Swinging way out to infinity: The Independent year

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Indy Lifestyle Online
AS MISSION statements, manifestos or corporate credos go, "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing", might lack a little in gravitas, but nine times out of ten it still does the business where jazz is concerned.

At the Brecon Jazz Festival in August, the diminutive French pianist Michel Petrucciani (he has a rare bone disease that has restricted his growth), swung so ceaselessly, so heroically and so mercilessly, that by the end of the performance no one could quite believe what they had seen or heard.

It was less like a concert than a seance or a laying-on of hands, and Petrucciani truly did seem to bring the dead back to life. You could almost see Earl Hines, Art Tatum, Phineas Newborn and all the other great jazz piano magicians of the past, standing at the bar looking on and sipping their pints, saying, "Go on my son!" Even the fixtures and fittings in the Market Hall appeared to be expanding and contracting in time to the indeterminate rhythmic bounce of that mercurial swing-thing.

Perhaps this was hallucination, but then much of the concert sounds distinctly unlikely. Did Petrucciani really hammer away at just one note of the keyboard for a full 10 minutes, as his finger became a cartoon blur of motion-lines, like Woody Woodpecker's beak? Did he then repeat a single bluesy phrase for another 10 minutes, using not one finger but two? And if so, why did we like it so much?

It was once said of a boogie-woogie pianist that he had a left hand like God; Petrucciani has two of them, and maybe another up his sleeve.

After the encores, Petrucciani came to the front to hold hands with his bassist Anthony Jackson and his drummer Steve Gadd, his tiny figure reaching somewhere beneath their knees and their thighs.

We did not so much as applaud as bend low and bow inobeisance, for the performance was like a glimpse into the infinite. Grown men cried, and you walked out into the hot evening sunshine and the beer-smelling streets with a vision of glory buzzing in your head, and that single Woody Woodpecker note ringing in your ears. Honestly, it was that good.