Anat Fort: Swimming in a Sea of Motian

Paul Olson By

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It's like the trio has its own universal consciousness, so to speak. We kind of swim in it together.
anat fort While her discography as a leader consisted, until this year, of only one self-released album (Peel, 1999), New York-based, Israeli-born composer/pianist Anat Fort has been working steadily for years. Few contemporary jazz pianists have as graceful and developed a playing style as Fort—her use of rests, her love of space, and her classically-imbued phrasing are, once you've encountered her, immediately recognizable. She's just as good a composer, however, and it's the songs on her 2007 ECM debut A Long Story that make the greatest initial impact on the listener. Many critics have remarked upon a Middle Eastern influence in her music—but really, there are all sorts of influences in there, and Fort's sound and sensibility is her own. If A Long Story sounds like it belongs on ECM—and, with its crystalline piano sound and pensive, hyperalert interplay between Fort, bassist Ed Schuller, drummer Paul Motian and, on some tracks, clarinetist Perry Robinson, it does—the story of its creation and very eventual release on the label is more complicated than meets the ear.

It hasn't always been easy for Fort in jazz-saturated New York, especially since, as she notes, she is neither a straight-ahead jazz player nor a Downtown improv iconoclast. But A Long Story is the best jazz piano recording of 2007—so far, anyway—and it's bringing Fort the attention her talent deserves.

Chapter Index
  1. A Long Story and ECM Records
  2. All About Paul Motian
  3. Ed Schuller and Perry Robinson
  4. "Morning: Good and the Need for Musical Space
  5. "Just Now
  6. Improvising in the Studio and Not Doing Any Standards
  7. Performance
  8. Israeli Roots
  9. Discovering Who She Is In New York

A Long Story and ECM Records

All About Jazz: I want to talk about your new ECM album A Long Story, which is very good—it's my favorite recording by a pianist in a while. I think this is your second album—your first being Peel, which you put out yourself in 1999. The compositions are really fascinating to me, and quite distinctive, and the performances are just out of this world. This is a record of your own compositions that you recorded about three years ago with bassist Ed Schuller, drummer Paul Motian, and clarinetist Perry Robinson. While it fits in perfectly with the ECM label in its aesthetic, its sound, and its effective use of solo, duo, trio and quartet configurations, it wasn't recorded for them, was it? What is the story of the recording? Did you record it yourself, with your own money, and hold on to it?

Anat Fort: Well, I did record it myself, but I didn't get a chance to hold on to it too long. I just wanted to make a record with Paul. Actually, I just wanted to play with Paul. I was playing with Perry and Eddie in separate situations already, and they both had connections to Paul—Eddie more than Perry. So I just asked Eddie what it would take to do this, and that was a long story in itself, and it finally unfolded in the recording.

So I was just really excited to do this project. I didn't have a label behind me. I thought that once I had it done, I could maybe shop it around or, worst case, put it out myself. I'd done that already, and it's much easier now, I think, than it was back when I did it eight years ago. And that's all I had in mind. So we went into the studio, we did it, and two weeks later, Paul called me up. He was actually in Israel, having a little vacation, but he'd just been doing two recording sessions with [ECM label head/producer] Manfred Eicher in New York and had told him about it. And sure enough, ECM called me and said, "We want to hear it.

So from that point on, it took almost three years to come out. But the connection with ECM was almost immediate after the actual recording. And it did take about a month to hear back from Manfred, which was a very [laughing] challenging time for me. But now I know that a month for Manfred is like a minute for you and me—it's nothing! I mean, I was actually very lucky. Now, if it had taken longer, I don't know what I would have done, but after that month, he did say yes, and he knew it would take a while to come out. He said to me in that phone call, "I'm going to put your record out. Just remember that. I don't know when. But I'm going to do it! And after that, when I was sitting at home and twiddling my thumbs, I would remind myself of that: "Okay, he did say that. I trust him.


