Roberta Piket: Making a Difference
AAJ: Let's talk about some of the live venues where you have gigs. One is the University of the Streets; that's a really striking name.
RP: Hilliard Greene is a great bassist, and he's curating a series there and asked me to bring in a group. So I chose a free improvisation trio I have with Louie Belogenis and Mintz. I'm also looking forward to playing some gigs there with Hill himself. He can play free and also play standards, so we have that in common. We'll be premiering a trio project he's put together where we play standards in a more open, free way. We'll be joined by Newman Taylor Baker on drums. All that is coming up in February , and I'm really looking forward to it.
AAJ: Another venue on your roster is the Cornelia Street Café. You did a couple of unique performances there. Would "crossover" be the right term to describe them? For example, your settings of Nabokov's poems are reminiscent of classical songs by Samuel Barber and Ned Rorem.
RP: I don't like the word "crossover," because it makes me think of Pavarotti and Willie Nelson singing together. I think of what I do more as moving along this spectrum of what's possible. It's a continuum. I don't care if it's mainstream or avant-garde or classical or whatever. It's a continuum of improvised music rooted in the jazz tradition.
AAJ: Don Byron said, "God doesn't care if it's jazz or not." I think he had the same sentiment in mind.
RP: Some people say that Miles wasn't playing jazz towards the end of his life. Miles was a jazz musician, period. If you're a jazz musician, and you've immersed yourself in it and mastered the music, then anything you do as an artist is going to be informed and influenced by that tradition. My attitude is that if you're a jazz musician, you're playing jazz.
AAJ: You've been on Marian McPartland's wonderful "Piano Jazz show more than once. Tell us about your experience on that show.
RP: I've done the show three times now, and the first two were with her as host. Marian first heard me play in 1993 at the Thelonious Monk BMI Composer's Competition. After that she contacted me out of the blue and asked me to be on her show. This was a great honor to me, just starting out. She's the most honest, unpretentious person you can imagine, and she was so lovely to me. Over the years, she's been very helpful to me. I called her recently and she was nice enough to ask me about my upcoming gigs and offer some helpful advice. She's made many valuable suggestions about how to advance my career. She told me when I was starting out, "When you go on tour, you've gotta get the newspapers in that area to write about you." She made me aware of how important it is for a jazz artist to get the word out.
AAJ: What about your appearances on her show? Did you play any piano duets with McPartland?
RP: Of course. The first time I was on her show was around 1994, the second time was in 2001, and I just did it again, this time with her guest host, Jon Weber, on piano. He's a phenomenal pianist, by the way. On two occasions, Marian and I did a free piece together. Also, the first time I was on her show we played an Alec Wilder tune together, "While We're Young." Marian and Alec were good friends.
AAJ: Music is a very rough business, and is often male-dominated. What have your experiences been, as a female jazz instrumentalist, and do you have any tips for young women who are seeking a career as a jazz player?
RP: I don't think any tips are necessary, because I think the scene has changed enormously over the past twenty years. Young women musicians are coming up now, and it's not automatically assumed that they can't play, the way it was in years past. Today, it's almost a status symbol to have a woman musician in your group. By contrast, when I started out, there was a very conservative jazz culture holding sway. It's a much healthier scene now. And for me, it was probably better than for women who came up before me, like Marian and Joanne Brackeen.
AAJ: Do the guys treat you with respect when you're on a gig? Some male jazz players can be difficult to get along with...
RP: A bassist once told me, "Jazz is a male-dominated sport and will always be that way." I used to occasionally run into issues, but I just let the music speak for itself. These days I just try to avoid those situations, as I'm not really interested in making music with people who have such small minds anyway. And the younger guys don't even think about the gender issue. They're the first generation that's grown up across the board with mothers who worked and had careers. Many guys my age grew up with mothers who didn't have jobs and were housewives. The younger players are more comfortable seeing women as colleagues and friends.
My own generation has been a "transition generation" in that respect, and, in fairness, I think that was very hard for the guys my age. It is interesting that I actually found more acceptance from the older generation, maybe because I was less threatening to them. The first record I was on was a Lionel Hampton recording. And then people like Rufus Reid and David Liebman were very encouraging and supportive.
AAJ: One final question. John Coltrane said his music is his spirituality. Please talk about your own spirituality and philosophy of life.
RP: I just try to be a good and compassionate person, but I don't feel I have any religious views that have an effect on my playing.
AAJ: Do you meditate at all?
RP: I probably should meditate; I'd be calmer. But I feel I have so much music inside me that's bursting to come out that I don't feel I need to draw it out with meditation or a related activity.
AAJ: You could argue that music itself is a form of meditation.
RP: I think that's right. I'm most in touch with myself when I'm playing.
As a Leader:
Roberta Piket Trio, Sides, Colors (Thirteenth Note Records, 2011)
Yuko Kimura, Nexus(Self Produced, 2011)
Five Spot, Poltva (SoLyd Records, 2009)
Yuko Kimura, A Beautiful Friendship (Self Produced, 2009)
Glen White, Sacred Machines (Self Produced, 2008))
Roberta Piket Trio, Love and Beauty (Thirteenth Note Records, 2007)
Roberta Piket & Alternating Current, I'm Back In Therapy And It's All Your Fault (Thirteenth Note Records, 2003)
Bill Warfield Big Band, A Faceless Place (Self Produced, 2005)
Fragments, Fragments (Tonehole Music, 2005)
Mark Reboul/Billy Mintz/Roberta Piket, Seven Pieces, About an Hour (Self Produced, 2005)
Numinous, The Music of Joseph C. Phillips, Jr. (Self Produced, 2003)
Jamie Begian Big Band, Trance (Self Produced, 2003)
Roberta Piket Trio, September of Tears (Meldac, 2002)
Roberta Piket Trio, Midnight In Manhattan (Meldac, 2001)
Roberta Piket, Speak, Memory (Fresh Sound, 2000)
Roberta Piket, Trio Live at the Blue Note (Half Note, 1999)
Sharp Five, Intersect (Consensus, 1999)
Roberta Piket, Unbroken Line (Criss Cross, 1997)
Diva, Leave it to Diva (Self Produced, 1997)
Jamie Baum, Sight Unheard (GM Recordings, 1997)
Lionel Hampton, For the Love of Music (Mojazz Records, 1995)
Page 1: Michal Shapiro
Page 2: Michael Oletta
Page 3: Courtesy of Roberta Piket
Page 4: Daniel Sheehan