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Leslie Pintchik: Two Different Kinds of Art

By Published: May 9, 2011
The DVD, Leslie Pintchik Quartet Live In Concert, shows her performing in an intimate setting. The performance was part of the Shandalee Music Festival's winter series of concerts known as the New York Showcase, and the venue is a family townhouse on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. "That's why the surroundings are so nice. One thing that cracked me up when I saw the footage is that there's a Buddha over my shoulder through the performance," says Pintchik, laughing. "The room is full of wonderful paintings and sculpture; there's some wonderful Asian art. Also, the piano is really excellent."

Leslie Pintchik Quartet, from left: Leslie Pintchik, Scott Hardy, Mark Dodge, Satoshi Takeishi

Pintchik's comment about the quality of the piano is a reminder that pianists must always be ready to play a different instrument every time they perform at a new venue. Her description of how she deals with the issue reveals a very organic relationship with the instrument: "I like a warm, round sound, and sometimes I feel like the piano I'm playing is shrieking. That's not the mood I want to convey. So I might change what I plan to play—take a certain part of my repertoire that's more suitable for the instrument. Ideally you try to create a sound in your head and reproduce it through the instrument, and there is something spiritual about that. So in difficult situations, I try to remind myself that it's up to the musician—the instrument wants to play music, but it can be a challenge. Sometimes I fail that challenge. Once I was playing a piano that decayed really quickly—it had no bloom, like speaking to someone with no affect. The first half of the gig, I was almost whacking it because I was so upset, but then after the break I decided to be more relaxed, to try to get a more vocal quality from the instrument. And it helped, at least in terms of how I was feeling."

From her earliest years as a jazz musician, Pintchik was composing as well as playing. Her style, she feels, developed almost subconsciously from the combination of these two creative activities. "I think that it does happen like that. I think the way I play, at least initially, came about from the composing that I was doing. I felt comfortable as a writer before I did so as a player. I don't know why that was, but I think that the way I play grew out of the feeling and the narrative of different pieces. A tune like 'Mortal' [from So Glad To Be Here], for example, has a tremendous amount of silence, and you have to experience that silence. That's a big part of my voice." Her style certainly does make use of space, doing so with great effect. The risk with such a calm and meditative approach is that it could give the erroneous impression that her playing is simplistic. Pintchik is not above a spot of self-deprecation on the matter: "Someone once came up to me at a gig and said, 'How long will I have to practice before I sound like you?' I was taken aback and just said, without meaning to be glib, 'Oh, not long!'"

While Pintchik composes tunes herself, she also covers the work of other writers. This is, of course, a very common strategy for a jazz musician, but her own approach is unusual. "I'm drawn to something that touches me," she says, "both in my own writing and in terms of choosing other composers' tunes. It usually starts with a feeling that I have. Then I work to clarify and refine that feeling. I definitely don't go towards a particular composer or even a particular genre."

The pianist's lack of concern with genre boundaries is ably illustrated by her selection of tunes across her three albums. The majority are originals, by Pintchik or occasionally by Hardy, and there are a few classic American Songbook numbers too. Many contemporary jazz pianists regularly record their own versions of classic jazz piano tunes, but Pintchik has only covered one tune by a recognized jazz pianist: Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
's "We See," on So Glad To Be Here.

Most intriguingly, We're Here To Listen features two striking covers of what could loosely be termed American roots classics—Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan
's iconic "Blowin' in the Wind" and Allen Shamblin and Mike Reid's lovely Americana torch song, "I Can't Make You Love Me." The latter song is probably best known in Bonnie Raitt
Bonnie Raitt

guitar, slide
's version, but it's by no means part of the jazz canon. "I'm a big Bonnie Raitt fan," says Pintchik, "but some jazz people hadn't even heard of the song. Obviously, a lot of people are doing versions of pop tunes, more so than in the past, but there are still plenty of jazz musicians who are not interested in things outside the jazz field. For me, everything is an expression of who you are, so it doesn't matter where the music comes from."

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