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Eric Zinman: The Piano as Endangered Species

By Published: August 31, 2010
EZ: Yes, exactly; actually, that is a quote from one of my heroes, Glenn Gould. He heard Cecil Taylor play piano in the '60s, and he said "That's the great divide." I accepted that comment as quite perceptive. Well, there is this chauvinistic tendency in Europe. When I spoke with Ivan Tcherepnin one day (who taught at Harvard) about Cecil Taylor (as Ivan's son took piano lessons with the same teacher I studied with), he said to me that Cecil listens to a lot of Markus Stockhausen. I haven't done research into people's listening habits, but I have no doubt they listened to each other.

I brought up the fact that Ellington was supposedly one of Stravinsky's favorite composers, in a music class in college and everybody looked very uncomfortable like I had overstated some point, and someone said, "You mean his favorite jazz composer."

From left: Bill Dixon, Eric Zinman

It reminds me of these academics who praise Monk and say that he had no technique. If the music isn't charmingly primitive it's a hostile cultural document. So even today academic composers refuse to recognize the aesthetic, but Glenn Gould was able to hear (even on a mechanical instrument like the piano) beyond the veneer of the music, a whole different set of vocalizations, nuances, physicality, weight, touch and sense of motion that were completely alien to him; in essence, another technique.

AAJ: Could you tell us more about your 2010 tour projects, recordings and plans in Europe?

EZ: Well I'm lucky right now because several labels have been interested in producing some recordings I have recently made, though the schedule on releases is extremely slow. Some of these recordings date back to 2007. I have an electronic duet with Laurence Cook scheduled to come out in September, 2010 on Ayler Records. It's an incredible mass of sound created by two people. It sounds like a large percussion orchestra with an endless palette of colors. One, on Cadence Records, called Rocks in the Sea, featuring Benjamin Duboc, Didier Lasserre, and Mario Rechtern, a duet with Mario Recthern, and another piano trio record with Didier Lasserre and Benjamin Duboc.

I am very proud of all these recordings—my playing is more focused and intense I think. I do like some cerebral music, but like a dancer, there has to be an element of sweat, physical weight and motion. That does not always mean cathartic; I do not play detached. Of course, I'm always offering to play certain festivals, and sometimes they ask me, but these politics would involve another discussion. Briefly, I would say that the European Union is more nationalistic these days, so to be an American over there, you have to be better just to be considered equal, and, most important, you have to have friends.

Among other festivals and performances, I recently played ARTACTS 2010 in Tyrol [Austria]. The American feature was Myra Melford
Myra Melford
Myra Melford
. That was the American choice for that year for that festival. The ensemble I participated in (Rocks in the Sea) was a truly international group, with Benjamin Duboc and Didier Lasserre from France, Mario Rechtern from Austria, and myself from the USA. These crossovers are not so common these days, and I am not a choice of the American JJA [Jazz Journalists Association], so I still have to earn my way in. We were very well received, and people cheered after they heard us play in Tyrol. We were well received in Jaca and Huesca [Spain] as well. I also received much enthusiasm in Paris. There was also some acceptance in Vienna, with my participation in the Reform Art Unit led by Fritz Novotny, and an ensemble with percussionist Hannes Krebbs, bassist Kilian Schrader. I was introduced to all these situations by Mario Rechtern.

In previous years, I felt fortunate to play in Berlin with some of the finest musicians, and there was a real communication. I'm not sure what I will be doing next in Europe. Everything is too slow, and the piano thing is always a challenge, but I know I will be playing some festivals in 2011.

I won't go into too much boring detail but these are very bad times for the music; the rise of nationalism in the EU; the politics of the strong and the weak; kicking to the down and praying to the up; the speculation on the efficacy of the product; and the collapse of financial markets. It has greatly undermined the quality of what is produced and promoted. Leadership has its own taste. It seeks to decorate its own ambitions to control its market. It becomes a breeding ground for nostalgia and schizophrenic disturbances. We are all herd animals. Musicians can be bet on like horses. We can all be surrounded by many writers who boast of our importance. Some record labels have teams of writers who they pay to write for them.

AAJ: Is there any support for these projects in Boston and the US?

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