Celebrated for his deeply complex and expressive original compositions and improvisational talent, he makes his solo U.S. debut with six concerts during Spoleto's jazz series.
A young musician, Ciammarughi was attracted to the piano thanks to his musical family. He came up immersed in music in the Umbria city of Assisi. The music of Italy and the Mediterranean heavily influenced his musical ideas as well — and still do.
"My father was a very good pianist and an important teacher in the Perugia Conservatory," he says. "He also used to improvise alone at home. I'm sure he loved and knew jazz music, so I grew up in a very positive atmosphere, and it was natural for me to go to the piano and begin to play.
"When I began to play professionally, I wasn't very interested in traditional and popular music. Later in my life, I developed a big interest. In 1997, I wrote a composition for orchestra based on many popular melodies. The title was Folk Songs."
As a musician and arranger, Ciammarughi spent time working with a variety of jazz artists, including bassist Miroslav Vitous, Steve Grossman, John Clark, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Billy Cobham, Vinnie Colaiuta, and many of the northern Italian musicians on the festival circuit.
His background in concert music and jazz enhanced his chops on the keys and broadened his perspective as a musician. As a solo performer, he's dynamic and expressive.
"I can recognize myself in those traits," he says. "Of course, my playing comes from too many sources and experiences. You can find there the knowledge of classical music and, in general, some features coming from the history of my instrument and of jazz and European music, and something from my theatrical works maybe. It becomes evident in any solo performance."
The discipline involved with composing, arranging, and performing solo or with other artists can bring difficult challenges. But Ciammarughi greets them all with a balanced approach and a healthy optimism.
"There are times when I prefer to compose, or to give concerts, or teaching," he says. "I think that I've found a special and interesting balance between composing and improvisation in my performances. I let one discipline influence the other in order to get structured improvisations and extemporaneous or hands-off compositions."
During the 2008 Wachovia Jazz Series, Ciammarughi dazzled an audience at the Cistern while playing in saxophonist Stefano "Cocco" Cantini's combo. While that concert was set outside, this year Ciammarughi plays in the more intimate Stern Center at CofC.
"Last year's concert was in a very beautiful place, but I think that a more intimate situation is much better for a solo performance ... and it's what I prefer," he says. "This [year's] concert is totally based on the history of soundtrack — a tribute to the art of cinema. Within the concert, there is a very interesting relation between improvised parts and more structured parts even though nothing of the music comes from paper or original scores.
"Sincerely, I'm not very anxious," he adds. "And I have too many experiences in my life, but I'm proud of this invitation and happy to come back in a very nice place. I hope to communicate as much as possible my musical conception and the idea of expressive freedom in art and music ... and I'm a little proud to be in the great tradition of Italian pianists."