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Luis Perdomo: Venezuelan Connection

Jason Crane By

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AAJ: When was this?

LP: October of 1990. Then I met a saxophonist from Venezuela named Rolando Briceño. He was the one who told me to audition for the Manhattan School of Music. I think this was a couple years after my first time in New York. I just kept coming back to hang out. So that's when I auditioned for the Manhattan School of Music. At the time that I came, they were doing auditions. So I went with Rolando and he helped me to fill out the forms. They gave me a scholarship and I came back and stayed here [in New York].

AAJ: So you came to New York on vacation, auditioned for college, and got a full scholarship?

LP: Yeah. [laughs]

AAJ: I'm talking to you from Rochester, New York, which is currently where [pianist] Harold Danko teaches at the Eastman School of Music. You studied with him at Manhattan, right?

LP: Yeah. Definitely. I knew of Harold's playing because of a radio show [in Venezuela]. It's still there. [The host is] Jack Brownstein. He's had a radio show since 1955. I remember my dad used to listen to it a lot and he used to tape it. One time we were listening to it, and he played this record by Lee Konitz. It happened that Harold was the pianist. I think it might have been Rufus Reid on bass and Al Harewood on drums [Ideal Scene (Soul Note, 1986)].

Since that time, I kept thinking of Harold's playing. I used to play that tape and listen to it a lot, over and over and over. When I came to Manhattan and saw that he was a teacher there, I thought, "I have to study with this guy." He was there when I auditioned, and he was a real nice guy. He accepted me as a student.

AAJ: What did you get from studying with Harold?

LP: He knew a lot of harmony. I got introduced to the way Americans play. Down in Venezuela I was playing jazz, but I had a lot of other influences. I was playing jazz and Latin and Brazilian music. When I came here and I started listening to Harold and taking a couple lessons with the late [pianist] Jaki Byard, it was a realization to me. It was so different from the way we were playing down there in Venezuela. Harold's harmonic concept was so far advanced. I wish I could take lessons with him now, because I think I'm more prepared to understand what he was telling me than when I first came to New York.

luis perdomo AAJ: When you were at the Manhattan School, were you also studying classical piano?

LP: Yeah. I took some lessons with a pianist by the name of Martha Pestalozzi. She was a very beautiful lady, and she was very serious about music. It was great for me. It really helped my technique. I studied Chopin and Bach and Mozart with her. She also helped me a lot with my sight reading. I took classical lessons from her for all four years that I was at the Manhattan School of Music.

AAJ: Were you recording and playing gigs at this time?

LP: Not much. I was an international student, so I was required to take more than sixteen credits. At one point I was taking 20 or 21 credits, so I didn't have that much time to hang around. I played around school a lot, though. I played with Stefon Harris, who was at the school at the same time. He had a group and I was in it. But I wasn't playing that much. I was mainly going to school.

AAJ: And when you finished Manhattan, you went on for an advanced degree at Queens College?

LP: Yes. I had seen [pianist Sir] Roland Hanna playing at the Manhattan School of Music. He was a special guest with the Manhattan School's jazz orchestra. At one point, he played a couple tunes of solo piano. One of the songs was "Lush Life." Right away I said, "I've got to take lessons with this guy."

At the time, I was hearing in a more polyphonic way—not just harmonically, when you just hear vertical chords. I was hearing lines, melodic lines. Roland was the master of playing in that style. I found out that he was teaching at Queens College, so I auditioned and took two years of lessons with Roland Hanna.

Man, this guy was tough. That's the kind of teacher that I need—somebody who doesn't take any BS from me. With my teacher in Venezuela and with Harold, we were more like friends. Sometimes I wouldn't study the stuff I was supposed to prepare. I would come to the lesson unprepared, and I would tell Harold, "I didn't have time to practice." They were nice about it. They'd say, "We'll do it next week."

But with Roland? Forget it. I remember one time I was maybe twenty minutes late when I showed up to the lesson. He told me, "Man, you cannot be coming here this late. You're making me waste my time. I'm serious about this." He gave me a lecture for ten minutes, then told me, "We cannot do anything right now. Just come back next week for your lesson." After that, I practiced everything he told me to practice, and I was there on time. I didn't mess with Roland.

AAJ: You said that with Harold you were studying harmonic and chordal concepts. It sounds like Roland Hanna was the perfect complement to that.

LP: Absolutely. And with Roland, I did a lot of classical, even more than what I did at the Manhattan School of Music. I did tons of classical music, and I also went back and studied some earlier styles of jazz piano, like "Fats" Waller, Scott Joplin ragtime pieces. And a lot of Chopin etudes, a lot of Bach and Brahms. Roland was the first guy I heard talking about "half pedal" or "three-quarter pedal."

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