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Artist Profiles

Bernard Peiffer: Formidable

By Published: April 4, 2006

When I was 15 years old and studying piano with Bernard, he told me "If you're going to play wrong notes, at least play them the right way!" It was the best piece of advice that I've gotten from any teacher. No one has made as much of an impact on my music as Bernard, who taught me to play with conviction and to find my own voice. He stressed musicality above all, and made few distinctions between playing jazz or classical piano. Bernard taught me to approach different types of music with equal respect, enthusiasm, and gusto, a message that I will always carry with me, as I remember him in my compositions and performances forever.

—Annie Gosfield

I first studied with Bernard for six months when I was in tenth grade. It was around 1967 or '68 and prior to his first serious illness. I continued my studies with him from 1971 to '73. During my final year with him I left college and took two lessons weekly, one in piano, one in composition. Study with him was rigorous, from bitonal scales in double notes to the repertoire of Beethoven, Debussy, Messiaen, Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans and others. The emphasis was always on using all of the analytical and technical training to pursue your own creative impulse and express a personal point of view. He was like a university unto himself. I left for North Texas State in 1973 to finish my degree and Bernard corresponded with me, monitoring my progress and keeping me informed of his activities. He was a great friend and profound influence early in my musical life.

—Don Glanden

Sometimes people come into your life for a reason. Bernard was a great pianist and teacher, but beyond that he was a wonderful person with a generous heart. Bernard had a childlike quality when it came to music—he would get so excited about something. My lessons covered the gamut from classical to jazz improvisation: he had me listen to and look at composers like Scriabin and Ravel. He had the utmost confidence in me and took me very seriously as a composer; that helped me to believe in myself. He made it clear that in order to have freedom as a player you had to get beyond technique—but you had to have the technique to get beyond, and that only happens by practicing your buns off. To listen to Bernard play was transforming; I have never heard anyone play the piano like him. There was no way you could be with him and not be influenced. I count myself very fortunate to have been his student.

—Sumi Tonooka

In 1974, after maybe a year's experience in playing jazz at all, I went to Bernard for lessons... It was about five years after his death that I was able to integrate his principles more into my playing. What I loved most was his commitment to spontaneity (especially his later playing), and refusal to be locked into one way of playing a tune.

—Tom Lawton

Bernie's Tunes, EmArcy MG 36080, 1956
Ulanov, Barry. "bernard peiffer, le greatest." Metronome 1953
Tercinet, Alain. La Vie en Rose. Gitanes 013 980-2, 2002
Feather, Leonard. PR Review Quote for Laurie LLP 1006
Personal letter to Don Glanden, July 8, 1975
Korall, Burt, The Pied Peiffer Of The Piano, Decca DL 79218, 1960
Hentoff, Nat. Modern Jazz For People Who..., Laurie LLP 1006
Conversations with Bernard Peiffer, 1971-73

Photo Credit
At piano (side) by Eric Nemeyer

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