All About Paul Motian

AAJ: Manfred's listed with you as producer, and he did the mix with you and James A. Farber. It's a stunning-sounding record. I actually want to marry the piano you used on this record—it sounds so good. Let's talk about the other players. We've all heard Paul Motian on a lot of great records, but I have to say that he's particularly marvelous on this one. Obviously, he's going to be a huge component of any group he plays in, but he really seems to understand your pieces. It also seems like he's been something of a friend to you, so tell me more how you met him and what he adds to this music.

anat fort, a long storyAF: Well, the whole communication with Paul before the recording was done through Ed Schuller. So I didn't really even talk to Paul before. I mean, Paul is a little bit of a diva [laughing]. And I don't know if it was coming from him or if it was coming from Ed, but Ed had a very particular way of treating Paul. It was like, "Oh, no, no, no. You can't talk to Paul. I have to talk to him. And you can't send him to the recording studio in a cab. I have to go pick him up and take him to the studio and bring him back home at night. That was how you did it, and that's what we did for the two days we recorded.

So it was all very mysterious, but I just let Eddie do it any way he said it had to be done. You know, I'd gone to hear Paul play a thousand times in the past. I had never really met him—I may have gone up and said hi. The most I'd ever spoken to him was a couple of weeks before the recording. Ed and I had gone to hear him play with [pianist] Paul Bley and [bassist] Gary Peacock, and that was like, "Hi Paul, I'll see you in two weeks!

So that was the extent of it until we got to the studio. So then we got to the studio, and then Paul just said, "Play me the tunes you want to play. Because, you know, he doesn't want to look at any music. And of course I knew that, and of course I brought the music anyhow, just in case. So it was like a little audition right away. There I am sitting in front of Paul and Ed—the first day, we just did the trio stuff—just playing him a solo version of each tune. And that wasn't stressful; it was just fun. I'm being facetious [laughing]. It was quite a way to start the day. But he heard the first tune, and he said, "Great. And I thought, "Ah, yeah, he's just saying that. And then we did a little soundcheck together where I just started playing, and I looked up from the piano and I saw who I was playing with, and I kind of freaked out a little bit. But I thought, "Okay, if I'm going to let this bother me, this'll be the end of this recording because I'm not going to be able to play. So I just made a very conscious decision to [laughing] not look at him! I usually play with my eyes closed anyway, but I do like to communicate with my musicians from time to time.

But the more we played, the easier it got to do. But I really started out not looking at him, and I really felt the difference because when I did look at him, it was paralyzing—in the beginning, anyway. So that's how it went. I would play a tune, and he would say, "Okay, and then we would try to play together. And some of the tunes are not easy to play. I didn't really know in advance which of the tunes would work with him, because he didn't want to rehearse. Now some of these tunes can really sound beautiful, and some of these tunes can really sound like shit if you don't rehearse them. So I just didn't know what would happen with Paul.

So I brought many options. And every time he had a question about something, I sort of hinted: "You know, I have the music just in case you want to look at it. He'd say, "Oh, no, no, no. I don't want to look at it. And we really played the hardest tunes on the first day, because the trio tunes are more intricate than the quartet ones. And Perry is a free spirit, so you'd better not let him read too much either.

So we got to the end of the first day of recording after we'd done all the hard tunes, and I had one more tune to do, which was "Just Now, which I consider the easiest tune. That's why I'd saved it to the end: I figured we'd be kind of fried and it would be good to do something simpler. Then Paul said to me, "Can I see the music? I thought to myself, "What is going on? First, according to the stories, you're not supposed to ask me that at all. And you want to see this one? We've done other ones that were so much more intricate. Anyway, of course I didn't say any of this to him.

AAJ: You said, "Coming right up.

AF: Yes. I gave him the music. Anyway, that was the end of the first day. The second day, which was the day we recorded with Perry, was—well, I wouldn't say relaxed. I mean, it was more relaxed, but it was more than that. It was as if we'd all known each other for a long time already. It was much more comfortable for me to be in the room with Paul, and, I think, for him to communicate with me in every possible way—not just musically. He could just treat me as one of the boys.

