Composer/pianist Alberto L. Ferro discusses classical and improvisational roots

Alberto L. Ferro is a composer/pianist whose latest album, The Deep End of Sound, crosses the boundaries between classical and jazz while having an improvisational bent.

Q: What was your introduction to music? How old were you, and how did it affect you?

A: I was about 6 or 7 when I started taking piano lessons. I don’t remember being particularly disciplined or talented, though. The sitting-at-the-instrument-and-playing daily routine just seemed quite natural to me. The same routine I still have now. I don’t think I can stay apart from a piano for too long. It is still my private way to escape reality, order, and rules.

Q: Did you grow up in a musical environment?

A: My family wasn’t particularly musical, but my parents kept supporting me all throughout my youth. There was music at home, a few selected cassettes of classical or pop, and vinyl records of '70s rock and more classical. Since my early teens, though, my parents took me quite regularly to high-quality classical music concerts, almost every week, and that strongly shaped my listening attitude.

Q: What styles of music had the greatest impact on you creatively?

A: Definitely Bach and early Romantic music, in the classical genres. When I started improvising on the guitar, I was very fond of Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Queen, and even Guns N' Roses. I loved the rebellious energy coming from it, as a 14-year-old probably does. Later, I discovered the great improvisers on the piano and I quit all other distractions. Jazz, free improvisation, and composition became the main focus.

Q: In terms of musical style, how would you categorize yourself?

A: That’s a hard one. I am diving into the classical styles (from Bach to Brahms) in dealing with form and development. On the opposite side I am pushing the improvisation aspect inside each composition, whether is swing, bebop, avant-garde, or pop-folk oriented. More recently very attracted by ECM and Latin music-oriented styles. Some of my works are a constant back and forth between written and improvised music; some are written down note by note while some are completely improvised.

Q: What was the first song you ever wrote?

A: I genuinely don’t remember. Given my dedication to improvisation I have never been so prolific in terms of actual writing, or maybe I never really felt any work to be finished. I fill so much manuscript paper, though! Even today I don’t consider a piece finished when it’s completed on paper but when I can perform it.

Q: Which of your songs are most personal to you and why?

A: Each of them is personal for different reasons. But during a performance one can be more personal than another due to a variety of factors. Generally speaking, if a certain connection is established with the listener I find myself enjoying the opening up personally through the music. A process that I find more compelling during improvisation, and in a way more honest. Sitting at the piano without a plan is usually the beginning of something personal.

Q: What artists influenced you the most growing up?

A: In the piano world Keith Jarrett came to my ears as a revelation; still today is one of my most important influences. Brad Mehldau, Michel Petrucciani, Stefano Battaglia, Evgeny Kissin, Chopin, Bach, Brahms and Ligeti. In the non-piano realm, I’d say Michelangelo, Proust, Hendrix, don’t get me started.

Q: How have you evolved creatively?

A: I would say my album The Deep End of Sound is a work based on emotional discoveries and colours, but my writing these days aims more at authenticity and conciseness. Plus in the past I might have been afraid of not having a million notes under control, as a ‘proper’ classical pianist does while through jazz and improvisation I realised that that’s not the point. Now composition and improvisation feed each other constantly in my work, whereas in the past I would draw a clear line between them.