In early November, Stephanie Trick and Paolo Alderighi were my house guests for several days while they played concerts in the area. That made them captives for this interview. Unless otherwise noted, my questions were directed at both of them.
BH: When & how did you first get into piano playing?
PA: I started at age 8 when a schoolmate was playing piano and I was fascinated. We always had music at home. My dad plays banjo, harmonica, and double bass. My mother stopped playing piano after high school. My older brother played the clarinet and sax. We had a little family band that played American songs. I wanted to join them, so I had to learn some chords. At age 10 I entered the conservatory in Milan and graduated at 20. When I was about 16 I started playing with an amateur trad jazz band.
ST: I was 5 years old when I was out for dinner with my parents and grandmother where a pianist was playing background music. I was captivated but said nothing, as I was very shy. My grandmother asked the pianist if she gave lessons. She became my teacher for the next 13 years. I learned how to read music before I learned to read words! I received classical training but she also introduced me to ragtime. I entered some local competitions. Then she introduced me to stride piano, and that became my main interest. She still follows my career.
As you were learning, who were your inspirations?
ST: James P. Johnson, Thomas “Fats” Waller, Donald Lambert, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Art Tatum, some of the second-generation stride pianists like Dick Hyman, Ralph Sutton, Dick Wellstood, plus Dave McKenna, Albert Ammons, Nat King Cole, Teddy Wilson, and many others.
PA: I started listening to the music my father collected. Earl Hines and Fats Waller were early favorites. At age 12 or 13 I got a CD of Lenny Tristano. I had no idea at that time what he was playing. It was mainly conceptual music and I was too young to fully understand it. When I got an Erroll Garner CD I was immediately inspired by him. I bought everything of his I could find with the money I made with the amateur band. When you’re young you try to learn everything, so I could not ignore people like Oscar Peterson or Hank Jones and Teddy Wilson. I learned that if you don’t like something now, you might like it later.
Did either of you ever see any of your idols perform?
ST: One of my idols is Dick Hyman, and I met him at the Arbors Records jazz party in 2011. Then, a few years later, two days after Paolo and I got married, I was part of a stride summit at SFJAZZ in San Francisco with Dick as well as stride pianist Mike Lipskin. It was exciting to get to play a duet with Dick. I also transcribed one of his arrangements at his request for his book, Century of Jazz Piano.
PA: Living in Europe, I saw Oscar Peterson once, Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan a few times. In 2007 I organized a piano summit with Dick Hyman in Novara, Italy. The last time he had performed in Italy was 50 years earlier—with Benny Goodman!
When and where did you meet, and what made you decide to collaborate?
ST: We met in 2008 in Boswil, Switzerland, at a stride summit. There were six pianists and two grand pianos. All the stride aficionados in Europe flocked to this festival every year.
PA: I had been to Boswil a few times before. At that 2008 stride summit, I had a chance to play a few tunes with Stephanie, with no rehearsal. I had no idea there were any young women interested in stride. We saw each other again in Italy during Stephanie’s European tour. Then we were both invited to the Arbors Records jazz party in Clearwater in 2011.
The year after, I arranged a few concerts in Europe where we presented a history of jazz piano. We played individually, but the last number was in four hands. We saw that that part of the concert was well received, and we had fun doing it. That got us thinking that four hands had not been used much in jazz (and it would be easier to do concerts with one piano than with two). Then we recorded our first CD together. Now it’s been nine years that we’ve worked together.
You mentioned that Rossano Sportiello was at the Boswil stride summit. I know him, having hired him at Tri-State.
PA: We’ve known each other almost 30 years. When I met him, he was playing piano in a band with my father. I loved listening to him and asking him questions. He was always very encouraging. Later on, he became part of another band and when he got too busy, he had me replace him in that band.
ST: I first met Rossano in Boswil and he has always been very encouraging with me, too. I visited him in New York a few times and he was very kind in giving me some great advice and guidance.
PA: We are both very grateful to Rossano!
What have been the highlights of your careers?
PA: This is hard to answer, but I would say that some highlights for us have been to be able to play with great musicians. It’s important for jazz musicians to collaborate with each other.
One of the things we are both very happy about is that we get invited to play all over the world because of our duo project. What started out as something relatively unconventional has now become our main project, and we have the opportunity to present it in many countries, which is a great feeling.
In terms of day-to-day management, which of you handles the bookings and the bookkeeping?
ST: I do the US gigs and Paolo does the European ones, mostly.
