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Jazz Pianist Petrucciani Dies at 36

January 7, 1999 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ Michel Petrucciani, a jazz pianist who recorded more than a dozen albums and drew an international following, has died at age 36.

The French-born musician, who was afflicted with a bone disease, was being treated at Beth Israel Medical Center for a lung infection when he died early Wednesday, said his Paris agent, Bernard Ivain.

``All music lovers will feel his death as a great loss,″ French President Jacques Chirac said. ``He was a world renowned pianist who succeeded in giving jazz a new language.″

Petrucciani, who stood 3 feet tall, suffered from osteogenesis imperfecta. Also known as ``glass bone disease,″ it causes a calcium deficiency that stunts growth and makes bones brittle.

He wore braces on his legs, had special pedal extensions on his pianos and often had to be carried to and from the piano bench.

His albums included ``Promenade With Duke,″ an homage to Duke Ellington, ``Pianism″ (1986), ``Michel Plays Petrucciani″ (1988), ``Music″ (1989) ``Playground″ (1991), ``The Best of Michel Petrucciani _ The Blue Note Years″ (1994), and ``Marvelous″ (1994).

He won a wide following with his technical mastery, skillful improvisation and sense of harmony.

``He was a warrior,″ said jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter. ``He dared to go places that others never even think to go _ and not just musically.″

Schooled in classical music as well as jazz, Petrucciani began playing at age 4 made his professional debut at 13 at an outdoor jazz festival in France. He put out his first album, ``Flash,″ at 16.

He was inspired by greats like Ellington and jazz pianist Bill Evans, and by his father, jazz guitarist Antoine Petrucciani.

``I couldn’t believe this little cat with the physical problems he had could play like he did,″ recalled trumpet great Clark Terry. ``It was mindboggling.″

Terry said Petrucciani has ``a place alongside all of the jazz greats. He’s not one of those who followed others leads. ... He was a giant.″

Petrucciani moved to the United States in 1981 and lived in Big Sur, Calif., before moving to New York to form his own trio.

``People don’t understand that being a human being is not being 7 feet tall; it’s what you have in your head and not your body,″ he once said of his handicap in a 1994 interview.

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Still, he credited his disease with giving him plenty of time to practice as a child, since he couldn’t go outside and play sports.

``I could stay in front of the piano for five or six hours a day and it all adds up over the years,″ he said.

Petrucciani is survived by three sons. Funeral arrangements were pending.