Jazz Studies Online: You're not from New York originally. What lured you here? What features did the city offer then that others did not? Given that you still make a point of visiting here regularly, have your motivations for coming here changed at all?
Dado Moroni: I grew up in Genoa, Italy and thanks to my parents' love for jazz ( due to their contacts with some American soldiers during WW2 ) that was the music we mainly listened to at home. As far as I can remember I was always fascinated and mesmerized by those sounds and colors I couldn't find in the music normally played on Italian radio and eventually I started experimenting on the piano we had. By the age of 11 or 12, I was playing with local blues and Dixieland bands until one day a friend gave me a Bird 'n Diz record, and that totally changed my way of thinking! I started getting more and more serious about the music and started working with some of the most important Italian jazz players exploring new means of expression. I then met trumpeter Franco Ambrosetti who was going to New York for one of his recordings with Enja, with Michael Brecker, Kenny Kirkland, Buster Williams and Daniel Humair, and he invited me to go with him to see the NYC scene from the "inside". Needless to say, the minute I arrived I felt at home. It was my first night in the Apple and I was having dinner with Michael Brecker and Franco. Later we all went to the club Mike and Randy used to have, Seventh Avenue South where Clark Terry had a group with Branford Marsalis, Ron Carter, Art Taylor and we ended up hanging out with Grover Washington. The next night I went to see Philly Joe Jones at Lush Life.
I knew I had to be there! To me it was just a dream. So I started visiting the city once a year, then twice, then, before I realized, I got an apartment and stayed, on and off for a good decade. What intrigued me about New York was the fact that I could meet and actually develop a relationship, if not a true friendship, with those who just a short time before were merely idols of mine, and we could talk life and music, everyday. I had visited other big cities in Europe but nothing was like New York, its energy, its never-ending contrasts, its oceans of possibilities. For the way I conceived my life in music it was the perfect option. On top of that where else can anybody visit the Guggenheim, take a stroll in Central Park, watch a marvelous basketball game, go on Broadway and watch a wonderful play and still have time to catch some jazz great on the last set at the Vanguard, all in the same day? And let's not talk about all the places where you could meet and jam, from the Village Gate to Visiones to Hoagy's etc. or what I call it "the Grand Central Station of Jazz", Bradley's. I wonder how many deals and gigs came to life at 3am, sitting at the bar there! My only reason for leaving has to do onl with family matters. I've never felt like a stranger in New York.
Jazz Studies Online: How did opportunities for work come about when you first began as a professional? Who helped you the most in that regard? What networks did you take advantage of, if any? In what way has that environment changed since then?
Moroni : Well, when I was about 19, I joined bassist Jimmy Woode's trio ( with Alvin Queen or Ed Thigpen on drums ) with whom we sort of became the house rhythm section at a club in Zurich, the Widder Bar, and I got the chance to play with people like Clark Terry, Buddy De Franco, Dizzy Gillespie, Johnny Griffin, James Moody, Harry Edison, Red Mitchell, Nat Adderley, etc. and soon word got out that there was this Italian kid who played like an "old cat." I ended up playing with several Americans on tour in Europe and by the time I went to New York I already knew a whole lot of people. I guess I was lucky that way. Clark Terry, George Robert, Tom Harrell, Ron Carter ( who produced my first international recording ), Lew Tabackin, and Ray Brown were the first to give me a chance in the US but many other people really helped me both musically and personally, making sure I would never feel out of place so far from home. I'm talking about Peter Washington, Jimmy Cobb, Peter Bernstein, Jesse Davis, Hendrik Meurkens, Jed Levy, Lewis Nash, James Williams, Bill Goodwin, Ira Coleman, Joe Magnarelli, Pat O'Leary and Vernel Fournier.
I left New York in 2002 and every time I go back I do see changes, some a bit saddening like the disappearance of a lot of spots where not only the big stars could perform or the relative paucity of places where you could jam, or the way prices for going and listening to just a set are high enough to make you wonder if you can make it home in a cab.
But, compared to what we have here in Europe, New York still carries a very special "aura" and exudes that energy, unlike any other place on earth. Just to know that you are surrounded by the best artists on the planet forces you to extend your limits.
One thing I find a bit bothersome is that it seems, compared to what was happening up to the 90's, younger players generally tend to form bands with their peers rather than collaborate with older musicians and the only inputs the music receives in these cases are coming from more or less the same expressional area, making the music a bit stagnant. Jazz history often proves that it's by mixing different human and musical experiences that the language truly evolves: the Jazz Messengers, Miles' groups, Ahmad Jamal's association with Israel Crosby (the old guy in the band ) and many more examples.
Plus too many schools, too many musicians who sound alike and too few venues open to receive new proposals. But it's happening over here in Europe too so it's a global phenomenon now.
Jazz Studies Online: What is, or was, your favorite NYC venue (or venues) to perform at? Why?
Moroni: Well, being a pianist I really enjoyed playing at Bradley's because of the history of the piano and the club itself. Making music with the bass player so close by allowed a lot of "secret" messages regarding chords and form, so it was particularly inspiring, plus every night you could meet a million different people and many gigs were conceived there. Now I'd say Birdland for the overall ambiance, Kitano for the intimacy and Smalls for the pure fun.
Jazz Studies Online: Have you noticed any major changes in the audiences for jazz at live performances in NYC since you started your career or came here? That is, in their knowledge of or appreciation for the music? In their demographics or personal background? in the way they act and react to the music? If so, why do you think the nature of live audiences might have changed?
Moroni: It depends on the club. Generally the bigger and more popular clubs tend to gather more and more tourists who don't necessarily know a whole lot about the music but just "have" to go there because is a thing to do in N.Y. And the prices, now really high, keep many of the real jazz lovers and musicians away, while the smaller venues perhaps cultivate their audiences and encourage them to come regularly and grow musically, almost in sync with the performers. In these places many groups/musicians seem to have their own regular following and that is certainly a positive thing. In the other places instead it's very easy to come out minus $40 or $50 just for one set and that in my opinion is definitely too high. Only a few can afford those prices and they're not necessarily music fans!