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Eric Zinman: The Piano as Endangered Species

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For over twenty years, pianist/composer Eric Zinman has been crafting his own approach to his instrument, since meeting trumpeter Bill Dixon in the '80s. He views himself as an ensemble player, who plays to include; in addition to his own writing, his trio disc, Eric Zinman Ensemble (Cadence, 2006), features short pieces by John Voigt, Laurence Cook, Lowell Davidison and Ornette Coleman. Each composition feels lived with and explored thoroughly, while the music breaths and flows with a wide dynamic range. The interplay between piano, drums and bass is speech-like and unpredictable; the instruments seeming to merge their colors in a very unique way.

More recent releases involve longer compositions, and larger ensembles also featuring undervalued master saxophonist Mario Rechtern. The compositional focus is less partitioned, with no repeating statements, while the solo concept is more orchestral. Since 2006, Zinman has been performing internationally, and has released two digital-only recordings on Ayler Records—New Language Collaborative/Unified Fields (2008), and Wakte Oglaka (2009). Several new recordings are scheduled to be released by Cadence, Ayler, and a new French label, Improvising Beings.

All About Jazz: While I enjoyed reading about your personal history in the brilliantcornersbostonjazzblog, where I first read about you, I wanted to ask about your perspectives on the piano, your music and some personal history. Outside of what was published there, are there other influences you would like to talk about?

Eric Zinman: Yes, there are a few things. I have not talked on my website about everything that influenced me. Everybody knows my biggest influences because it is stated on my recordings and on my CV, but there were two other influential people in my life that I was fortunate enough to have as roommates.

The first of those roommates was Marc Leibowitz. The first time I played with Laurence Cook was with Marc at his apartment in Sudbury. He had organized a music series at the Brandeis Radio station called The Joint, which was the best I had encountered in the Boston area where I lived. He was, at one time, the director of WBRS, the community radio station at Brandeis University. Marc hooked me up with the station and pushed to help me get a show which I called 20th Century Music, and I played the best of the best that I could find. The record collection was also quite good. Marc also ran an excellent show. Around the same time, Craig Schildhauer had a loft on Thayer Street, with his partner Yvette, where they ran another great music series called Playground. This was very influential to me as I took the name and ran with it, as Craig had asked me to do: Friends of Black Music , which was run by Syd Smart in the '70s; and also The Black Avant-Garde, run by Larry Roland, preceded me in the Boston area. I found that out later. My personal involvement was with The Joint and Playground.

The Joint ran live music many days of the week and featured some of the best of the avant-garde. I may not remember all the details, but I remember some: Zayne Massey, Karen Borca, John Voigt, Taylor Maclean, Dennis Charles, Bobby Naughton, Zen Matsura, William Parker, Marc Leibowitz, Laurence Cook, Joe Maneri, Matt Maneri, Rashid Bakr, and many more.

There was a drum summit that I thought was unprecedented. It included Laurence Cook, Gerry Hemingway, Beaver Harris, Dennis Charles. I'm not sure, but I thought Andrew Cyrille and Thurman Barker were there.

I don't think that we were very compatible as players in some ways, as Marc's compositional ideas were in a different direction from the way I wanted to play the piano, but I think we made some very good music and played out a couple times with Laurence Cook. Marc had a lot of ideas about electronics that lately I feel were very influential to me in terms of color and timbre. The way Marc used to tune his lower strings to sound like a bass, which would create this shaking sound like an earth tremor and the use of an old Moog synthesizer patch, which could be triggered in many ways by strings, microphones etc. Marc also had ideas about what I would call sequences—repeating motifs, where he used a cheap Casio device. In the beginning, I couldn't stand them, but gradually Marc learned to use them in a very deceptive and artistic way.

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