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Bernardo Sassetti: Musician of Silence – A Tribute

It has been a week since Bernardo Sassetti passed away! I was saddened to hear about the death of a great pianist and am writing this as a kind of tribute. I hope it does him justice.

Sassetti had many interests and drew from many influences. He was by no means one dimensional. Though he was as a jazz musician he was not limited to “just jazz”. Throughout his career he worked with musicians of all types: jazz, fado, pop and hip-hop. Sassetti was, at his peak, largely unconcerned with labels, less concerned with whether his music would be accepted as jazz, sound track or classical.

He was more concerned about the whole effect of his music. This refusal to be easily categorized is part of the reason why Sassetti has been praised as one of the most creative composers of his generation. It is also one reason why I find his work so interesting. The other reason is its sheer variety. Sassetti also had a keen interest in film and photography, areas that mirror my own interests.

Sassetti came to music early on with “music in his blood”, he was grand-nephew of composers Luis de Freitas Branco and Pedro de Freitas Branco. His training in classical piano began at age 9. At 18 he began his journey into the world of jazz, studying with musicians such as Zé Eduardo, Horace Parlan and Sir Roland Hanna; and playing with the Carlos Martins Quartet and Moreiras Jazztet. Clean Feed Records, which distributes his work, points out the additional influences of Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett.

The quality of Sassetti´s work can be seen, in part, by the recognition and awards he received. In 2001, together with his trio, he represented Portugal in the 1st European Jazz Festival in Athens. His 2006 album Unreal: Sidewalk Cartoon received a four-star rating (of a possible four) in The Penguin Guide to Jazz (9th ed.), and was selected for The Penguin Jazz Guide: The History of the Music in the 1000 Best Albums.

Throughout his music he emphasized the importance of silence, calling himself a “musician of silence”. We can see this preoccupation in his work “Ascent”, about which he said “For the first time in my career, this is a work that is seen as a whole.

Ascent combines all three of his areas of interest: music, film and photography. In Ascent he sought to combine “visual art” with “audible art” and to combine “improvised music” with “classical music”, producing a work which heralded his maturity as a composer. In Ascent the musicians are characters. Each of the compositions has a narrative strand which develops progressively, beginning and ending in silence, producing what he called “music of silence”. Furthermore Ascent was composed as homage to cinema. Sassetti was inspired by the modern techniques of film making, laying out the music in a similar fashion.

Sassetti´s work in film was also quite extensive. He composed the musical score for 15 movies: Aniversário; Facas e Anjos; As Terças da Bailarina Gorda (short); O Segredo; Maria do Mar; Lent; Maria e as Outras; The Miracle According to Salomé; The Murmuring Coast; Alice; 98 Octanas; Antes de Amanhã (short), Second Life; As Ilhas Desconhecidas; How to Draw a Perfect Circle. He can also be seen acting in The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), sitting at the piano as part of the Napoli Jazz Sextet.

If you are familiar with Sassetti ´s work, or if you want an introduction you will find much that is worth taking a look at and listening to on YouTube. First pay a visit to Sassetti´s Official Channel, where you will find various recordings of his work. You can also visit the Clean Feed Channel, where you will find a recording of Sassetti at the Teatro Academico Gil Vicente in Coimbra, made in 2004. A final clip worth looking at is the sound track of “Uma coisa de forma assim”, co-created by Clara Andermatt, Francisco Camacho, Benvindo Fonseca, Rui Lopes Graça, Rui Horta, Paulo Ribeiro, Olga Roriz, Madalena Victorino and Vasco Wellenkamp.

It has been said that “The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering.” There was much in his life and work worth remembering.