Doing it their way: Stefano Bollni, Richard Bona and Marc Hannaford

Stefano res
Stefano Bollani. Photo supplied.

“If I can make it there/I’ll make it anywhere,” sang Frank Sinatra about New York, the world’s jazz Mecca. Since Frank sang that jazz ceased to be a style so much as a language common to improvising musicians from Mumbai to Rio. Sydney’s annual inundation of artists from Melbourne’s International Jazz Festival contains three significant figures holding diverse attitudes to New York’s place in the scheme of things.

Pianist Stefano Bollani, who is duetting with Brazilian bandolim virtuoso Hamilton de Holanda, still calls Italy home, and, when pushed, nominates humour and a love of melody as vaguely Italian elements in his music. He has recorded in New York and loves its musical wealth, but says he would never live there.

That has not prevented pinnacles like playing alongside fellow pianist Chick Corea (as Herbie Hancock is doing in Sydney). Asked if he that was an imprimatur of sorts he replies he had already received that when he joined the great Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava. “To me he was as much a genius as Sonny Rollins or whoever,” he says. “We played together in a jam session in 1996 when I was waiting for a pop tour to begin. He was so nice and made me understand that I could make it playing my own music or playing jazz, and so I said no to that tour and everything started.”

Bona res
Richard Bona. Photo supplied.

Richard Bona, by contrast, grew up in a tiny Cameroonian village with no shops to buys instruments, so you had to make your own – and teach yourself how to play them. By the age of five he was in the church band, and thereafter made and played a host of instruments before discovering jazz in 1980, whereupon electric bass became his focus.

In 1989 he went to Paris to broaden his horizons, and six years later moved to New York. “I was so excited,” he recalls. “New York was the scene. You’re in a club, jamming, and you have Branford Marsalis and Joe Zawinul right there, which hadn’t happened in Paris. Two weeks after I arrived I was on the road with Joe Zawinul. Next thing you know I’m Harry Belafonte’s musical director… If you are a musician I think NY is a great place at least to check out. It’s important, even today.”

Melbourne pianist Marc Hannaford is currently New York-based, completing a PhD in music theory at Columbia University. Meanwhile he has also been exploring the music scene. “It’s a process of going to see music and trying to find people that are interested in the same things that you are,” he explains. Hannaford’s specific area of interest is the collaborative development a sometimes complex improvising language. “One of the difficult things,” he says, “has been finding people who are willing to invest a lot of time practising music that doesn’t necessarily result in a gig in a month or something.”

Marc Hannaford
Marc Hannaford. Photo supplied.

Without the doctorate he doubts he would be there. “I was never really one of those jazz people who saw New York as the beacon of the world,” he says. “There are so many people here, and the number of opportunities compared to the number of people is miniscule.”

For this visit Hannaford’s band includes two Big Apple heavyweights in drummer Tom Rainey and saxophonist Ellery Eskelin.

The Jazz Deluge

May 28 The Bad Plus, Foundry 616

May 29 Marc Hannaford Quartet (Aus/US), Foundry 616

May 30 Richard Bona (Cameroon/US), Basement

June 1 Chick Corea & Herbie Hancock (US), Concert Hall

June 3 Eric Harland’s Voyager (US), 505

June 3 Duo Ras Dashen (Israel/Ethiopia), Foundry 616

June 4 Miguel Zenon Quartet/Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra (Puerto Rico/US/Aus), Basement

June 5 Stefano Bollani & Hamilton de Holanda (Italy/Brazil), City Recital Hall

June 5 Pharoah Sanders (US), Carriageworks

June 6 Pharoah Sanders, Carriageworks

June 6 Dee Dee Bridgwater/Irvin Mayfield Jr & the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (US), City Recital Hall

June 6 Lloyd Swanton’s Ambon (Aus), Blue Mountains Theatre