Ilario Ferrari (‘Be Yourself’ album launch with Charlie Pyne, Katie Patterson and Soli Quartet, Kings Place 1 June)

Italian pianist Ilario Ferrari loves working with strings and with his own group. To launch his latest album, Be Yourself, he brings a string quartet and a piano trio to the stage of Kings Place. Interview by Rob Adams.

Ilario Ferrari. Photo credit: Oliver Bowring

Inspiration can strike Ilario Ferrari at any time. The Italian-born, UK-based pianist, singer and composer, who launches his latest album, Be Yourself, at Kings Place on Thursday 1 June, has been known to rush from the kitchen to the piano while preparing dinner to capture and expand on an idea as it springs to mind.

Equally, Ferrari might be walking his dog, Flash, when a melody occurs to him and he then heads home quickly to jot it down.

Be Yourself’s coming together involved increased frequency of the latter scenario. Written for piano and string quartet, the recording features Ferrari with the Ondanueve String Quartet from Naples. However, for the Kings Place concert, Ferrari is rearranging the music for his trio with double bassist Charlie Pyne and drummer Katie Patterson and the Soli String Quartet.

Strings and string players have been an interest of Ferrari’s since his earliest days in music.

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“A string quartet is a truly versatile ensemble that allows for the exploration of rich harmonies, all sorts of grooves, dynamics and lyrical melodies,” he says. “It’s no wonder that composers throughout history have been compelled to write string quartets and in my own compositions, I’ve sought to create music that pays homage to the tradition of European chamber music while also fully embracing jazz improvisation, grooves, and the interplay between strings and piano.”

For Ferrari, working with an established string quartet, rather than assembling individual players for the album, has been crucial.

“Both Ondanueve and Soli Strings are not only talented individual musicians but also close friends who regularly perform together,” he says. “They bring their own unique styles to the table and possess a distinct sound as a quartet, which I absolutely love.”

As part of the compositional process Ferrari likes to envision the musicians who will be playing the music. So, for the album he included the musicians’ names in the score to keep their images in front of him.

“I thought a lot about the Ondanueve’s playfulness and Mediterranean warmth,” he says, adding that for the Kings Place concert he is rearranging the work to highlight the unique colours and skills of Soli Strings.

Ferrari was born in Terracina, in Southern Italy, and was interested in music from an early age. Although his grandfather was a reputed songwriter, Ferrari never met him and says he grew up in a “non-musical” family. His formal music education began as teenager, studying guitar while teaching himself piano and composition.

After completing medical engineering studies, he attended the Licino Refice Conservatory in Frosinone, gaining a First Class Honours Degree in Jazz Piano in 2015. He then won an EU scholarship called Working With Music and moved to London to work as pianist and composer at Quadra Recording Studio for seven months.

Here he arranged for a variety of ensembles including string players from the BBC Symphony Orchestra. In 2016, he released Spread, an album of original pop-funk songs. He also worked with Cuban violinist Omar Puente’s quintet, the Letchworth Sinfonia, the London Gay Big Band and Freestyle Orchestra.

He formed his trio with Charlie Pyne and Katie Patterson in 2021, aiming to strike a balance between contemporary jazz, classically oriented compositions, rhythms from the popular Mediterranean tradition, and Oriental influences. Their debut album, Childhood Memories has had radio plays worldwide, as well as on Jazz FM, Jazz London Radio and One London Radio in the UK, and was nominated as one of the best releases of 2021 by Jazzist Magazine. The trio has gone on to headline at the Watford Jazz Junction festival in 2022 and featured with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra in the premiere of a piece for jazz trio and orchestra that Ferrari composed specially for the occasion.  

Be Yourself is inspired by a mantra that has inspired Ferrari during his time in the UK. It features two suites, one based on a classical rondo, freely interpreted and incorporating the sounds and rhythms of Ferrari’s south Italian heritage, the other inspired by his visit to India and his relationship with his Indian partner.

“Everyone attending the album launch will be in different stages of their lives,” he says. “Therefore, the mantra of ‘Be Yourself’ that I aim to convey through the music will resonate with each person in a unique way. My hope is that everyone leaves with increased courage and inspiration to take a step towards their authentic self-expression, to live genuinely and harmoniously with those around them and the natural world. I am honestly still discovering how this music touches the hearts of people, and that is truly a beautiful thing.”

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LINK: Bookings for Kings Place on 1 June

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