PM: Certainly my lessons with Miss Copia were formal. We had a lesson each week, rain, shine or snow (a consideration up there in the snow belt). The work was very much European Classical in direction, and Miss Copia also gave me my early theory lessons.
I had a wonderful teacher in high school named Douglas Monroe who also gave me theory lessons, as well as taught me about the beauty of choral music. He was another very strict and passionate musician. As I look back now I see that it's always the teacher who cares enough to be tough who one remembers as having been the most effectual.
From high school I went on to the Crane School of Music in upstate New York. It was there I first heard jazz music, at that time sort of an outlaw form as far as the school was concerned. So my real education in jazz began, on the bandstand with my peers.
AAJ: Was there any watershed moment where you decided (or discovered) that you simply had to become a musician? Please elaborate.
PM: I mentioned Douglas Monroe earlier. During my senior year in high school the director of the concert wind ensemble was interested in performing Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," and had plans to hire a soloist. Some of the musicians in that group, like clarinetist Laura Ardan and saxophonist Pat Perez, have gone on to great careers in music, so it was a serious ensemble. Mr. Monroe suggested that I be given the chance as piano soloist, and I took it, with both hands. I suddenly stopped spending all my time down at the gym and began stealing moments during the school day to practice the "Rhapsody." I was determined to learn and memorize it in time for the concert in April, and I did. I still remember the feeling of that accomplishment and of having the whole ensemble with me. I said, "This is for me."
AAJ: When did your first exposure to jazz occur? What was your reaction?
PM: At the Crane School I was walking down the hall one day and heard music coming from a practice room. I opened the dooronto what turned out to be the rest of my lifeand heard a quintet playing a form of music which was strong yet elegant, intricate yet ebullient, and I had to learn about it. It was, of course, jazz music. I'd had a lot of fun playing in a funk/rock band in high school with my cousin, a wonderfully lyrical guitarist named Paul Chiodo. We wanted to play music that felt that way, but we didn't know where to look, for vocabulary or colleagues. I knew I'd found it in jazz music.
AAJ: Who or what are your most profound sources for influence and inspiration? (this can include nonmusical items) Why or how do these influence and inspire you?
PM: As for music, the influences have been as profound as they have been many, running the gamut between players and composers, in many musical forms. Many of my teachers have inspired me, from those I've mentioned to Elena Belli, an amazing classical piano teacher in NYC and Anthony Newman, the famed composer and keyboardist with whom I studied piano and counterpoint while taking my Masters in Music from the Purchase Conservatory of Music. Of course, my musician colleagues continue to inspire me. The collaborative elements of jazz music require us to be open to each other in the give and take of improvisation. There is no substitute.
My greatest inspiration, though, is my family. My parents and sister have always been supportive of me, for which I'm grateful. And my son, Peter Luca, and stepson and daughter, Guss and Hayes, are a constant reminder of the importance of one's legacyevery moment on the bandstand and in the recording studio is important and is to be cherished. And my wife, Jody Sandhaus is a source of great strength. She is a musician too, a singer, so she understands the life and business of making music. As a collaborator she's also an inspiration, as can be heard on her own recordings.
AAJ: 1987 finds the release of your first recording, Don't Be Shy (Sea Breeze Records). What were the circumstances regarding the making of this?
PM: It was April 1987, and I had been playing some trio dates around NYC with Dennis Irwin and Mel Lewis. Most people were unaware, I think, of what a great trio drummer Mel was. He had a way with the brushes that I've never heard duplicated. Anyway, I booked Rudy Van Gelder's studio, and in we went. It was a memorable experience for me all around. I was producing the date, so I had to take care of all the business as well as decide on material, arrangements, etc. I designed the cover and wrote the liner notes too. I got Enid Farber to do the photos, which were excellent. I remember spending time with the people who made the packaging for both the LP and the cassette, and I spent quite a bit of time at the LP pressing plant. I learned more about ink and vinyl types than I ever wanted to know. Then I spent a few months shopping the tape around in hopes of getting a label to buy it. The bad news was I found only a company, Sea Breeze, who basically acted as a distributor, so I had to handle all the costs associated with the recording and production, but the good news is that I own the recording and so have complete control. I'm pleased to say the recording, with a couple of added tracks, has been leased for 2003 release as a CD in Japan. I would be happy to release it in this country as well when the right opportunity presents itself. Dennis and Mel played beautifully, Rudy was wonderful to work with, and I remain happy with the results today.