The Prize Winner 2004

Aldo Romano | Photo |

French or Italian?
The Romano family moved to France when Aldo was seven years old. Ever since he has worked and lived in the European center of jazz: Paris. But he still has his Italian citizenship.

The beginning
Romano studied guitar and was already playing professionally in Paris in the 1950s. After hearing Donald Byrd’s group with drummer Arthur Taylor through the air-shaft in the street, Romano took up the drums 20 years old. He is basically self-taught and an admirer of Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Ed Blackwell and Billy Higgins. In the early 1960s Romano was employed with Barney Wilen’s and Michel Portal’s local modern groups. This led to Romano playing with visiting Americans including Jackie McLean, Bud Powell, Stan Getz and Kenney Drew.

“Free Jazz”
Romano met bass player Jean-François Jenny-Clark from whom he was inseparable for a long while. As early as 1964 the drummer was involved in one of the first European free jazz formations. Over the next few years the drum playing of Sunny Murray among others influenced him. Also playing regularly with Don Cherry (JAZZPAR Nominee 1991) and Gato Barbieri made an impression. Romano fondly remembers his first visit to Denmark in 1966 when he played at the Café Montmartre in Copenhagen with Cherry’s band including Barbieri. With these two musicians, plus notably Enrico Rava (JAZZPAR Prize Winner 2002) and Steve Lacy (JAZZPAR Nominee 1998), Romano took part in the recording of New Feelings, under the responsibility of Giorgio Gaslini. He worked simultaneously with Barney Wilen and Michel Portal (JAZZPAR Nominee 1997), and also with less avant-garde musicians such as Eddy Louiss, Jean-Luc Ponty, Phil Woods or Charles Tolliver.

Rock and the combining of aesthetics
Romano met Joachim Kühn and worked regularly with him over a number of years. In 1967, they made two records together on a trip to the United States, where Joachim and Rolf Kühn’s quartet was performing at the Newport Festival. Early on Romano proved to be interested in the possibility of combining the aesthetics of free jazz with the binary rhythm of rock music. This spawned a number of albums in 1968 where Romano played a vital part. In 1969, a particularly fertile year, he recorded with Kühn, Portal, Lacy, worked with Keith Jarrett for a while, and in 1970 formed Total Issue with flautist Chris Hayward, guitarist Georges Locatelli and bass player Henri Texier, an attempt at fusion in which Romano revealed a new facet of his talent because, as well as playing the drums and guitar, he sang. The commercial failure of Total Issue eventually caused the group to split. Romano then spent most of his time playing as a sideman, often in the company of Jenny-Clark, for French and American band-leaders.
In 1974 Aldo Romano formed Pork Pie with saxophonist Charlie Mariano, keyboardist Jasper Van’t Hoff, guitarist Philip Catherine and Henry Texier, rapidly replaced by Jenny-Clark. In 1977 he reunited with Enrico Rava who took him and Jenny-Clark on in his quartet with trombonist Roswell Rudd. On one of the quartet’s trips to Rome, Romano recorded an album made up exclusively of duos with Jenny-Clark, dedicated to Pavese – this extraordinary album includes a recital of the Italian poet's texts. Romano released his first album as a leader with Claude Barthélémy and the following years the group Alma Latina brought together several young musicians discovered by the drummer, in particular Jean-Pierre Fouquey and Benoît Wideman, and also old friends such as Philip Catherine.

Small groups
During the 1980s Romano looked back to his earlier style, to the small-group free music. He brought pianist Michel Petrucciani to the world’s attention, by introducing him to the producer of Owl Records. In trios they made several records. Then Romano recorded with Catherine and with Texier and saxophonist Eric Barret. In 1988 Romano’s Italian roots were fondly remembered with the foundation of his Italian Quartet with Paolo Fresu, Franco D’Andrea, and Furio Di Castri. This quartet recorded a collection of Italian songs on Palatino – named after the Rome-Paris night train – which also includes Glen Ferris on trombone.

The nomad
A versatile and original instrumentalist, Aldo Romano has gradually proved himself to be an imaginative musician and composer, anxious to go further than some people’s academic boundaries of jazz, without, however, developing any kind of musical demagogy. This was demonstrated by the trio he formed in 1995 with Louis Sclavis (JAZZPAR Nominee 2002) and Henri Texier for a three-week tour of six Central African countries. In the resulting melodic album each note and every rhythm conjures up a whole universe. Three years later the three companions renewed the experience with a trip around Eastern Africa. His taste for foreign ambiences brought Romano to compose Corners accompanied by Tim Miller (g), Mauro Negri (cl) and Ronnie Paterson (p).
Aldo Romano is inspired by certain places across the world. His music is sometimes happy. But more often Romano is “nostalgic for the unknown land without man’s dangerous lack of concern”, he has said. Intervista (Verve, 2001) – with bassist Palle Danielsson, saxophonist Stefano di Battista, and Brazilian guitarist Nelson Veras – is a overview of his musical career, with Ornette Coleman inspired tunes, Latin-American compositions and operatic arias.

Recently Aldo Romano has recorded the album Because of Bechet with electronic and sampling colors. Only a musician of Romano’s caliber could re-examine Sidney Bechet from his own story’s viewpoint and that of our present. Bechet seems to have been locked away forever. To re-read the great clarinet and soprano player, the whole tradition must be known from the inside. But it is a daring process trying to isolate the part of the timeless, which make the greatest artists distinctive. Romano was content to listen to Bechet as he was, and play with him like he might have done with a Coltrane. And so, in the course of a phrase improvised by the remarkable saxophonist there might be an echo of A Love Supreme? All of a sudden, the Rues d'Antibes, Les Oignons, even the Petite Fleur, that everyone had been churning out for years, flourish with a color and swing in mint condition. This has nothing to do with cosmetic uplifts according to the taste of the day. Bechet’s soprano, teleported by contemporary computers and sampling, springs up all on its own and lets itself be carried, like the most natural thing in the world, by the drumming of Aldo Romano.

His music
Aldo Romano is playing with a raw insouciance. He vigorously moves between free drumming and the time-keeping role. Any group with Romano will have some relaxed insouciantly moments as well as music with a pugnacious swing.
His compositions have a recognizable Franco-Italian style, compounded of bebop elements with a folk strain, dance and formal concert music, and exceed the mainstream.
The 62 years old Aldo Romano has lifted the music on an impressive list of records with well-known as well as less known artists. Throughout his career he has been faithful to his own and his fellow musicians’ artistic ambitions. But he hasn’t received the international recognition he deserves.

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