Oscar Rossignoli: Marrying Improvisation with Rhythm in Extended
By Susan FrancesA solo artist, a support musician, and a member of the jazz trio Extended, pianist and composer Oscar Rossignoli has earned a place in jazz music’s annals. His advancements in expanding jazz music’s perimeters challenge listeners to interpret his creations, inciting present and future generations to take note.
He describes, “In jazz, I found a way to marry improvisation with rhythm, and it provided a platform in which I could play with other people as well, even without much or any rehearsals.”
He declares, “My first impression of jazz, or technically Latin jazz, was an eye-opening experience. I was drawn to the energy of it, and most of all, it seemed like everybody was having fun. At the same time, I was drawn to improvisation, and before I knew what jazz was, I spent a lot of time in my practice room ‘making stuff up,'” he discerns.
Rossignoli’s attachment to Latin jazz and improvisation can be traced back to growing up in Latin America. He furnishes about his youth, “I grew up in Honduras, and went to a conservatory-like elementary school. We all learned how to read music and how to play together from day one. By 4th grade, they would assign you an instrument based on your skills and even physical characteristics.”
“I LOVED the drums then,” he professes. “I’d sit in the first row at church just so I get a better view of what the drummer was doing during worship, but the school was oriented towards classical music, so drums were not an option.”
He points out, “The piano teacher told my dad I had good coordination, and that piano was probably a good choice, being a percussion instrument as well. I pretty much loved it from the beginning and never thought of switching.”
He recounts, “For every level of education, I attended a specialized school for music. Growing up with kids that are doing the same thing, developing the same passion for music from first grade until college was definitely a motivation for me to keep developing my skills and to keep that curiosity and sense of discovery throughout the years.”
“When in high school,” he determines, “I found a group of friends also interested in exploring this adventurous genre. It was easier to stay focused and inspired to learn more and more.”
His studies and practice deepened his attachment to jazz when he attended Louisiana State University, which he remembers fondly. “LSU (Louisiana State University) chose me, in a way,” he stipulates. “I came to the US to apply for scholarships in 2010, and a friend of mine had a recital at LSU, but his pianist could not make it last minute, so I was asked to sub for him. I ended up meeting LSU’s interim director, also a piano teacher for both jazz and classical, and I stayed to start my bachelor’s in Performance the next year.”
“The experiences at LSU,” he recalls, “and the connections made there have been paramount to where I am now. It was also an important period for internal growth for me, being in a foreign country with little English and having to catch up and show what I was capable of.”
The practical skills and philosophies he discovered while attending LSU have stayed with Rossignoli. He shares, “I always remember this analogy Willis Delony, my former teacher at LSU, shared with me: ‘When we create, we want to find what it does not belong to the piece. Like a sculptor, if you want to sculpt a horse out of a stone, all you have to do is to take everything that’s not the horse, so the creation is only revealed.’ I’d like to think that I’ve become better at identifying the horse, and presenting it to you, the listener.”
He reflects, “Whether it is jazz or classical music, the piano as a solo instrument is of great importance historically and for the development of the instrument itself. From Franz Liszt to Keith Jarrett, the repertoire and recording catalog for the piano is immense and keeps being explored.”
“Improvisation,” he characterizes, “is my passion even before any style of music came into play, so a solo record has been on my mind for many years, inspired by my heroes and their solo performances.”
He released his solo offering Inertia, in 2021. A composite of his musical influences and his discoveries in school, the studio, and on stage, the recording takes listeners along a winding path from the rolling swells of “Pendulum” to the silky soundscape of “Endless Fall” and the glittery raptures of “Perpetual Motion.”
Inertia was released between his recordings with the jazz trio Extended, whose outings include their eponymous endeavor in 2016, followed by their 2019 critically acclaimed sophomore release, Harbinger, and their 2022 project Without Notice. Each release strengthened the trio’s bond, making new milestones for them.
It was in Louisiana while at LSU that Rossignoli met his bandmates, Matt Booth and Brad Webb, and formed the jazz trio Extended. He recounts, “I met Brad in my LSU years. We found saxophonist Brad Webb as a common friend and started playing gigs in the New Orleans/Lafayette/Baton Rouge area around 2012.”
Moving forward, Rossignoli recollects, “I met Matt in New Orleans later on, around 2015, when he sat in at a gig I was doing. After our first gig as a trio, we all agreed it could be fun to record. We felt a really good chemistry on the bandstand, and I felt their way of approaching improvisation was very open and didn’t include music cliches. Extended was Brad’s idea for the band’s name, expressing what we were looking for: to create something out of these tunes, to use the compositions as vehicles for expansion.”
