Born in Milan on December 5, 1972, he started playing the piano at the age of six and made his professional debut at 15. He studied jazz with Luca Flores, Mauro Grossi and Franco D’Andrea. After graduating under Maestro Antonio Caggiula at the Conservatory Luigi Cherubini of Florence in 1993 and a brief experience as session musician in the pop world (with Raf and Jovanotti, among others), he soon became an established jazz musician, playing on the most prestigious stages worldwide (from Umbria Jazz to Montreal International Jazz Festival, from the Town Hall in New York to the Fenice in Venice, from the Barbican in London and Salle Pleyel in Paris to the Scala in Milan). He has also worked with great musicians including Richard Galliano, Phil Woods, Lee Konitz, Chick Corea, with whom he recorded live Orvieto (ECM, 2011), as well as Gato Barbieri, Bill Frisell, John Abercrombie, Pat Metheny, Bobby McFerrin, Sol Gabetta, Fred Hersch, Martial Solal, Chano Dominguez, Chucho Valdés, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Uri Caine, Diego Schissi, Igudesman & Joo, Miroslav Vitous, Aldo Romano, Jimmy Cobb, Roy Haynes, Michel Portal, Luis Bacalov, Riz Ortolani…
Among the milestones in his career, the crucial collaboration with his mentor Enrico Rava, uninterrupted since 1996. At Rava’s side, he has performed hundreds of concerts and recorded as many as 13 CDs. The most recent include: Tati (ECM, 2005), in a trio with Paul Motian on drums (CD of the year for French Académie du jazz), The Third Man (ECM, 2007, the best CD of the year for American magazine “Allaboutjazz” and for Italian “Musica Jazz”), and New York Days (ECM, 2008), in a quintet with Mark Turner, Larry Grenadier and Paul Motian (CD of the year for “Musica Jazz”).
He was rated best new talent in 1998 by the referendum of the “Musica Jazz” critics; in that year, as leader of his band L’orchestra del Titanic, he paid tribute to Italian music of the 1930s and 1940s with the record-show Abbassa la tua radio (with many important Italian singers and musicians).
Over the years he has worked with experimental and “cross-border” musicians both on stage and in recordings (Hector Zazou, Giovanni Sollima, Elliot Sharp, Zeena Parkins, Sainhko Namcythclack); he has also played his piano for singers such as Elio e le storie tese, Johnny Dorelli, Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, and in particular the Italian pop star Irene Grandi, with whom he signed the album Irene Grandi e Stefano Bollani (Carosello, 2012).
Some of his works are rather unconventional, such as La gnosi delle fanfole, where he set surreal poems by Fosco Maraini to music together with singer-songwriter Massimo Altomare (1998), and the album of Scandinavian songs Gleda (Stunt Records, 2005), recorded in Denmark with Jesper Bodilsen on double bass and Morten Lund on drums, two musicians with whom he has been playing in a close-knit trio since 2004.
He recorded four CDs in his name for prestigious French Label Bleu: Les fleurs bleues (2002), a tribute to writer Raymond Queneau, recorded in trio with Scott Colley and Clarence Penn; the solo-CD Småt småt (2003), ranked as one of the top ten jazz albums of the year by English magazine “Mojo”; Concertone (2004), a work for jazz trio and symphonic orchestra with Paolo Silvestri, who arranged and directed the Orchestra Regionale Toscana; and the double album I visionari (2006) with his new quintet plus Mark Feldman, Paolo Fresu and Petra Magoni as guests.
He created Vivere Jazz Festival in Fiesole (FI) and was its artistic director from 2005 to 2007.
His more recent productions are Big Band! (Verve, 2013) with the NDR Big Band of Hamburg directed and arranged by Geir Lysne, awarded with the 2013 ECHO Preis; Joy In Spite Of Everything (ECM, 2014), CD of the year for the magazine “Musica Jazz”; Sheik Yer Zappa (Decca black, 2014), a live recording to honour Frank Zappa’s music; Arrivano gli alieni (Decca black, 2015), his debut as singer-songwriter; Napoli Trip (Decca, 2016) with many musicians including Daniele Sepe, Manu Katché and Jan Bang; Mediterraneo (ACT, 2017), a live show recorded in Berlin with Jesper Bodilsen, Morten Lund, Vincent Peirani and some members of the Berliner Philharmoniker, with arrangements by Geir Lysne.
