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Interviews

Eric Zinman: The Piano as Endangered Species

By Published: August 31, 2010
Marc is a great archivist and editor, and put together the best pieces of the bunch on a CD called Sinus Up, for which I have not yet been able to find a producer. I was very green on that recording and fresh out of school. I don't think my playing is particularly great on those recordings. I think Marc's duets with Laurence Cook are exceptional, and there are more documents of this available from Marc Leibowitz. Marc is a very accomplished guitarist, always striving to learn more and play better. I should also say that Marc Leibowitz was the best roommate I ever had. We talked and argued about music and had loads of fun in general.

From left: Eric Zinman, Lo Galluccio

When I began to do these duets with Laurence Cook in 2009, I was using the Yamaha CP300 [electric stage piano]. All of these things that I had heard from Marc's work with Laurence came back to me and I realized then how influential they were. Perhaps this will influence people to contact Marc Leibowitz in Prattsville, NY, about his duets with Laurence and purchase them. My duet with Laurence Cook is soon to be released by Ayler Records—now a French label, curated by Stephen Berland.

Thousands of words have been written about Laurence Cook
Laurence Cook
Laurence Cook
b.1939
drums
. Everybody knows he is a master of color and one of the most influential and original drummers to emerge from the '60s. When I met Sunny Murray
Sunny Murray
Sunny Murray
b.1937
drums
in Vienna, I told him that Laurence sends his best and that Laurence speaks about his [Sunny's] influence on his work. Sunny's reply was, "We learned and worked out our ideas together."

I felt that my work actually began in my trio with Craig Schildhaeur on bass and Laurence Cook on drums. That was where I felt comfortable with the compositions I was trying to create. This became my first recording, which also never received distribution or production outside my hands.

The second influential roommate was Glenn Spearman, who Raphe Malik
Raphe Malik
Raphe Malik
1948 - 2006
trumpet
had recommended to me, as he was looking for a place. Glen and I performed in a couple large ensembles, but I was never in any group of his. We made some great sessions and by the way he played, my sound and energy changed completely. He taught me some pieces of his own, and some he had picked up from Jimmy Lyons
Jimmy Lyons
Jimmy Lyons
1933 - 1986
sax, alto
. Glen made these shaking sounds in the low register and would play chords almost like Frank Wright
Frank Wright
Frank Wright
1935 - 1990
sax, tenor
; sometimes he had this Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
b.1930
saxophone
kind of sound, but in the altissimo he reminded me of Jimmy Lyons
Jimmy Lyons
Jimmy Lyons
1933 - 1986
sax, alto
. I had never played with such a powerful tenor saxophonist, though as a person he was a con man and a hustler, and left without paying his bills, which was a hard period in my life. But I learned a lot from Glen and will always remember his contribution.

AAJ: I have heard that your 2010 European tour went extremely well. I would enjoy hearing about that, but first I want to ask you some other questions. The piano seems largely ignored in much of the newer improvised music these days. Could you comment on that?

EZ: Yes definitely; we'll have time to talk about the tour, which has really been my best yet. Regarding the piano, there are still some musicians out there who appreciate the piano. Considering that the percussion instruments and their mysteries and history have been slandered in the west, it is no surprise that the piano would be included in that category. I say this because my approach to the piano is that of the trap set. I have worked with the drums since 1982, and most heavily since my work with Laurence Cook began in 1987. Laurence Cook is one of my mentors.

AAJ: What slander do you refer to?

EZ: Well I'm not an ethnomusicologist, but if you look at the social response in families to these instruments and how they are taught and which instruments people choose in the schools, I think you will find that percussion is rare. Of course there are always enlightened parents who will permit their children to play the drums but it's not encouraged in the same way as flute, violin, piano and guitar. My good friend and musical companion, Syd Smart, taught drums for the city of Cambridge [Massachusetts] for one year, and after that year they told him that they didn't need a drum teacher and asked if he taught another instrument. I'm guessing they also didn't realize what a master percussionist and great teacher Syd Smart is. People are not taught the history of the trap set drums, which is an American development.

It should be treated like the national treasure the music was declared to be by congress in 1987. But to stay on the subject of percussion instruments, with the gentrification of Roxbury in Boston, and Harlem in NYC, some musician friends of mine have noted a decreasing number of people playing percussion in the streets today.

AAJ: But how does this relate to the piano?


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