PA: The scheduling is the complicated part. We have this “double life” between the US and Europe, and we don’t have a manager. We try to make the logistics as smart as possible so we don’t go back and forth just for brief periods. So we jointly decide when we should be in the US and when in Europe.
Have you considered getting a manager?
PA: This is the dream of every musician: to be able to concentrate on just the music. I have never met a musician who plays the kind of music we do who has a manager who does everything. However, we do work with some local agents who put together short tours, but that’s not the same as a manager. I would love to have someone we trust that we could delegate this to, but it’s not easy to find such a person.
Let’s talk about some day-to-day things that you have to deal with. How does all this international travel complicate your lives, or doesn’t it affect it any more than domestic travel?
PA: It is a complication to have two homes on two different continents and go back and forth every 3-4 weeks. We are used to it now though. We’ve learned how to make it work in terms of being in good shape when we arrive in either place.
ST: One important thing is to be organized. When we return to St. Louis or Milan and only have one or two days there, there are certain things that have to get done—repacking, going through the mail, doing the laundry, and practicing.
PA: Sometimes it’s easier to practice and work on new repertoire when we’re on the road if we have access to a piano.
ST: Also, we do a lot of work in airports and on planes!
PA: And we have duplicates of a lot of things, like clothing.
Which is easier, going east or west?
ST: Going west. Generally you land in the US in the late afternoon or evening and you’re tired so you go to bed. In Europe you land in the morning, and if you didn’t sleep on the red-eye, you start out tired. It’s a good idea to be disciplined about getting on the schedule of the place of arrival as soon as possible (which means eating meals at the right time, for example!).
Do you have any exercise routines?
PA: I have lots of excuses not to exercise! My answer is a blank paragraph in your article!
ST: I have certain routines that I’ve collected over the years that are portable and don’t make noise in hotels. I usually do them in the morning, then maybe 5-10 minutes during the day. Our job is very sedentary. I always have a stretch band and a squeeze ball with me.
What’s it like to manage two homes?
PA: We have someone close by to look after both places.
ST: The most challenging part is the mail. The post office doesn’t like to stop mail for more than 30 days. So my mother or our neighbors, and Paolo’s parents, check our mail and let us know if there’s something important. Also, the piano has a device that keeps the humidity constant, and it has to be watered.
Do you have a car in both places?
PA: Unfortunately, yes. In Europe, we don’t use the car very often and it’s expensive to park the car in Milan (we need a garage!) but it’s convenient to have it for touring in Italy, Switzerland, and sometimes France. We are thinking of doing away with the car in Europe in the future. However, in the Midwest, we need a car.
What projects do you have coming up?
PA: We play a lot together, but we also have individual projects. One is a double CD. I recorded a CD of Erroll Garner compositions in trio. Stephanie recorded a solo CD of some of James P. Johnson’s piano and orchestral compositions. We have performed these two repertoires live in separate sets. It worked very well. We’ll have some concerts in 2021, which is Garner’s 100th birth anniversary, and 100 years since Johnson recorded Carolina Shout. We have the double CD almost ready. The recording is done. What’s left is the liner notes and the graphics.
Who’s doing the liner notes?
ST: For my part, Scott Brown, who is the biographer of James P., and Mark Borowsky, an expert on stride piano.
PA: For mine, Will Friedwald, who has written several books on jazz and is a brilliant jazz journalist who writes for the Wall Street Journal and other publications. Then Stephanie and I each wrote some notes of our own.
Who’s on bass and drums?
PA: Two Italian musicians I’ve enjoyed playing with in trio for many years, Roberto Piccolo on bass and Nicola Stranieri on drums.
So it was recorded in Italy?
PA: Yes, both CDs.
Any upcoming projects that you’re free to talk about?
ST: In 2019, we were invited to play a few shows with music from old movies, so we decided to record a CD of arrangements of songs by Gershwin, Rodgers, Warren, plus a tribute to Doris Day, Marilyn Monroe, and others. We’re in the process of recording for this album and will probably release it in 2021.
Are there things you want to do in the future that you haven’t mentioned?
PA: We have several ideas in mind. We don’t know which will come first. We just have to do one thing at a time. There are places we’ve never been where we’d like to play. It’s always exciting to bring jazz to places where it’s not the typical fare. We also like playing for schools and universities. You’re introducing this music to people who’ve never thought about it. I think there is more recognition now for the importance of classic jazz.
We’ve covered a lot of ground. Thank you both very much for your time and thoughts.