In May 2018, he released Que Bom, his first album of his label Alobar. Consisting of original tunes recorded in Rio, it features Caetano Veloso and João Bosco among others.
The second album by Alobar is Piano Variations on Jesus Christ Superstar (2020), a tribute to the rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.
His curiosity has often made him a moderator/interviewer on stage with writers and thinkers such as Rupert Sheldrake, Corrado Malanga, Mauro Biglino, Anne Givaudan, Igor Sibaldi.
In 2006, publisher Baldini e Castoldi Dalai printed his novel La sindrome di Brontolo.
In January 2013, Mondadori published his book Parliamo di musica. In 2015, again Mondadori published Il monello, il guru, l’alchimista e altre storie di musicisti.
He was made a character called “Paperefano Bolletta” appearing in three comic strips of the weekly publication “Topolino” and was officially appointed its ambassador.
In 2017, Trigono Edizioni published Dialoghi tra alieni, conversazioni su universi vicini e lontani signed by Bollani together with Mauro Biglino, Anne Givaudan and Igor Sibaldi.
He wrote the foreword for books by George Martin, Tom Robbins, Robert Anton Wilson, Ricardo Tristano Tuls and others.
RADIO AND TV
In 2005, he was a permanent guest in the Rai 1 TV show Meno siamo meglio stiamo by and with Renzo Arbore, one of the most popular Italian TV presenters of all time.
Together with poet-author-director David Riondino and saxophonist-composer Mirko Guerrini, he was the creator, author and host of the music show Dottor Djembè, broadcast on Radio Rai 3 from 2006 to 2012 (winning the awards “Premio Microfono d’argento” in 2007, “Premio Satira Politica di Forte dei Marmi” and “Volterra Gusto” in 2010). That experience first led to the book-CD Lo Zibaldone del Dottor Djembè (Baldini Castoldi Dalai, 2008), an ironic mockery of the world of “high” culture, and then to the TV special Buonasera Dottor Djembè in three episodes created and broadcast on Rai 3 in June 2010.
He has been the author of Radio Rai 3 programs’ jingles since January 2009.
In October 2011, he was the creator, author and host of the six-episode TV show Sostiene Bollani, broadcast on Rai 3. By his side, the very famous Italian comedian Caterina Guzzanti and his friends-musicians Jesper Bodilsen and Morten Lund of his Danish Trio, and many guests. The show was awarded with the “Ideona” prize of ANART, television and radio authors association.
A second edition was once again broadcast on Rai 3 in 2013.
In autumn 2016, he created the seven-episode late-night Rai 1 TV show L’importante è avere un piano, accompanied by brilliant actress Valentina Cenni in the role of a sleep fairy and by many international musician guests.
He took part in 2013 Sanremo Festival as special guest with Caetano Veloso.
In January 2020, he officially inaugurated the year of Matera European Capital of Culture on Rai 1 TV with multifaceted actor-singer-director Gigi Proietti, who has enjoyed highest popularity in Italy for over 50 years.
In theatre, he has worked with many artists, from Banda Osiris (in the show Guarda che luna!, 2002-2004, together with Rava, Gianmaria Testa and others, and in Primo piano, 2005-2006), to renowned Italian actors such as Claudio Bisio, Maurizio Crozza and in particular Lella Costa (for whom he composed the music for three plays, Alice: una meraviglia di paese, Amleto and Ragazze, all directed by Giorgio Gallione).
He shared the stage with prominent people from the world of art tout court such as Fernando Arrabal and of contemporary dance such as Roberto Bolle, Raffaella Giordano and Mauro Bigonzetti (who created a ballet on his Concertone for Staatstheater Stuttgart).
He composed the music for Antigone by Cristina Pezzoli, performed at Teatro Greco of Siracusa in 2013, and for Wonderland by Daniele Ciprì, produced by Teatro Stabile of Bolzano in 2016.