The music Rossignoli makes up is never random but rather stems from personal experiences or a personalized impression of his surroundings and external influences. A prime example of Rossignoli’s songwriting process is his contribution to the arrangement “Impairment Process,” a track on Extended’s latest release Without Notice, which sees him adding to bass player Matt Booth’s material.
“This is one of Matt’s most innovative compositions,” he portrays about “Impairment Process,” as he proceeds, “I had a hard time figuring out what to do with my right hand on the ‘B’ section, which had only the chords on a bass melody, and during that time I was somewhat obsessed with the animated podcast series ‘The Midnight Gospel,’ in which this ‘alien’ creature travels to other universes/worlds to conduct interviews for his podcast.”
“As this character is shot through space,” he summarizes, “there is this fast arpeggio you hear every time, so I decided I would do just that with my right hand – sort of emulating a Chopin etude, and that’s how I play the ‘chords’ on the ‘B’ section. Easily the hardest part I’ve had to record, but that’s on me, I guess.”
Each member of Extended brought a handful of compositions to the recording of Without Notice, opening every composition to be transformed into a collaborative effort. Rossignoli’s two scores, “Premonition” and “The Ineffable Allure of Shadows,” follow each other on the recording for a good reason. The haunting tone of “Premonition” contrasts the soft, bucolic textures of “The Ineffable Allure of Shadows,” showing influences of Claude Debussy’s proclivity for impression-inspired sound passages.
Rossignoli broaches, “‘Premonition’ was conceived at the studio. I know I wanted an intro for ‘The Ineffable Allure Of Shadows,’ and I wanted to evoke a sense of darkness and time passing. The simple pulsating chords against raw, growling sound from the lower side of the piano were perfect devices to convey that idea.”
“Creating music with Extended and by myself on a lonely piano,” he illustrates, “puts me in a rare position of perhaps playing something I haven’t played before. That is if I stay true to the moment and don’t impose my own agenda, letting the music happen naturally instead.”
The title track is another example of the trio’s collaborative tendencies to let the music happen naturally; as Rossignoli provides, “That track was the last one Matt brought in, and we didn’t rehearse it much prior to the recording date, but I just liked the sound and mysterious air it has. I thought Without Notice reflected the feeling of uncertainty we all had in 2020. Maybe it’s a way to get something good out of the darkness of that year.”
Good happenings continue for Extended, having a long run of performances at the Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro, which Rossignoli touts, “Snug Harbor (Jazz Bistro) is a unique place in New Orleans. This is one of the few places in the city where the music takes the first place. Their listening room encourages focus on the music itself, and I believe that has a direct effect on musicians and audiences alike. My relationship with Brad and Matt only tightens every time we share the stage. It is also where usually our ideas emerge and develop.”
Crafting and playing music are essential to Oscar Rossignoli’s life, but he also finds time away from his profession to soak up the world around him. “I enjoy reading, spending time with my wife and dog,” he admits, “and just about enjoying things that bring me peace and that also teach me something new, whether be a book, a movie, or a long walk at the park. I have a fascination with the mind and thought processes, so I enjoy reading or watching documentaries about psychology or philosophy as well.”
Rossignoli’s inclination to explore making music, whether as a solo artist or in a collaborative setting, has advanced the perimeters of jazz-inspired improvisations for present and future generations to take note. His mission to marry improvisation with rhythm is an evolving quest that continues to stoke his creativity to make stuff up and evoke impressions that challenge listeners to interpret.
About Susan Frances:
Born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in eastern Long Island, I always enjoyed writing and made several contributions to my high school literary magazine, The Lion’s Pen. Influenced by writers of epic novels including Colleen McCullough and James Clavell, I gravitated to creative writing. After graduating from New York University with a BA in Liberal Arts, I tried my hand at conventional jobs but always returned to creative writing. Since 1998, I have been a freelance writer and have over three thousand articles to various e-zines including: Jazz Times, Blogcritics, Yahoo Voices, Goodreads.com, Authors and Books (books.wiseto.com), TheReadingRoom.com, Amazon.com, Epinions.com, Fictiondb.com, LibraryThing.com, BTS emag, BarnesandNoble.com, RomanticHistoricalReviews.com, AReCafe.com, Hybrid Magazine, and BookDepository.com. In 2013 and 2014, I was a judge in the Orange Rose Writing Competition sponsored by the Orange County chapter of the Romance Writers of America located in Brea, California.