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Manuel Rocheman talks Martial Solal in Dubai

The jazz pianist in his teenage years was Solal’s only pupil

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Matthieu Chazarenc, Manuel Rocheman and Mathias Allamane.

Jazz pianist Manuel Rocheman is heading to Dubai on Wednesday, with Matthieu Chazarenc on drums and Mathias Allamane on bass; the trio will perform at Infini Pool, Sofitel Dubai. Back in his teenaged years, Rocheman became the only musician to study under piano veteran Martial Solal — a living legend who Rocheman remembers fondly.

“When I came to see him at his home, he leaned on the side of his piano to look at the keyboard and my fingers, and he said ‘Manuel, play me your improvisations,’” Rocheman recalled.

“I was very intimidated. I played him the lines I had written and thought it would be interesting. He was very understanding. He encouraged me all the time.”

At 52, Rocheman recently released his eleventh album, misTeRIO. But ahead of his Dubai gig, he took Gulf News tabloid! back to the early days.

You come from a family of musicians. Did you ever consider taking a different path yourself?

I always wanted to become a musician since I was a kid.

Can you tell us about one of your earliest music-related memories?

My mum told me that when I was four, I saw a TV documentary about Frederic Chopin and I said, ‘I would like to become like him.’

When did jazz music first grab your attention, and why do you think it appealed to you more than any other genre?

It was first when I listened to Oscar Peterson. I was 10 years old and the harmony, the rhythm, and also his piano technique and sound ­— everything in his playing fascinated me.

What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about jazz music?

To think that it is an unattainable music, only intended for the specialists.

What was it like to be Martial Solal’s pupil? What kind of teacher is he?

The first time I went to Martial, I was 16 or 17. I put my fingers on his piano and realised how hard it was. To push a key, you really had to put a lot of weight. Martial explained to me that he had voluntarily chosen a very hard piano in order to never have a bad surprise when he discovered the piano at a concert. It is true that we pianists never play in concert on the instrument on which we work. So when I bought my grand piano, I also chose a model with good resistance, so as to muscle my fingers at best.

Why do you think he accepted you as his only student?

I think he saw in me a [talented] pianist [very young at the time]... who deserved his affection and his teaching.

You’ve performed solo as well as in duos or trios — is there one you enjoy more than the other? What’s the difference between performing alone or with others?

The piano solo performance is quite different from the trio. It requires a more complete control in the sense that I must manage both the comping and the melodic part at the same time. The expressivity is total and I am solely responsible [for] the way the music goes. I cannot say which formula I prefer — they are so different. I like them both.

What do you have planned for your show in the UAE?

We’ll be playing mainly our last album program, misTeRIO, but also some French standards from Michel Legrand.

What’s next for you?

I have this tour in Middle East, a concert in Paris and I’m thinking now about a new album — probably in duet.

*Tickets to see the Manuel Rocheman Trio are Dh100.