An honorary member of the Italian Association of Pataphysics, he is co-author of and actor in the play created together with his wife Valentina Cenni, La regina dada.
In the field of classical music, he has performed as soloist with symphonic orchestras such as Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Concertgebouworkest of Amsterdam, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, Orchestre National de Lyon, Filarmonica della Scala of Milan, Santa Cecilia of Rome with conductors such as Zubin Mehta, Kristjan Järvi, Daniel Harding, Antonio Pappano, Gianandrea Noseda, Leonard Slatkin, James Conlon, Jan Latham-Koenig (with whom he recorded Concert Champêtre by Poulenc for the English label AVIE Records together with the Orchestra Filamornica ‘900 del Regio di Torino), and in particular Riccardo Chailly, with whom he recorded Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Concerto in F in Leipzig, released in September 2010 by Decca Italia and listed in the general rankings (Platinum disc, selling over 70,000 copies).
In 2012, he recorded the CD Sounds of the 30s (including Concerto in G by Maurice Ravel), once again with Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and Maestro Chailly.
In 2013, George Gershwin – Live alla Scala was released, a DVD recorded at Scala in Milan that includes Concerto in F directed by Chailly.
He composed three concerts for piano and orchestra: Concertone (2004), Concerto Azzurro (2017) and Concerto Verde (2019).
In recent times, his bond with South America has grown stronger. After creating the album Carioca (Golden disc) with outstanding Brazilian musicians, followed by a live DVD, in December 2007 he was, only after Antonio Carlos Jobim, the second musician in Brazilian history to play a grand piano in a favela of Rio de Janeiro.
He has worked with many Brazilian artists, notably Hamilton de Holanda, with whom he recorded the live album O Que Será (ECM, 2013), ranked among the best CDs of the year by American magazine “Downbeat”. He has also played with Chico Buarque, Egberto Gismonti, Marcos Sacramento, Zé Renato, Monica Salmaso, Nilze Carvalho, Ná Ozzetti, Jaques Morelenbaum, Toninho Horta, and the band Casuarina.
PRIZES AND AWARDS
He was rated the best new talent in 1998 by the referendum of “Musica Jazz” critics.
In 2003, he received the Neapolitan award “Premio Carosone”, named after the artist whom he had dedicated a brief book-essay to in 2002, L’America di Renato Carosone (Elleu editore). One year later, Japanese magazine “Swing Journal” gave him the “New Star Award” for foreign emerging talents, bestowed for the first time to a non-American musician. He published five CDs for Japanese label Venus Records as leader of his trio with Ares Tavolazzi on double bass and Walter Paoli on drums. (In one of them, Ma l’amore no, 2006, he also performed as singer).
In 2006, “Musica Jazz” rated him musician of the year, and his Piano Solo (ECM) CD of the year.
In 2007, American jazz magazine “Downbeat” Critics Poll ranked him eighth best international rising star and third best young pianist.
The critics of “Allaboutjazz” magazine of New York ranked him among the five most important musicians of the year, next to stars like Ornette Coleman and Sonny Rollins.
In December, he was given the European critic award “European Jazz Prize – Best European Jazz Musician of the Year” in Vienna.
In 2008, the Region of Tuscany awarded him with the “Gonfalone d’argento”.
In 2009, at North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands, he won the “Paul Hacket Award”.
In 2010, he was appointed honorary doctor by Berklee College of Music in Boston.
The same year, he received the “Capri Global Artist Award” and was rated musician of the year by the “Musica Jazz” critics.
In 2011, he won the “Fiorentini nel mondo” prize and the “Los Angeles Excellence Award” for Italian culture in the world.
In 2012, he received the “Milano per la musica” prize. The same year, he was ranked seventh best pianist by “Downbeat” Critics Poll.
In Germany, he won the 2014 “Trier Jazz Award”. The same year, Joy In Spite Of Everything was rated CD of the year by “Musica Jazz”.
In 2016, he was awarded the title of “Commander of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic”.
In 2019, he was conferred honorary citizenship by the city of Naples.