The ‘Jazz Heart’ Transplant

The French-born pianist Patrick Péronne dedicates his classical background to ­enriching Vienna’s jazz scene

Patrick Péronne played on two keyboards at Porgy & Bess in January | Photo: Thomas Winkler

Péronne brings the dicipline of classical piano to a genre that has no rules | Photo: Patrick Péronne

On Ash Wednesday just past, the U.S. Embassy, the Austrian Foreign Ministry and Diplomatische Akademie Wien joined forces to celebrate the 175th anniversary of U.S.-Austrian diplomatic relations with a Gala Event which, not incidentally, featured music performed by the Jon Sass Group, a multi-national quartet led by American jazz tuba(!) exponent Jon Sass. Perhaps inspired by the group’s rousing rendition of “Birdland” dedicated to the memory of Austrian jazz icon Joe Zawinul, Austrian President Heinz Fischer waxed surprisingly poetic about his youthful inklings of American life. Over the traditional herring salad he spoke warmly of his early exposure to jazz over the three-station “Blue Danube Network” radio programmes provided to post-war occupation forces.

“I do not need to point out how generations of Austrians have been fascinated by the ‘American way of life’, ” Fischer said.

Vienna is a thrilling example of how this kinship has flourished in the “post-post-war” era; that is if you see the world – as I do – through the eyes of a jazz fan. It is a rare city, one where, on almost any night of the week, world class jazz artists can be heard in performance, starting with two of the city’s great night spots, Jazzland and Porgy & Bess, and including the Wiener Konzerthaus, the historic Musikverein and several emerging hot spots, among which are Sargfabrik, Reigen, Tunnel and many more.

 

“My music is not a job” 

As Fischer suggests, while jazz is at its core an American idiom, it is spoken here quite fluently – and it’s irrelevant where the speaker was born.

This brings us to the case of Patrick Péronne. Born within hailing distance of Paris, in Saint-Maur-des-Fossés, France, and a recent transplant to Austria, Péronne is a pianist of exceptional dedication who, while he struggles with his “work in progress” German language skills, feels very much at home in Vienna. Péronne is what the French call a “polyvalent”, skilled as a composer, a performer, and author, having published an instructional volume, “L’Encyclopédie PÉRONNE”, a book he describes as a compendium of 5,724 chords for keyboards, including melodic and rhythmic ideas, an encyclopedia of modern music for the ambitious!

Patrick Péronne played on two keyboards at Porgy & Bess in January | Photo: Thomas Winkler

Patrick Péronne played on two keyboards at Porgy & Bess in January | Photo: Thomas Winkler

While Péronne plays both acoustic and electric piano, he’s old enough to admire (and have mastered) the electric organ, in both Fender and Hammond varieties, hearkening back to his early years in the local French “progressive” pop scene and, later, in fusion and “acid jazz” contexts, where he has developed his skills on the synthesizer. Patrick has an extensive discography, as a producer, performer and band leader, spanning genres, including Latin Jazz, Funk, Jazz-Rock fusion and Brazilian Jazz, in various solo piano, keyboard and band settings.

Péronne admits that his great love is simply “performing in front of a live audience.” With his studio and recording commitments, and a regular performance schedule of 5 -10 gigs each month, he is able to enjoy playing “for the energy” he walks away with and not simply to stay busy. “I’ve known musicians who go into a club and play by rote, and when they’ve finished, pack up their notes and walk away,” Peronne says. “I can’t imagine doing that. My music is not a job, it’s what I do, it’s me”.

 

Building to the jazz ideal

Patrick started Classical piano at the age of 4, commencing 12 years of conservatory studies. A love for the classical style has not left him; Patrick credits the rigor of classical studies, and with his teacher Maurice Vander, with instilling in him a discipline that gets him out of bed in the morning and in front of a keyboard. Structure and focus, he says, allow him not simply to “be creative” but in fact to create. It is this drive, not only to repeat, but to perform for himself, perhaps also for the absent teacher, that leads to composition and ultimately the jazz ideal, improvisation.

Indeed the classical training is evident in the purity and clarity, not to mention the speed and nimble touch, evident in his solo work. To get to know Patrick’s work, start with his solo, largely acoustic, improvisational work. He has a very clear, rich tone; the music is nothing short of joyous.

Péronne brings the dicipline of classical piano to a genre that has no rules | Photo: Patrick Péronne

Péronne brings the dicipline of classical piano to a genre that has no rules | Photo: Patrick Péronne

While he used the “contemporary jazz” label to describe his recent (2011) album, Second Phase, recorded in Spain, don’t be misled: This is not the misbegotten, beat-heavy formulaic radio fodder one hears across the FM dial these days under that rubric. It’s far better. But don’t take my word for it: Go listen to a sample on Patrick’s website, patrickperonne.com.

American jazzers, going back to Art Farmer and Leo Wright, have long felt the warmth, the beat of the jazz heart of Vienna. With the wealth of talent live, on stage, here and now, represented by Patrick Péronne of France, and Jon Sass (and his tuba) from New York City, crossing paths, sharing a common language in this mitteleuropäische jazz metropole, let me suggest, dear reader, we must all, sooner or later, open our ears to its seductions. ÷

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