the French pianist, and in snippets that appear liberally throughout the documentary, Petrucciani is never less than dazzling.

Music was in fact his guiding force since childhood, and it’s telling that, at one point during the documentary, Petrucciani says that he’d prefer it if audiences didn’t applaud when he performed. He’d rather they laugh. And indeed, an often wicked humor is at the core of his personality, as is an unbending cheerfulness that often surfaces in his playing. Petrucciani’s sheer joy at being able to perform at great halls throughout the world, and with top-shelf musicians, is palpable—he is seen at work in the studio with violinist Stephane Grappelli and drummer Roy Haynes, and hanging in California with early champion Charles Lloyd. And never did anyone look more at peace, or more invested in the art of creativity, than does Petrucciani performing solo on a Manhattan rooftop with the skyline cheering—and, one would hope, laughing—as his backdrop.

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