Take Five With Michelle Pollace
Michelle Pollace is a composer and performing musician of Latin jazz, based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Michelle's arrangements of jazz, Brazilian, and Afro-Cuban standards are original, and her own compositions honor the roots of the music while adding a new voice. Her band's performances at the 2010 and 2011 San Jose Jazz Festivals were well received. She is just now releasing her latest CD, New Beginning, which highlights Michelle's piano work and also features an all-star lineup: producer Rebeca Mauleon, a recognized Latin-music expert and renown pianist and educator; David Belove on bass; Phil Hawkins on drums; Carlos Caro on Cuban percussion; Michaelle Goerlitz on Brazilian percussion; and saxophonist Kristen Strom as guest soloist.
Michelle and her band are gaining a local reputation for being able to play to the appropriate energy of many venues, from the quieter restaurant environments to the vibrant stage of an outdoor jazz festival. Michelle's band often plays as a trio, but her music, as well as her arrangements, allow for the trio to expand to include a soloist as well as additional percussion.
Teachers and/or influences?
Martan Mann was my first jazz piano teacher. As an accomplished classical and jazz pianist, he gave me a solid foundation in technique and jazz theory.
Rebeca Mauleon has been a highly influential mentor to me. I studied privately with her and learned a solid foundation of Afro-Cuban and Brazilian musical history, survey of styles, and the piano/keyboard's role. Rebeca also has proved an inspiration and been very encouraging to me as I embark on my path as a female bandleader.
I've also studied a bit of Afro-Cuban and Brazilian percussion with Dan Sabanovich. Helps my writing and arranging.
I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
When I was four years old, my mom's boyfriend had a piano. I remember picking out melodies on it that his kids, who were older than me, were showing me. I enjoyed it, and took notice that they felt I had a natural talent. However, I never really had the opportunity to play much since we didn't have an instrument at home. When I was 10 or so, a family friend later donated one of those Lowry organs with left-hand push-button chords. I taught myself how to read music and learned basic harmony by listening to those auto-chords and picking out the notes by ear. I started writing songs when I was 11, definitely preferring learning/doing by ear than reading. I didn't have any formal lessons 'til we finally could afford a real piano in the house, around age 14. I was pretty hooked by then.
Your sound and approach to music:
I am really gravitating toward the acoustic piano for expression, though I've played in a wide variety of bands (prog, funk, alt-rock) and on other keyboards like synths (in soloing as well as padding/accompanying role), B-3 (clone mostly), electro-mechanicals like Fender Rhodes and clavinets. But the piano is the instrument through which I feel I can best speak.
My sound right now is primarily small-combo Latin jazz; a jazz trio of piano, bass, drums, sometimes with an additional percussionist. My influences for this sound are Michel Camilo, Chucho Valdes, Hilton Ruiz, Eliane Elias; the Caribbean and/or Brazilian influence is evident, but the jazz is very piano-centric.
I tend to gravitate toward melodic lines when improvising (I sing my lines a lot) and well-formed compositional structures when I arrange and write.
Your teaching approach:
I coauthored a music-instruction book/CD set called Musicreation, and the whole premise is to teach theory in a fun way, by having students improvise music to understand theoretical concepts. It's geared at beginning to intermediate levels. My partner in that venture and I have seen the method work successfully, with kids as well as adults.
I really try to keep it fun for students, but I place a high priority on correcting ergonomic issues; I get adult students, some who are performing in bands themselves, with some bad habits that can lead to injury.
Your dream band:
Gosh, it's hard to say. It would be fun to have an all-women band featuring Esperanza Spalding on bass and Hilary Jones on drums, for starters.
Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
My latest CD, New Beginning, because it really is a full expression of where I am artistically right now.
The first Jazz album I bought was:
Probably McCoy Tyner, Dimensions; or maybe Chick Corea/Steve Kujala, Voyage.
What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?