This article was originally published on Domus 1059, july and august 2021.
“It must have been around the mid- 1980s, during one of my first concerts abroad. I was playing in Winterthur, in Switzerland, a guest in the trio of American pianist Art Lande’s trio. Instead of taking a direct flight for Sardinia, I have no idea why I decided to return to Italy by train from Munich. I realized that my arrival in Bologna was way ahead of my ferry ride leaving from Civitavecchia. In those few hours of waiting, I enrolled in DAMS, lured in by my passion for Roberto Leydi and ethnomusicology”. This is how Paolo Fresu settled in Bologna: he ended up taking only one exam (theory and solfeggio), but the city won him over, forever. “I have a big passion for houses – the ones in Tucconi, Bologna, and Paris – and I’m able to make them always feel lived-in, even though I’m almost never there. Basically, the secret is simple: they’re neat and tidy when I leave, so when I return they’re inviting, and this is what I do every time I abandon them for a more or less long period”.
This is what he writes in his autobiography, Musica dentro, and he certainly lives up to all expectations. In Fresu’s home in Bologna, nothing is out of place and neatness reigns supreme. He welcomes me with a smile and asks me if I would like a coffee. While he’s getting it ready, he tells me about the covers for the albums of his label, Tŭk Music, which just turned 10 years old. Francesco Bongiorni, Emiliano Ponzi, Alessandro Sanna, Anna Godeassi, Paola Pezzi, Benno Simma are some of the illustrators he has invited to collaborate. On a column I recognise the cover for Heartland, designed by Severino Salvemini and, at that point, Fresu guides me in discovering his personal collection. In the living room I find works by his Cantabrian friend Pilar Gomez Cossio and by the Neapolitan artist Salvatore Ravo, as well as the Sardinian artist Primo Pantoli, and a portrait of Fresu and his wife by Greta Frau. On the stairs leading to his studio, located on the first floor, works by Marco Cingolani, by his brother Antonello, by Salvatore Garau, drummer for the Stormy Six, and a triptych by the Colombian artist Juan Carlos Pineda all coexist.
An attentive observer cannot help but notice the overwhelming energy of Fresu who, all at the same time, is able to prepare tea, find a celebrative catalogue of the ACT Music founder, Siggi Loch (A Life in the Spirit of Jazz), and tell me an anecdote about Massimo Urbani: “In Boston, I shared my room with Massimo who, on the second and final evening of the tour, was half-naked in the hallway desperately knocking on the door. He had gone out to get a Coca-Cola from one of those vending machines that sell ice and beverages on every floor of American hotels, but he had forgotten to take the key with him. I was sound asleep with earplugs because he would snore so loud during the night. This big black security guy caught him in that state and when asked ‘Who are you?’ he answered in his terrific English: ‘I am Max... alto sax’”. Maybe Fresu’s great friend, Gianmaria Testa, describes him best: “For me, Paolo Fresu wears outrageous shoes, oftentimes two-tone. He wears them like he’s always in a rush. When I saw Berchidda, I thought about the distance between his shoes and those roads uphill, that piazza. Then I saw him move around quickly, during the festival, greeted by everyone, looked for by everyone, stopped and talked to by everyone”.
You must know that, for me, lamps and paintings are the most important things. They come before the home itself. This makes my wife fly into a rage.
On this Bolognese morning in late May, with the sun entering shyly into Fresu’s home, offering a glimpse from afar of San Luca and the Two Towers, the owner of the house wears a floral-print shirt, sporty pants and pointy shoes, a prelude to a summer just around the corner. “Speaking of Gianmaria, this Lucifero lamp you see is a gift of his. You must know that, for me, lamps and paintings are the most important things. They come before the home itself. This makes my wife fly into a rage”. In Bologna I brought with me a book by Luciano Viti with photos of Chet Baker and Miles Davis and texts by Fresu. As he leafs through it, retracing the golden age of jazz clubs in Madrid (Cafe Central), Barcelona (La Cova del Drac) and Paris (Le Duc des Lombards, Le Baiser Sale, Sunset), he digresses on Michel Petrucciani: “We played together, the only time in my life, a few months before he died in Catania. I was performing on the same evening with the Angel Quartet and Michel asked me to improvise on Well You Needn’t by Thelonious Monk. I think someone recorded it”.
I confess to Fresu my predilection for his albums recorded with the pianist Uri Caine. “We met backstage during the jazz festival in Marciac, France. The same thing with Omar Sosa in Estonia. I never plan my collaborations, they just happen. Chance doesn’t exist for me”. Fresu gifts me a book celebrating the 30th anniversary of “Time in Jazz”. As I head towards the door, I point out he has never played with Brad Mehldau: “You’re perfectly right. The problem is that, come rain or shine, August for him is always vacation time”.