He was born in the hamlet of Orange, in the Cote d’Azur, France, in 1962. His father, Tony, a jazz guitarist, gave him a toy piano when he was three or four years old, which the young boy smashed up because, “the piano keys looked like teeth that would bite me”. (Hence, the title of our project, a biopic called Bite, which aims to tell his story to a world fast forgetting the accomplishments and legacy of the little man with the big jazz-piano sound.) Born with Osteogenesis imperfecta (glass bones disease) and dwarfism (he never grew taller than three feet), Michel’s is the ultimate story of personal will triumphing over extreme odds.
Later, Tony brought home his son another piano – this time a battered old upright variety which the child took to almost immediately. Soon, he was plinking and plunking around quite in a “to the manner born” kind of way, and within a few years was proving to be a budding musical prodigy. He received encouragement from his family (which included two musician brothers) which surely spurred him on and gave him the iron resolve and self-esteem necessary to later achieve the almost impossible for a boy and man handed such afflictions.
He gave his first professional recital at age thirteen and from there was on his way. He went to Paris and played with Kenny Clarke, then with Clark Terry at the Cliousclat Jazz Festival in 1978 after his own keyboard player dropped out. His years in Paris were marked by reportedly bizarre experiences with drugs, figures on the fringe of Parisian society, and bad women. He survived, having headed to New York City after that, sometime circa 1980 or 1981. Michel gives a somewhat apocryphal account of surviving on gambling and hustling schemes, but getting his first Bite of the Big Apple nonetheless.
California, Charles Lloyd, and First Love
Fast-forward to 1981. Michel Petrucciani ends up at the doorstep of well-established jazz saxophonist Charles Lloyd, enticing him to hear him play one or more clubs in the Bay Area. Lloyd is knocked-out, saying, “I heard you play and I heard that beauty come out of you and I knew I had to take it around the world.”
And, he was off, again! World tours, and studio and live albums ensued. Sometime not long after meeting Lloyd, Petrucciani met Erlinda, from Big Sur. She swept him off of his brittle feet and Michel had his first American romance — not to be his last.
A Race with Time and Death
Michel could not have known it, but he only had thirty-six years to live his life. From the time he met Charles Lloyd in 1981 to his death in 1999, he only had eighteen years or less to pack in all his musical ambitions and aspirations. We can only speculate on what he may have achieved if he could have lived a normal lifetime. Perhaps Grammy awards, and other honors and accolades. Perhaps the worldwide, lasting fame and legacy he surely deserves.
And, that’s what we at Golden Flower Network are determined to work toward — helping Michel get the honor and recognition he rightly deserves. Have you heard the live version of the song Bite yet?
Click the image to see the pitch deck for our production of Bite!
-The Michel Petrucciani Musical Biopic.