The majestic red spruce growing in the Val Di Fiemme of Italy's Dolomites has been prized by instrument makers for centuries. Some of the best planks wind up at the piano factory of Paolo Fazioli, a pianist and engineer turned piano maker. Seth Doane speaks to Fazioli in his factory in the Italian town of Sacile, 40 minutes north of Venice, about his meticulous work, which began 40 years ago.
- We're off to a magical forest where you could say pianos grow. Seth Doane is our guide.
SETH DOANE: To the many sounds you'd expect to be produced by a forest, consider including this.
The sound of the piano.
Because the majestic red spruce growing in the Val Di Fiemme of Italy's Dolomites has been prized by instrument makers for centuries, including famed luthier Antonio Stradivarius.
We followed in the snowshoe tracks of an Italian forest Ranger and Luka Fazioli, a second-generation piano maker.
Luka, so he says this could be a good tree.
LUKA FAZIOLI: This could be a good tree for resonating wood.
SETH DOANE: Yes, resonating wood. This likely 200-year-old red spruce has good acoustic properties because at more than 7,000 feet, these trees dormant in winter months, grow slowly. That produces a desirable even wood grain.
It's good because it's long, straight--
LUKA FAZIOLI: Straight.
SETH DOANE: Not many knots.
LUKA FAZIOLI: No knots.
SETH DOANE: Some of the best planks wind up at the Fazioli's piano factory, a couple hours away in the town of Schiele, where they make this sort of instrument that's turned a celebrity into a fan.
HERBIE HANCOCK: I have in my contract that I will only play a Fazioli piano.
SETH DOANE: Jazz great, Herbie Hancock.
HERBIE HANCOCK: So it just feels elegant. It feels like a very rich sound.
And it just begs you to play it.
SETH DOANE: Do you think this is something that only, you, someone with, what, 14 Grammys, can hear, or could the rest of us hear it?
HERBIE HANCOCK: The rest of you here it. [LAUGHS]
SETH DOANE: Fazioli uses a dozen different types of wood in a single piano. But it's that Italian red spruce used for the soundboard that's key to giving the instrument its voice.
LUKA FAZIOLI: The grain of this tree have to be exactly straight.
SETH DOANE: Why do you want such straight lines here?
LUKA FAZIOLI: Because the sound run through the grain.
SETH DOANE: In a room of soundboards being seasoned, Luka demonstrated how even at this stage, the sound of the piano emerges.
PAOLO FAZIOLI: The wood is very light. At the same time, it's also very strong. And for the sound board, these are the best characteristic--
LUKA FAZIOLI: Paolo, Luka's dad, is the Fazioli who gave this piano its name. He started making these instruments 40 years ago.
This is the first one he built.
The son of furniture makers, Paolo was fascinated by the inner workings of a piano his father got him as a boy, which he says sounded terrible.
PAOLO FAZIOLI: The piano was not sounding well. [CHUCKLES]
SETH DOANE: And you though, maybe I can fix it?
PAOLO FAZIOLI: Yes. I start this way to start the piano, but also to look inside.
SETH DOANE: That curiosity has been built into a business employing about 50 people who turn out around 140 handcrafted pianos a year.
Each one takes nearly three years to build. And the bigger pianos can sell for over $200,000. Special models can surpass half a million.
In 2003, Paolo Fazioli invited Herbie Hancock to come to Italy for a tour.
HERBIE HANCOCK: He had prepared three pianos for me. I tried the first one, which sounded lovely. Then I played the next one, and it had this huge sound, like, pow, right? Then I played the third one, and it was so sweet, I thought, oh, this will make all the girls cry. [LAUGHS]
SETH DOANE: [LAUGHS]
HERBIE HANCOCK: I said I got to have this one.
SETH DOANE: While the piano was invented by an Italian, Bartolomeo Cristofori around 1700, it was richer countries, including Austria and Germany, that later perfected its production.
Why is it so many people have not heard of a Fazioli?
HERBIE HANCOCK: It hasn't been around that long. So there are a lot of people that just don't know about Fazioli's but he can't make them fast enough.
SETH DOANE: That's by design. Paolo Fazioli told us he wants to be able to test each one. And after employees had left, we found the 76-year-old still at work.
PAOLO FAZIOLI: Some pianos, they are very powerful. Some of the piano, they are more sweet. And then you must follow these the character of the piano.
SETH DOANE: He follows every step with one notable exception.
PAOLO FAZIOLI: When they come to bring the piano, the movers, I-- I watch in another direction.
SETH DOANE: You can't be around them when they--
PAOLO FAZIOLI: I don't like to see. [LAUGHS]
LUKA FAZIOLI: For him, this famous "Laurel and Hardy" comedy is a horror film.
RACHEL NAOMI COUTO: Each Fazioli is particular, but what they all have in common is this transparency.
SETH DOANE: American pianist Rachel Naomi Kudo met us at Fazioli's in-house concert hall.
RACHEL NAOMI KUDO: It really connects with whoever wants to-- wants to play.
SETH DOANE: It is an inanimate object.
RACHEL NAOMI KUDO: Yes. But I believe each piano's alive.
And it's through the performer that it becomes alive for the audience.
SETH DOANE: This Juilliard-trained pianist from Chicago demonstrated what this piano can do.
RACHEL NAOMI KUDO: An average piano, let's say, maybe the range is like this. I would say Fazioli, every Fazioli, the capacity for expressive range would be like this.
SETH DOANE: Wow.
RACHEL NAOMI KUDO: It's shocking.
SETH DOANE: Years after playing their pianos, she met and married Luka.
You fell in love with Fazioli, the piano, before you fell in love with Fazioli, the man.
RACHEL NAOMI KUDO: Of course. I didn't even know that there was a man. [LAUGHS]
SETH DOANE: It adds another dimension to the love affair here that centered around this instrument and has its roots back in that alpine forest.
HERBIE HANCOCK: The pianos come from this one forest in Italy, the same forest where the wood from Stradivarius violins were made.
SETH DOANE: We went there, the Val Di Fiemme.
HERBIE HANCOCK: Oh, you did? Wow.
SETH DOANE: This special forest has impressed generations of musicians and instrument makers, who, in turn, inspire the rest of us.
- This portion of "Sunday Morning" is sponsored by Pfizer.