Born in Chieti, Italy in 1959, Tony grew up in a family of musicians. His grandfather was a classical violinist, his grandmother a classical pianist. Tony's father rebelled, becoming a professional jazz pianist. His jazz was entirely self-taught, mostly by listening to Oscar Peterson and Erroll Garner. Tony grew up immersed in both his father's jazz and his grandparents' classics. By six he was playing piano by ear and leaning towards jazz. Like his father, he was self-taught—as a pianist, as a composer and as a percussionist.

He picked up his first professional gig at 18, touring Italy as a percussionist with a Renaissance music ensemble. But his first love remained jazz and by 22 he was leading his own jazz trio and quartet touring Northern Italy. Two years later he took time out to attend an intensive and inspiring Max Roach workshop. Among all the workshop participants, the great drummer picked Tony to accompany him for the final concert.

A year before, Tony's passion for piano duets was kindled when his father headlined a large theater jazz concert in Chieti. He asked Tony to join him on stage for a two-piano set, including a tricky Paul Desmond tune in 11/4. Scared to death, Tony jammed for 20 minutes with his father—to tremendous acclaim from the fans. Tony loved the challenge so much that he has continued to return to the piano duet format throughout his career.

Within a year after the Max Roach workshop, Tony played with cool jazz pioneer Lee Konitz, then on tour in Italy. Since then, he has played with many more jazz greats, among them Buddy DeFranco, Phil Woods, Bobby Durham, Ray Mantilla, Steve Turre, Jimmy Knepper, Charles Tolliver and Jimmy Owens.

In 1989 in Rome, he was awarded Best New Talent In Italy; in 1990 he won the Best Emerging Italian Jazz Group competition. The awards led to Tony's first two records on the Philology label in 1990. He has appeared on 12 CDs since then.

In 1991, he made his pilgrimage to the jazz scene in New York, playing around the city with saxophonist Virginia Mayhew and studying with two of his icons, Larry Willis and James Williams. He returned to Italy inspired by their teachings—and his European career took off. By now he has toured major clubs and festivals throughout the Continent: Germany, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia and Serbia, not to mention Israel where he also has a serious following. Much of his touring is as co-leader of the Miles Griffiths-Tony Pancella Quartet.

When Larry, on tour in Italy in 1999 with Roy Hargrove, came to the Pescara Jazz Festival (next door to Chieti where Tony lives and teaches), Tony reconnected with his old mentor. They hung out together, played duo piano jams daily at the local Steinway dealer's, and Tony introduced Larry to the burgeoning Pescara jazz scene. That resulted in Larry coming back the next year for a one week engagement with his trio. At the end of the week Larry and Tony played a two night gig for two pianos—a huge success.

That was so much fun that they played again as a piano duet at the 2003 Tel Aviv Jazz Festival. Later in 2003, they toured Italy as a duo; the music was so good that, before the end of the tour, the Alter Ego project was born.


Alter Ego

Alter Ego (#11432)


Tony Pancella

(click to enlarge)