And it was great. He and Perry hadn't seen each other for something like twenty years, and so they had a lot of stuff to catch up on, and this was sort of the spirit of the day. They would start telling each other stories, and they were in great moods, just laughing it up. And [laughing] at some point, I'd have to say, "Hey guys, you know I'm paying quite a bit of money for this. But I think because everybody was so relaxed and having such a good time, it was all good. A lot was done in one take, maybe two. Everybody was just in the right place.

And on that second day, Paul kept asking me for the music. That first day, last tune, he first asked me for the music. And the second day, he asked me for the music on every tune. So I'd just go up to him and give him the music and think to myself, "What is this about? This is weird. And at some point he said, "Hey, do you have extra copies of these? I said, "Well, how about this little folder that I made especially for you? He said, "Oh, ah, you sure? I said, "Yes! I really do have extra copies and I really did prepare this folder for you. Please, take it.

anat fort

He said, "Can I take it home? Because I really like the music, and I have two recording sessions in a couple of weeks. Maybe I'll want to record it, and you'll make a lot of money. I was beyond myself just hearing him say that. I didn't care what he actually did or didn't do with it, and I don't think, to this day, that he has ever recorded any of it. But what he did for me, he did at those two recording sessions anyway: He talked about my music with Manfred, and that got the whole thing rolling. When I first met him in the studio the first day, we really started at the very beginning, and after the second day, it was very, very different; I felt like he was in it with me. And since then, he's been just wonderful. I still can't believe he did this for me. Manfred didn't have to take his advice, but for Paul to do something like that—he does so many recordings and so many projects. I felt that he really connected with it somehow, and so it's a great honor.


Ed Schuller and Perry Robinson

AAJ: You'd already played with Ed Schuller, who plays fantastically on this session with Paul, of course—which isn't to suggest that they're acting as a mere rhythm section. Certainly his playing is both classically precise and flowingly informational, depending on what the music requires.

AF: I met him quite a few years ago, and we've played together in different situations. He's done some trio work with me, and we play together with Ayelet Rose Gottlieb—she's a vocalist and composer here in town. She's great. She's also Israeli, and she has a group that we've both been playing in for about four years now. So we've done that and other occasional stuff here and there.

What can I tell you? He's a wonderful musician, and working with him has been an inspiring situation for me because he's really been around. He was really into playing with me from the very beginning—right around when I met him—and that was a very nice thing to have. I didn't meet him right exactly when I came to New York, but right around when I think that I was starting to find my own voice, my own direction, and to be [laughing] okay with it. And he was very into it. He's a very linear player, and that's how I think, too. I like that in a bassist, and I think that contributes a lot to the music.

I met Perry sort of around the time that I met Ed, but the meetings were unrelated. I did a little jam session with someone who Perry was playing with, and as Perry and I walked out of that session, it was very clear to us that we needed to play with each other. It wasn't even about any other people; it wasn't that other people were not going to be part of it. But he and I felt a very strong connection, and we just started playing together.

We've done a lot of duo work, and we were both part of a project—a very, very different project—of music by a forgotten Russian-Jewish composer named Mikhail Gnesin. We did that in Europe three or four years ago. And he's played as a guest with my steady trio that's been around for eight years now. So it's pretty much that every chance I get, I'll call him up. To play with him, for me, is to connect with the same source. I try to choose musicians like that to play with anyhow, but Perry is really special because I don't think he's ever disconnected from the source, and it's very easy for me to just dive into it with him in a way that's just very unique. By now it's familiar, but it's never really familiar—it's always surprising.

So I felt like he'd be a great person to play with on this recording. The trio was probably going to be fun, but I felt that he would add that extra something I wanted.


"Morning: Good and the Need for Musical Space

AAJ: Let's talk about some of the tunes on the CD. "Morning: Good is a wonderful song. And to me, it is a morning song. This is actually a good example of two things I've noticed about your music. One is that while this is absolutely jazz music, it's not all that jazzy—meaning that, like a lot of your songs, it's performed in a very even, unaccented tempo that makes me think more of classical music than jazz. Here it's a steady 4/4, even though the musicians fill it, embody it in their own ways, and your phrasing fills it with different emphases to the point where it can even feel mixed meter. Paul's cymbals here are always on the beat, and it's just a question of which beat he chooses to play, or not to play on.

