‘Swinging ‘til the girls come home’
It seems appropriate to link this tune by Oscar Pettiford — one of pianist Oscar Peterson’s favourites and often included in his concerts – with Francesca Tandoi, herself a great Peterson fan. It is not often that a pianist of her calibre comes to Johannesburg, and with a flawless technique and the ability to swing like the clappers, both her audiences and musicians were knocked out by her playing. “She lifted the whole band” said saxophonist Justin Holcroft – who accompanied her at both venues – and the enthusiasm with which she was received hopefully augurs well for a return visit.
Talking to Francesca between concerts revealed a charming personality to go with her good looks. Her interest in jazz was sparked by a radio programme she listened to when she was about six, and once her mother explained the genre to her, she decided that a jazz pianist was what she wanted to be. Classical training followed, and in 2009 she moved from her home in Rome to the Netherlands, graduated with a special mention at the Royal Conservatory of the Hague in 2013 and completed her academic studies with a Master’s degree from the Codarts Conservatory in Rotterdam in 2015.
“It was pianist Bill Evan’s album ‘You must believe in Spring’ (recorded in 1977 but only released after his death in 1980), that set me firmly on a jazz course,” says Francesca. “I listened to it over and over again and found it a beautiful and moving experience.” Phineas Newborn, Bobby Timmons, Gene Harris — and of course Oscar Peterson — were some of her other influences, and it wasn’t long before she was getting work all over Europe, impressing everyone with her playing – and singing too. “A highlight was appearing in the US at Washington University, St Louis,” she adds, “followed by two concerts in New York – such an honour.”
Francesca has a slightly different take on what’s it’s like to survive and prosper while doing the rounds of the sometimes punishing European jazz circuit. “In general, there is enough work,” she observes, “and perhaps I have a slight advantage because it’s unusual for a woman to be a leader (she has a regular rhythm section in Italy and Holland), but one is competing all the time against modern jazz, hip-hop and rap, which seem to find favour among the younger generation. It’s also significant that many American musicians – tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton who I often play with being one – have found themselves more at home in Europe, and I know the pay can be better there!”