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Misha Piatigorsky: Invent Your Own Bicycle

By Published: March 17, 2008

AAJ: Did he give you other pianists to listen to and other jazz artists?

MP: Of course. He'd say, "You should listen to this and to this," but I was studying Kenny Barron. I was heavily studying Kenny Barron. I think that's a really important thing to do—to actually take a person you love and really understand what they do and how they do it. How do they make that sound? How do they swing? What are the lines that they use? What do they do rhythmically? That's all I wanted to do. I wanted to be Kenny Barron. And I was playing a lot like him. Not as well, of course, but I was playing all his lines. It took me many years to get out of that.

AAJ: We're almost up to the present day. After you graduated from Rutgers and left Kenny, you went to the Manhattan School of Music and got your Masters there. Who did you study with there?

MP: I had [pianist] Jaki Byard for half a year, and then I had [pianist] Eliane Elias for a year and a half.

AAJ: Wow. Those are two different players.

MP: You think? [laughs]

AAJ: So let's talk about the new record, Uncommon Circumstance. Let's start by talking about the trio with bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Ari Hoenig. How did you meet those guys and start playing with them?

Misha Piatigorsky MP: I've known both of them for a long time. I met Hans when I was still at the Manhattan School of Music. He graduated the year I came in, but we met each other because we played on somebody's senior recital. Right away I thought, "Wow, this guy is a bad cat. I love everything he's doing. Besides the fact that he grooves so heavily, he's hearing every note I'm playing."

There's a relationship that pianists and bass players have. You can really tell when a bassist knows everything that you do. It's the same kind of relationship you have with a drummer. When I play with certain drummers, I know that everything I do, they're in front of it. It's like a game. With a bassist, it's exactly the same thing. I can go to any harmony I want, I can do anything in the world, and Hans knows what I'm going to do before I do it. That freaks me out.

So I've known Hans for many years, and I've always adored playing with him. He's done many projects with me. I've produced many projects that he's been on. When I won the [Thelonious] Monk [Composers] Competition, he played bass on the tune that I produced, called "Low Talk."

Ari I've also known for many years. We're about the same age. We played together in the past plenty of times. I hadn't played with him in a little while. When I started doing this project and writing the music for this particular record—this is sort of the stuff I've been playing for the past few years—I realized I needed to make a recording of this. And I really wanted to put a trio together that would be, "This is what I'm doing today."

His name just popped into my head. I e-mailed him, and I said, "Hey man, I want you to play my new stuff with me." We played a few gigs together, and I realized from the first rehearsal that this is the trio I'm going to record with.

AAJ: A lot of the music on this record is very groove-oriented, very modern-sounding. Will you talk about how you got to here from where you were as a jazz pianist?

MP: [laughs] I went through many different periods of Misha life. I was very much a jazzhead for years, especially when I was studying in school. I was like a little bebop Nazi. I even remember a time when I was at a jazz festival and I went to a major club after one of the main performances, and [trumpeter] Roy Hargrove's band was playing. They were swinging their asses off. At the end, all of a sudden [drummer] Greg Hutchinson started playing a hip-hop groove. Roy picked up the mic and started rapping. I was so offended! I was like, "Oh, what are they doing? This is horrible!" [laughs] Thinking back to that, it really makes me laugh.

And then I got disenchanted a little bit with trying to promote a trio when I was younger, and the fact that no one really cared about the music that I was playing. I completely stopped playing swing for quite some time. That's when I discovered Brazilian music and I got heavily into Brazilian music. I spent three or four years playing only Brazilian music. Then I got really heavily into [singer] D'Angelo. I totally adore him and [singer] Erikah Badu. When she did that record Mama's Gun (Kedar, 2000), it completely blew me away in terms of the grooves. What [Roots drummer] ?uestlove plays.

Then I started writing music that incorporated classical harmonies. Mostly everything I play right now has a sort of neo-classical sound—very traditional classical harmonies. The fact that I adore hip-hop and any kind of groove-oriented music—I kind of put those two together, and that's how the music came out on this record.

AAJ: For how long have you been working on the tunes that are on this record?

Misha Piatigorsky MP: Some of the tunes are really old, like "So High," which I wrote seven or eight years ago and just never had a chance to record. It seemed like the perfect song to add on this record, in terms of the concept.

I lived in Israel between 2004 and 2005 for about nine months, because my wife was studying there. I got a lot of inspiration living in Jerusalem, and I wrote a lot of the tunes on the record there.

"I Fall In Love Too Easily," the standard that I play that goes into that crazy vamp, that happened in Israel.

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