The other thing I notice is that your soloing, your improvisation, here and elsewhere, is so perfectly symmetrical, so perfectly phrased, rests and all, that one could mistake it for through-composed. There's never an obvious division between written material and improvisation in your playing. In any case, this is one of my very favorite songs on the recording. What can you tell me about this piece?

AF: Hmmm. After everything you already said? First of all, it is a morning song; I didn't just name it that. I wrote it one morning—actually, it's a pretty similar situation to right now. I was back from a tour in Europe, and I just woke up really early that morning. I was very happy to be back, and I was very happy to have done that tour. I was just in a good place, and the song just kind of came out. You know, sometimes—a lot of times—my tunes stay in my head for months. Sometimes, for years. They just have to write in my head before I actually sit down and write them.

But sometimes they pour out in one piece, and this is what happened in this one. I sat down for maybe an hour, and it was done. That's always fun [laughing] to not be agonizing over something and just have it flow out. So that's how it came out compositionally, and there is no big story behind it. It is really a song of a feeling, you know—just that feeling that I had that somehow had to come out.

Regarding what you said, I probably would never say it like that, but they are all wonderful things that I would want to think that I try to do. Really! But I never really consciously specify to myself, "Here I would like to have the solo continue the form, or something like that. I don't really think so consciously about it, but it's definitely my goal in this, and really, in every other tune: to compose in the moment. So whether the composition is very specific or not, I'm really into the moment. I'm not into anything that happens in the moment—I'm really into making a coherent statement. I really try to be clear to myself in what I am trying to say.

And I think that's why, a lot of times, I don't play so much. Because that's just how it works for me. I need the space. I really, really need those rests that you were talking about. That's really something very important to me. And sometimes it's hard to get musicians to understand that. And even if they understand that, it's really hard to get them to do it. I can't even tell you how many conversations I've had— even with Ed Schuller—where I've said, "Hey, leave that space alone. Don't play there, okay? I really want that open. And then he plays there anyway! He says, "Yeah, but I can't just play what's written. I have to make my own statement with it. Well [laughing] make your statement quiet! I need the space. And I totally understand where he's coming from. He just wants to somehow play the tune, and sometimes the tune is very sparse—whether it's this tune or some other tune. But it's always an ongoing—not battle, but issue— that I have with some musicians.

And I think the more I grow, the more I need more space. So if, in the beginning, I needed it every once in a while, now I need it even more. And I need the musicians to go with me, or it's just going to be [laughing]—it will be—a battle!

align=center>anat fort

Anat Fort Quartet at the Montreal Jazz Festival, June 30, 2007

AAJ: Well, musicians are so unaccustomed to what you're asking of them. And people are very used to doing what they normally do.

AF Oh, exactly. Exactly. And that's the thing: I don't really write anything other than what I believe in. Sometimes, I don't even know where in the world it's even coming from. If you ask me to categorize some of these compositions, I don't know if I even could. Some of them, you know, could fit under some sort of genre, but some just kind of dropped on me from the sky. And the concept of playing them sometimes comes with them: "Okay, this is how it should be. And then I really have to explain it, but explaining it is not always enough. You really have to feel it, and if you're not me, chances are it's going to be difficult. But it worked out with the record, and it helped to have Paul especially, because Paul is so spacious and he's so spontaneous. He so doesn't feel that he has to play instead of just listening and letting the music just do what it needs to do. That's an inspiration on this record, because Ed took from it—all of us did. Paul just responded so naturally to it, without any pre-decisions—nothing like, "On this tune, that's how you play. He was just spontaneous.


