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 2014 album Plaything, features bassist Kent Carter and drummer Bill Elgart and provides the starting point for this conversation.
First Encounter with Bill Elgart
Blue Note: Do you recall when you first heard Elgart’s drumming and percussion?
Gianni Lenoci: 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.
*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.
BN: When did you and Bill Elgart first jam together?
GL: 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.
Making Plaything with Bill Elgart and Kent Carter
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, co-producer Valerij Anosov, and engineer Ananda Cherer.
“Spider Diagram,” featuring Kent Carter on bass, Bill Elgart on drums, and Lenoci on piano on his original composition, is on YouTube:
BN: Where did the idea for the Plaything album come from?
GL: 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.
BN: How did the band line-up for the album come together?
GL: 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’s “Contusion, with Kent Carter on bass, Bill Elgart on drums, and Lenoci on piano is on SoundCloud:
The 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.”
BN: Any favorite tracks from Plaything?
GL: 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 on bass, Gianni Lenoci on piano, and Elgart on drums, is here:
Gianni Lenoci and Kent Carter
Two years before making Plaything, Gianni Lenoci and Kent Carter recorded another album together, Freefall. The Setola Di Maiale release features Lenoci on piano, Carter on double bass, and Marcello Magliocchi on drums.
The album includes Annette Peacock’s “Mr. Joy” and “Touching,” a composition Kent Carter, pianist Paul Bley, and drummer Barry Altschul first recorded in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1965 for the Paul Bley Trio’s Touching album.
The title track, with Kent Carter on bass, Gianni Lenoci on piano, and Marcello Magliocchi on drums, is on SoundCloud:
An audio file of Gianni Lenoci, Kent Carter, and Marcello Magliocchi ‘s interpretation of Annette Peacock’s “Touching” is on Lenoci’s MySpace.com site.
In 2014, Gianni Lenoci, Kent Carter, and Bill Elgart did a series of concerts to promote the new Plaything release. On one gig at the Saint Music Festival in the southwest of France, Elgart was not available and drummer Jeff Boudreaux stepped in to replace him.
The entire set from the 11 July concert at Abbaye aux Dames in Saintes was broadcast live by Radio France. Compositions include:
- Ictus (Carla Bley)
- September (Gianni Lenoci)
- It Will Come (Kent Carter)
- Vashkar (Carla Bley)
- The Tune (Kent Carter)
- Ida Lupino (Carla Bley)
- Kretek (Gianni Lenoci)
The live performance featuring Kent Carter on bass, Gianni Lenoci on piano, and Jeff Boudreaux on drums is on YouTube:
Musical Influences: “trying to ‘unlearn'”
BN: I’m curious about some of your musical influences, both growing up and now. What can you share?
GL: 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.
BN: These days, what music moves you?
GL: 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.”
BN: What’s on the musical calendar for the new year?
GL: 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.
The Gianni Lenoci Trio, with Pasquale Gadaleta and Marcello Nisi, performed live at the Jazz&Jam Festival in Manduria, Italy on 27 August 2016. The playlist includes:
- Bag’s Groove (Mil. Jackson)
- The Git-Go (Mal Waldron) / My Back Pages (Bob Dylan)
- No More Tears (Mal Waldron)
- The Seagulls of Kristiansund (Mal Waldron)
- Softly as in a Mourning Sunrise (Sigmund Romberg)
- Ida Lupino (Carla Bley)
- You Don’t Know What Love Is (Gene de Paul)
- Bone (Steve Lacy)
- Mr. Joy (Annette Peacock)
- Encore: Well You Needn’t (Thelonious Monk)
The full concert, recorded live at Bar Dell’Angelo, features Pasquale Gadaleta on double bass, Marcello Nisi on drums, and Gianni Lenoci on piano, electric piano, flute, and mbira:
Testing the System with Sabir Mateen and Giacomo Mongelli
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.
BN: Do you still have time to create new material with the Gianni Lenoci 4tet?
GL: Yes, we continue to do play gigs. I also play regularly with reedmen Eugenio Colombo, Steve Potts, and Sabir Mateen.
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:
Gianni Lenoci and Gianni Mimmo’s Reciprocal Uncles in 2010
In 2010, Pianist Gianni Lenoci and Soprano saxophonist Gianni Mimmo released their Reciprocal Uncles album on Amirani Records and Long Song Records.
The album was recorded at Ithaca recording studios in Bari, Italy.
Gianni Lenoci and Gianni Mimmo’s “Consideration,” the second track on Reciprocal Uncles, is on SoundCloud:
Celebrating Paul Bley Concert in 2016
On 9 August 2016, pianist Gianni Lenoci, bassist Giovanni Maier, and drummer Bill Elgart came together to perform a live concert celebrating the legendary pianist Paul Bley in a show at the Ritratti Festival at Chiostro di Palazzo San Martino in Monopoli, Italy.
The special performance was dedicated to Paul Bley, a free jazz movement pioneer whose career stretched seven decades. Gianni Lenoci, the concert organizer, studied improvisation with Bley in the 1980s.
- Turnaround (Ornette Coleman)
- Vashkar (Paul Bley)
- Lover Man (Ram Ramirez, Jimmy Sherman & James Edward Davis)
- Moor (Gary Peacock)
- Monk’s Dream (Thelonious Monk)
- Ida Lupino (Carla Bley)
- Law Years (Ornette Coleman)
- Mr. Joy (Annette Peacock)
- You Don’t Know What Love Is (D. Raye & G. De Paul)
A video of the full performance has been uploaded to YouTube, courtesy of Alessandro Lenoci:
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.
And one final track from Gianni Lenoci, Kent Carter, and Bill Elgart’s 2014 Plaything album, the title piece by Carter: