Interview: Pianist-Composer Gianni Lenoci On Several of His Recent Projects Including Plaything (2014) with Kent Carter and Bill Elgart

Gianni Lenoci graduated from Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome before later studying improvisation with Mal Waldron and Paul Bley. He’s played solo and in groups with players like Han Bennink, Kent Carter, Bill Elgart, Steve Lacy, Bob Mover, Enrico Rava, and Massimo Urbani. Besides composing, Lenoci plays piano, keyboards, and synthesizer, among other instruments.

When not performing in clubs, concert halls, and music festivals around the world, Gianni Lenoci can often be found in the classroom, a role he has enjoyed for many years. Lenoci is currently working full-time teaching and heading the New Music Department at Conservatorio “Nino Rota” in Monopoli—lecture topics the upcoming semester include Mal Waldron, Alexander Scriabin and Ludwig Van Beethoven. His most recent album Plaything (2014), features bassist Kent Carter and drummer Bill Elgart and provides the starting point for this conversation.

a recent shot of Gianni Lenoci

a recent shot of Gianni Lenoci

Q: Do you recall when you first heard Elgart’s drumming and percussion?

A: I was introduced to Bill’s distinct way of playing years ago when listening to a couple of Paul Bley albums, “Paul Bley with Gary Peacock” and “Mr. Joy,” and one by the great Italian jazz master Franco D’Andrea. I loved Bill’s fantastic interplay and relationship with the piano sound.

Franco D'Andrea Trio (1989)

Franco D’Andrea Trio (1989) YVP Music*

*The original eponymous Franco D’Andrea Trio LP on YVP Music was renamed Chromatic Phrygian and reissued by the same label in 1996, with a different track order. The album is currently available as a CD and digital download.

Q: When did you first play music with drummer Bill Elgart?

A: The guys running the Evil Rabbit label (bassist Meinrad Kneer and pianist Albert van Veenendaal) arranged a festival at the Bimhuis, inviting Bill and myself to play together with different groups and combinations, plus hornman Ab Baars.

Evil Rabbits Records logo

logo for European music label evil rabbits records based in the Netherlands

In October 2012, Gianni Lenoci, Kent Carter, and Bill Elgart recorded their Plaything album at Studio Juillaguet, a recording and dance space located in a rural part of southwest France that is run by Carter and his wife, a professional choreographer. Carter also produced the album, along with Danas Mikailionis and co-producer Valerij Anosov, and engineer Ananda Cherer.

“Spider Diagram,” the fourth track on Plaything (2014), features Kent Carter on bass, Bill Elgart on drums, and Lenoci on his original composition:

Q: Where did the idea for the Plaything album come from?

A: I invited Kent Carter to come to my school in Monopoli [Italy] to do a workshop with our orchestra in which the students performed the music they created at the end of the program. Kent and I had so much fun working together that we soon came up with a recording date, and “Plaything” was born.

Q: How did the band line-up for the album come together?

A: When the moment came for Kent Carter and I to choose the drummer for the trio recording session, we traded emails–and we each recommended the same drummer, at the same time, Bill!

Gianni Lenoci, Kent Carter, and Bill Elgart in 2014

Gianni Lenoci, Kent Carter, and Bill Elgart in 2014

The Plaything LP and digital download features seven compositions by Gianni Lenoci including “Splinter,” “Contusion,” “Spider Diagram,” “Leeway,” and “Kretek,” plus Kent Carter’s “Plaything” and Bill Elgart’s “Drift.”

Q: Any favorite tracks from Plaything?

A: I enjoy each track we did on the album, I really do! But if I had to pick just one… I would say the “free ballads.” Nobody in the world can make the perfect pitch choice as Kent does.

“Drift,” composed by Bill Elgart and featuring Kent Carter and Gianni Lenoci, is here:

Q: I’m curious about some of your musical influences, both growing up and now. What can you share?

A: My “influences” are literally uncountable, as you can easily imagine. But if I had to make a choice I would say, from the “jazz” side, artists like Paul Bley, Mal Waldron, and Steve Lacy. On the “classical” side, the composers would have to include Ludwig van Beethoven, Alexander Scriabin, John Cage, and Morton Feldman. And from the “pianistic” side: Alfred Brendel, Vladimir Horowitz, Alexis Weissenberg, and Ivo Pogorelich come to mind.

Q: These days, what music moves you?

A: I listen a lot to Matthew Shipp and William Parker stuff. The “Lower East Side” school, so to speak. You know. But, speaking frankly, at the current time, I’m trying to forget everything, to go straight to the essence… I’m trying to “unlearn.”

Gianni Lenoci in the 2010s

Gianni Lenoci in the 2010s

Q: What’s on the musical calendar for the new year?

A: I’m planning to do some solo concerts including jazz recitals on Mal Waldron music. I’m also looking forward to play with some fantastic musicians, British violin player Alison Blunt, Italian soprano sax player Gianni Mimmo, and Italian drummer Cristiano Calcagnile, at an improv concert at Stockwerkjazz in Graz, Austra in May.

Several live performances from 2014 featuring Gianni Lenoci are available on YouTube. In April, Lenoci performed at Palazzo Roberti in Mola di Bari, Italy. Two pieces were uploaded to the Internet including an original piano improvisation and his version of the Carla Bley standard “Ida Lupino”:

This autumn, Gianni Lenoci gave a piano solo at the Salone del Conservatorio “Nino Rota” located in Monopoli, doing an improvisation with Bob Dylan’s “My Back Pages” and Lenoci’s interpretation of “In a Sentimental Mood” by Duke Ellington.

A video of the live performance is online:

Q: Do you still have time to create new material with the Gianni Lenoci 4tet?

A: Yes, we continue to do play gigs. I also play regularly with reedmen Eugenio Colombo, Steve Potts, and Sabir Mateen.

Among other projects in the pipeline in 2015 is Testing The System, a Gianni Lenoci CD with American saxophonist and poet Sabir Mateen and drummer Giacomo Mongelli. The album is scheduled for release in the second half of the year on Setola di Maiale, in conjunction with Silta Records.

Mateen, Lenoci, and Mongelli concert poster

Sabir Mateen, Gianni Lenoci, and Giacomo Mongelli concert poster

A live set of Sabir Mateen and the Walnuts Assemblage from 2013 that showcases Sabir Mateenon on clarinet and saxophone, Vittorino Curci on saxophone, Gianni Lenoci on piano and synthesizer, and Giacomo Mongelli on percussion is on YouTube:

More music from Gianni Lenoci is found on MySpace.com. In addition, many of his two dozen plus albums are available in CD, vinyl, and as digital downloads from major music retailers including Amazon and iTunes. Another excellent place to find his music is discogs.com.

Massimo Urbani and the Gianni Lenoci Trio - Round About Max (1991) Sentemo Records

Massimo Urbani and the Gianni Lenoci Trio – Round About Max (1991) Sentemo Records

An earlier interview with Gianni Lenoci focused on Round About Max, the 1991 album by Massimo Urbani and the Gianni Lenoci Trio is located at the excellent music resource Jazz From Italy. The 2 March 2012 interview, in Italian, is HERE.

Gianni Lenoci, Kent Carter, and Bill Elgart - Plaything (2014) NoBusiness Records

Lenoci, Carter, Elgart – Plaything (2014)

Gianni Lenoci, Kent Carter, and Bill Elgart’s Plaything is available as a limited edition vinyl LP from NoBusiness Records and at select record stores. In addition, Silta Records‘ digital download is widely available.