"Just Now

AAJ: I think he's especially good on "Just Now, which is presented in three formats: trio, solo piano, and quartet. Paul's remarkable on the two he plays on—the way he scratch/paints across that deliberate theme. There's something very wonderful about this piece, which is presented in pretty similar tempos throughout the versions, although I find your solo performance to be the saddest, most weighted with regret. The quartet version that closes the record is more resigned. Why the different versions?

AF: Some of the music that I brought to the recording was written a long time before the recording. Some was not. But none of it was specifically written for the recording—except this piece. Like I said before, I didn't know how certain tunes would work for Paul, so I just went through my book of songs and tried to pick different pieces, some of them more straightforward, and others more ambiguous. I just tried to imagine how they would work for him. I really didn't know. So I decided to bring a bunch to the studio. And this piece occurred to me two days before the recording. I think I had it in my head for a couple days, and then I just sat down and wrote it. I didn't believe I would actually get to write it before the recording, but I did. It was another one of those that came out pretty quickly.

But in this case, I was really, really imagining hearing it with this particular band. So I was sitting at home and hearing these people play it. It's funny; I was also in a very ECM mode, I would say [laughing]. You know, there's this one [Norwegian saxophonist and ECM artist] Jan Garbarek piece that I just love, and it was sort of playing in my head—just there as a feeling, an inspirational feeling. I always hear his music where he's standing on some mountain in Norway. That's how I imagine it, you know? I've never actually been there, but I see him in my mind out playing it to the wind and the space. And I was in that mode, and this is what came out. I felt like it was very specific.

And I had this idea of doing it more than once. I wanted to see how it would work, and so I did get to rehearse it with Ed and Perry just before the recording. They did rehearse with me. And it sounded great, so I thought, "Huh, maybe we can do a couple of versions. I still wasn't sure how many, and I certainly didn't know that I would want to put all of them in the record. I just wanted to have them, and so we recorded all of them. To me the song was telling the story of the record, because it was such a this-record-oriented piece. So because of that, I did decide to put it there three times, and this is the stuff I sent to Manfred when he asked me to send what I had. I had more tracks than what eventually came out, you see.

Then he wrote to me about that particular song; he said it was a very moving piece of music. I thought, "How weird. It's freaky because here you are in your ECM mode, and there he is responding to that specific piece. Then when we got to finally mix it, two-and-a-half years later, we started mixing the piece, and he looked at me—remember, I was thinking Norway when I wrote it—and he smiles and says, "Tel Aviv, huh? It's so cool how people can hear whatever they need to. And in that way, I'm not going to interfere with your response to it. I want people to feel what they need to feel. I don't even necessarily want to say a lot about any particular tune. You know, in terms of what I was thinking when I wrote a tune. It doesn't matter. I was thinking what I was thinking. You are allowed to think about what you need to think about. And please do! Have your own experience.

anat fort

But to go back to that mix—I got there, and I was in a very different head than I was in two-and-a-half years before. And I wasn't even sure that I wanted to put the song on the record three times. In the beginning, I thought it would be nice to have the three versions tell the story of the record and divide it into chapters. But the idea became so old in my head—I mean, nothing was going on with the record, and so when I got into the studio, I wasn't even into that idea any more. To me, it was a very old idea. And Manfred said, "Okay, so we're going to put the song on three times, right? Because that's what he thought, and he was really into it! I said, "I don't know. I don't think I want to do it. Originally, that's how I heard it, but now I don't know. Manfred looked at me and said, "That's how you wanted to do it, and that's how we do it!

And that's how we did it. And I'm so glad that he convinced me, because I think it was a good idea. He was also responsible for the order of songs; he really put the record together order-wise. And by the way, he did that in five minutes. I thought the way he put the pieces together on the record, especially that piece, was very effective.


Improvising in the Studio and Not Doing Any Standards

AAJ: There are a couple improv pieces here—at least I assume your solo piano piece "Chapter- One is an improv, as well as "Chapter-Two, an amazing improv between you and Perry. Again, I am struck by the clarity of your improvisation, as well as the spaciousness of the music. Were these the only improvs you recorded for the record? Were there any you didn't use?

