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The Jazz Culture Feature

The Rossano Sportiello Trio at The Cafe Carlyle photo below by M. Mototsu

The Jazz Culture, VII:3


The Rossano Sportiello Trio by L. Hamanaka

Caught the Rossano Sportiello Trio at Café Carlyle, who came on right after Woody Allen’s group, with Frank Tate, bass, Dennis Mackrel, drums and Mr. Sportiello, piano. As an introduction, they played “How Long Has This Been Going On,” and “Strike Up the Band,” by George Gershwin. Mr Sportiello’s sophisticated innuendo and knowledge of the lyric of the first song, using dynamic variety and adding a natural flowing obligato, with Mr. Tate’s full sonorous sound on his bass lines, and Mr. Mackrel’s beautiful brushwork keeping a throbbing pulse. On “Strike Up the Band,” at about 200=quarter note, Mr. Sportiello’s perfectly phrased improvisation lit a quiet fire with enough virtuosity to make it look easy, while Mr. Tate’s effortless pizzicato and occasional anticipation of the downbeat marked him as a superior player. Mr. Mackrel applied feather light sensitivity even with sticks as the trio went to cut time to take the song out. Mr. Sportiello then announced they were doing a Tribute to George Shearing, the English pianist composer who settled in New York after World War II. The first song in this section was “She” the gorgeous song that is an ode to the female spirit. Expressing the theme sotto voce, in an intimate manner that suited the room, as if he were playing “only for you,” the slightly funky melody over the walking quarter note at about 116, swung warmly and surely. Long an international star, and noted virtuouso who has played major festivals and concert stages in Europe, Mr. Sportiello is well acquainted with many different types of venues. Mr. Tate played with surefooted mellow style, and exchanged four’s with the drummer lightly, their softest expression crystal clear in the fine acoustics of the room. The Trio then played “I Cover the Waterfront” (a standard favored by Mr. Shearing) at about 96= quarter note, after a rubato introduction without any maudlin 2

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overtones, the loneliness inherent in the song contained in a strong rhythmic pulse with an inherent elegance and poetry to his sound, occasionally throwing in a blue note with well- placed triplets and perfectly phrased 16th notes runs. Tate soled on chords Rossano Sportiello by Maki Mototsu that embraced several registers of his instrument. Mr. Sportiello was like an impressionist painter who seeks to render subtly, using a lot of light in his tone. Mr. Sportiello fortunately has a technique that allows him to dip into his lower bass register, using his left hand freely in his improvisational lines. John Watson, piano, keyboard/vocal w- Leee John



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Lala Sportiello, Singer

“Move” followed, a song written by Denzel Best, Mr. Shearing’s drummer, at about 300=quarter note, which displayed Mr. Sportiello’s love of fast tempos. This song Mr. Mackrel was able to show his gift of thinking very horizontally, so that the light subdivisions he played flowed melodically, and his knowledge of the pitches of his drums enabled him to capture the essence of the tune.

Mr. Sportiello then announced he was going to do something spontaneous; he asked the audience did they think it was possible to combine “Schumann and the Blues?” and proceeded to do so, with the most famous song by Robert Schumann in his Kinderszenen, or Scenes from Childhood. Taking advantage of Café Carlyle’s great acoustics, Mr. Sportiello first played the classical song and then changed the harmony to that of the blues, inserting some blue notes, and using the strength of the rhythm section to solo over it, very sexily and maintaining a steady flow. An Original, “To George Shearing with Love,” was next, an exquisite ballad with a melody like soft velvet raindrops on a windowpane, he used scalar ideas with some big leaps to create a scene that gave insight into the inner world of his idol George Shearing and revealed a significant composing talent. A lady in the audience asked him where he was from in Italy, and Mr. Sportiello said he was born near Naples but grew up mostly around Milan, which may explain his musical range, which 4

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Dennis Mackrel, drums, Frank Tate, bass, Rossano Sportiello, piano talk down a set at the bar ofCafe Carlyle

like Lester Young’s, swerves from the earthy to the sublime. He spent most of his days practicing all day long like most pianists do, and studied classical music, and said it was always his desire to perform both jazz and classical music. The knowledge of classical piano repertoire gives him a bigger pond to fish from in his improvisational excursions and the technical possibilities of the instrument (he belongs to the Abbey Whiteside School), as well as the mastery to achieve those possibilities, and has reduced his limitations. He said he remembered after one of his classical concerts playing a jazz tune as an encore, much to the dismay of the audience. Mr. Sportiello noted that George Shearing also played classical and jazz at some concert in the 1960’s. Mr. Sportiello still wants to combine the two genres, though most of his music at the CafÊ Carlyle was jazz. Of the pianists of his generation (below 40), currently playing, he has evolved the most stylistically and, seems to be an artist who is constantly exploring and expanding the harmonic and mystical aspects of jazz. The Jazz Culture, V.II:3


The Trio then played “Shoe Shine Boy,” a tune of Fats Waller, a stride pianist who was a cohort of Mr. Shearing’s, who made the remark that when he met Fats Waller, his enormous hands made him feel that he was shaking hands with a bunch of bananas. “Shoe Shine Boy” is from the Count Basie songbook, a lively romp depicting a street corner in Harlem after the turn of the century, and enabled Mr. Sportiello to display his well known virtuosity in stride piano, a very jubilant and down to earth sound with an urban flavor. Dennis Mackrel played sticks on the rims of his drums appropriate to the period; he has a unique sound as a drummer; using the melody reveal the story beneath the song, as Mr. Sportiello played a running commentary focusing on his left hand. The Trio then played a boisterous showy ending a la Fats Waller. They then did a song by Leonard Bernstein “Lucky to be Me,” and then matched it with a piece by Liszt. “Lucky to be Me” was played first alone, and the second chorus with the bass and drums, which deepened the palette considerably. Mr. Sportiello is a

Rossano Sportiello adjusts piano bench and Frank Tate onstage preparing for the set


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sublime player, very relaxed; he then segued into an impressionist melody by Liszt. The final piece of the evening was “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” done as an up tempo swing. He played one classical variation on the theme and segued into jazz improvisation at about 300=quarter note, for which the Trio received a standing ovation. Mrs. Lala Sportiello (a jazz singer and student of Barry Harris, who introduced the couple) was in the audience and Mr. Sportiello called her up to do a song, “Stompin’ at the Savoy.” She sang a lovely, refreshed version of the song, distinctively phrased.

The Rossano Sportiello Trio relaxes before the set at the bar ofthe Cafe Carlyle. Photo: Maki Mototsu The Jazz Culture Newsletter Private Jazz Tours in NYC; also pairs music teachers in certain countries with students or jazz enthusiasts. For Further Info email:

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The Jazz Culture, V.II:3