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Bernard Peiffer: Formidable...!

Victor L. Schermer By

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Bernard Peiffer was a genius of a jazz pianist who became so relegated to oblivion that his son had to dig out audio tapes from various performances to make this recording 29 years after his father's death. What a travesty of justice that a man of such talent, brilliance, and profound influence on his students and fellow musicians should not have been given his due recognition, not to mention a legacy of recordings to inspire future generations.

Bernard Peiffer (pronounced Pay-FAIR) grew up in France, quickly became recognized there as a piano prodigy, fell in love with jazz, and played with Django Reinhardt and other jazz greats. The vicissitudes of the Nazi occupation, Peiffer's role in the French Resistance, and his eventual emigration to the United States led to disruption of his career.

But, after settling in Philadelphia, he developed a following of students, including Uri Caine, Tom Lawton, Sumi Tonooka, and Don Glanden—among the finest and most innovative jazz pianists in the business. However, Peiffer's idealism and musical independence caused further difficulties in gaining recording dates and notoriety, and his life was cut short by illness at age 53. But those in the know who had an opportunity to hear him, such as critic Leonard Feather and producer Michael Cuscuna, have recognized his greatness.

When you listen to this CD of solo recordings, the first thing that hits you is Peiffer's technique. He plays rapid runs with remarkable certainty and assurance. He can go anywhere at will, yet maintain continuity and a sense of fidelity to the composition as a whole. His playing is absolutely in the moment, and never superfluous or tangential. The last track, a prelude and fugue based on "Lullaby of Birdland, is astonishing—as if J. S. Bach, the master improviser, woke up in a jazz club and sat down at the piano. I know of nothing like it in the history of jazz recording.

Peiffer is also capable of being lyrical. His "minimalist interpretations of "All the Things You Are, "Poem for a Lonely Child (Peiffer's own composition), "'Round Midnight," and "Yesterdays bring out his interpretive genius.

One cannot pin a name tag on Peiffer's style. He always sought to transcend labels. He's been compared to Art Tatum, and there is a resemblance. But what makes Peiffer's playing so special is its transparent articulation of musical ideas. Like a great classical conductor who brings out the composer's intent, Peiffer improvises with absolute attention to the idea he is bringing forth. He never tries to impress with gimmicks or complications.

Given the source of these tracks—old audiotapes now archived at the University of the Arts—the fidelity is excellent, probably due to superb digital remastering. Many thanks are due to Bernard's son, Stephan Peiffer, and pianist Don Glanden, who thought to put together such a fine tribute to a true master on Stephan's own Manege label. Truly a "formidable contribution to recorded jazz.


Track Listing: Voyage; All the Things You Are; Poem for a Lonely Child; Coccinelle; Jitterbug Waltz (cadenza); Black Moon; The Great Escape;

Personnel: Bernard Peiffer: solo piano.

Title: Formidable...! | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Self Produced

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