AF: These were the only ones. There isn't much to tell. Perry and I have been playing duo for a while, so we just kind of look at each and dive into something together. That was that one.

As for my piece, I just knew I wanted to do something solo that was going to be completely improvised. I do have a little story about it, though. We recorded it at the end of the second day. It was the last thing we did; I saved the solo stuff to the end. So I was pretty much done with the other three guys, and they all went upstairs to the little lounge in the studio. Or at least I thought they did. Then I went into the recording room and sat down at the piano and turned around and looked at the window of the control booth, or whatever they call that room, and there's Paul Motian, just standing there and looking at me. I thought, "Oh god, I wanted to do a solo thing, and I don't want anybody to be around!

And if there's one person who has to be around, does it really have to be Paul Motian? But there was nothing to do; he was just standing there checking it out. And so I did it. I did just that one piece. There was nothing else to say, as far as I was concerned. I came out of the studio, and he came out from the other room and met me in the hallway. And he gave me a kiss on both cheeks and a hug, and he said, "That was great. You could tell he was really moved. I mean, just the fact that he was there checking it out really impressed me. He was just really very supportive. And while I wasn't [laughing] excited that he was there listening to my improv, it was really nice of him. And it's one of those situations that, once you relax, it really supports you. It was nice to know he was standing there, encouraging me.

Actually, before I got to that, I wanted to do some other stuff that wasn't even mine.

AAJ: What, other people's tunes?

AF: Yes. You know, I didn't know this would be out on ECM, and I had been advised by someone who knows my work really well that, for commercial reasons, I should do something like this. He said, "You know, if you only do this one piece that everyone knows with Paul and the others, you'll have a great chance of reaching other people, and so on. I really don't normally think this way, but I thought that maybe I should take his advice.

So I asked Paul, after we had done my music, "Hey, do you mind recording another tune? And he said, "Nope. I will not do it. And I said, "No, it's not one of mine. Like a standard, a Bill Evans tune, something like that.

He said, "Your project is complete. Your music is complete. You don't need anything else, and I'm not playing on it. And I'm very happy that he didn't.



AAJ: He's so wise. You've been performing a great deal with your quartet, which is basically the group on the recording except that you've got Roland Schneider on drums instead of Paul. I assume you're performing these pieces, plus some newer ones perhaps. Is the music changing in performance and in what direction?

anat fort

AAJ: Yeah, of course. It has to change. Otherwise we're going to die of boredom, right? But in which direction? I think it really depends on the night. As people get more comfortable with the music— especially when you're on a tour and you're playing it every night—it's got to change. I wouldn't even know to call it, what direction I would name it. There's definitely more performance energy when we play it live. So some of that ECM Records quality—not quality, but sound—isn't probably there in performance. The compositions are the same, the players are mostly the same, but the music sort of tells you what it wants to do at any particular moment—if you only listen.

I think more things can happen with it as people get more comfortable with it. Sometimes too much happens, like I was telling you before. Sometimes I want things to stay a little more spacious than they are, because as people get really comfortable with stuff, they think, "Oh, I can just play it any way. Yeah, you can, but you should respect the composition and the concept. But it's what happens in performance when you're in a room with all these people, and there's this energy in the air. You get it and you have to give it back, and I think it's normal that more happens in performance.

AAJ: You need a secret "more spaciousness hand signal.

AF: Huh. Can you help me with that?

AAJ: I don't know—three fingers pointing up.

AF: That's not a bad idea. I don't know about the three fingers, but—seriously, it's not a bad idea. I usually just take a big, big, audible breath on stage. One that people can't ignore. Hmmm. I really do like your idea. I'm thinking about those three fingers.

AAJ: Do you still play very much in the trio format? I believe you play with bassist Gary Wang and Roland Schneider, do you not?

AF: Yes, I do. Those are the people. That's my home base, that trio. There's almost no role playing there—no "I'm the pianist, you're the bassist, you're the drummer. We just respond to what happens. With those two, and the kind of rapport we have, it's just the most natural thing to do. One thing that usually happens with that group is that people almost never clap for solos when we play. With this group, the distinction is different than what people are used to hearing, and I really like that a lot. First of all, it distracts me when people clap. But second, the music is sometimes so subtle that you really need it to be there with no extra sound—then anything else can just disappear. And I think that really demonstrates our concept, because we kind of weave in and out of each other's worlds, so to speak. It's like the trio has its own universal consciousness, so to speak. We kind of swim in it together.


Israeli Roots

AAJ: A lot has been made of your Israeli background as being a significant influence on your compositions. And maybe that's just because you are from Israel. To me, there are a lot of musics one hears in your music, not just one or two. And of course, beyond musical influence, there is subject matter—the diverging then converging melodies of "As Two reflect the Israeli and Palestinian points of view. How do you see your background affecting what you do—how you write and how you play?

AF: I think it's all intertwined somehow. I don't hear that the fact that I'm Israeli matters so much. I know why people do, but I'm in it—I'm me, so I can't really step out and say, "Oh yeah, here I really bring out my Israeli heritage. This chord is so Israeli-sounding. Some people say that to me! It's amazing what people hear, or think they hear.

It's who I am. And it's the kind of music I listened to when I played growing up. And it's the kind of jazz I listened to when I discovered jazz. And when I came here, it's what I was exposed to here. And it's what I was taught in school, and what I didn't want to be taught, and what I heard at the Knitting Factory—it's everything. The fact that I'm Israeli is more about the roots—maybe that influence is stronger than others, but I don't really see myself as "the Israeli composer or "the Middle Eastern-sounding pianist. I just think it's part of me, and it comes out more in certain compositions or solos. And in some, it doesn't.


Discovering Who She Is In New York

AAJ: You've been a New York-based player for a decade now. It seems like you're doing quite well, but was the city an intimidating place to come initially as a jazz pianist?

AF: Of course. I studied in New Jersey, so I lived very close to the city, but not in the city. So I got to go into the city a lot and listen to music, and sort of be exposed to the scene early on, before I moved here. But once I moved, it wasn't like, "Oh, here's what I have to do, and I 'm going to start doing it right away. It was actually a very confusing time, and I think that's what school gives you and takes away from you at the same time—understanding who the hell you are. It was a wonderful experience to be there; there were many things that I got out of school, and I thought, "I have to move to New York. I have to see what it's like and do what I need to do. But what do I need to do? I don't think I'm going to be a mainstream jazz pianist. That's not really what I'm hearing. I don't think I'm going to a real part of the avant-garde scene either. I don't think I fit into Latin. I don't fit into smooth jazz.

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For a young musician, it wasn't easy. I just wasn't sure what I was going to do. I only knew that I had a bunch of music that I had been writing and that there was a certain way that I was playing it. I wasn't sure it was going to work out for anybody. I wasn't even sure that it worked for me. That was just how I heard stuff. But things started clearing up once I started meeting some people, and playing with people, and getting some response and support. Also, I have a wonderful, supporting family back in Israel, who were just like, "You have to put out a CD! Let's do it! We'll help you! They were very encouraging.

And that was the beginning of stuff for me. Because somehow I knew I needed to make a little statement of my own. Again, it's not like I was thinking it was necessarily the best statement; I just needed to express myself somehow. And that was how I knew to do it. So once I got that first recording going, things started to move in many different directions. But before then, it was a very confusing time. I didn't really have a strong community or network when I first moved here, so I was sort of on my own. Some people move to New York together. Maybe they graduate from a certain school, so they play with the same people and eventually widen the net a little bit. I had a few people, but it wasn't a very strong circle. So I was just fishing here, fishing there—and finally, I caught something.


Anat Fort, A Long Story (ECM, 2007)

Ayelet Rose Gottlieb, Mayim Rabim (Tzadik, 2006)

Anat Fort, Peel (Self-published, 1999)

Photo Credits

Group photo: Rogan Coles

All others courtesy of Anat Fort

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