Home » Jazz Articles » Meet Lynne Arriale



Meet Lynne Arriale


Sign in to view read count
A piano is a life force in a sense. It has a real personality to it. It's wood with a resonance, a feel. There are so many different colors available through touch.
Pianist Lynne Arriale served an apprenticeship in New York before striking out with her own trio in the early 90's. Her resume includes a performance at the 1998 IAJE convention and an appearance on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz. She has released six CD's to date. Live at Montreux (TCB 20252), a trio session with Steve Davis, drums and Jay Anderson, bass is just coming out (September, 2000).

Classical music background

I started playing when I was very little, but I wouldn't say I was a prodigy at all. I got a master's in classical music at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music with Rebecca Penneys. When I was growing up I didn't even know what jazz was. I listened to pop music of course—Stevie Wonder and a lot of other people. I don't know whether the pop music influenced what I'm working on now. You can't ever really draw a direct line—it just all kind of goes into the soup. The way I got interested in jazz—I did not have an epiphany of listening to a performer and say that's what I've got to do. I was literally walking down the street one day, and I just had a passing thought that I should study jazz. I did not even know what jazz was. I didn't know that it was improvising over chord changes, and that it had its own scales and voicings. It was like learning a whole new language. Unfortunately I don't have time to keep up my classical side. If I have eight hours in a day to practice I can very easily use it up working on jazz things.

Intuitive approach to music

When I started out I listened to bebop players. I loved (and still love) Cedar Walton and some of the bluesier players like Gene Harris. The last bunch of years I would say Keith Jarrett and Herbie Hancock. I think I gravitated toward trying to create melody from the beginning. I'm not an intellectual musician in terms of "over this chord you play this." Once I was taught the scales I kind of heard it. I don't think theoretically when I'm playing—I really just listen. When you're listening one note can follow the next, and it may not be a note in the scale, but it might take you in a different direction because the line feels like it needs to go there. I admire and have great respect for musicians who have a really solid theoretical understanding. I teach a fair amount. I find a lot of students who gravitate toward the intuitive. They know their scales and everything, but when it really comes down to it they can create really beautiful melodies that are not anything they've practiced before. They're not licks—they're in the moment. I try to cultivate that when I see it.

1993 Jacksonville Great American Jazz Piano

I submitted a tape, as did about a hundred other people. I came back from a tour and found out I was a finalist. They flew the five finalists down to Jacksonville. We rehearsed with a rhythm section and played that evening. It was interesting for a whole month to be focusing on three tunes—to go as deeply into them as I possibly could, and also to choose a repertoire that in twenty minutes would somehow create what I was looking for. There was no opportunity to start slowly and work into the set. It really had to happen with all the contrasts and different colors immediately.

Lynne Arriale Trio

In New York I played in duo, trio, and quartet settings, but the last few years I've concentrated on my trio. We travel almost seven months a year. We go to Europe at least four times a year. We go to UK once a year. We go to the West Coast and the Midwest. Here and there we add a fourth musician, and I love doing that, but most of my time is occupied with the trio. Steve Davis is my regular drummer. We love playing with Jay Anderson or Scott Colley when they're available. Steve and I have worked together in the trio for eight years, and he's helped shape the sound of the group. He's a consummate musician, a very dynamic player who can burn the house down or just whisper. He has a great feel, and he's a colorist on the instrument with many different sounds and textures.

100 Golden Fingers

I was at a college the week before. Marian McPartland was supposed to do it. It was a tour of Japan with Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Cedar Walton, Ray Bryant, Monty Alexander, Roger Kellaway, Harold Mabern, Kenny Barron, Junior Mance and a rhythm section. The concerts were three hours long. They consisted of different configurations every day of piano, bass, and drums—forty minutes of that, then piano duos and piano trios. I played duo with Harold Mabern, Roger Kellaway, and Kenny Barron. Just to be around these great musical minds—to see night after night how they might approach the same tune in a different way. To hear Tommy Flanagan sit down, then hear Monty Alexander on the same instrument—you realize how very different the piano can sound with all these different artists, depending on how they have developed their sounds. You marvel at how they hit the keys and all those things that make up the sound as well as the content of what they're playing.

Vocal aspect of jazz

I enjoy playing for singers who study with me, but accompanying singers is not something I focus on. If a song I'm playing has lyrics it definitely affects my playing of it. I like to be familiar with the lyrics and the vibe of the tune. How the lyrics fall determines how you inflect the phrase. The tendency will be not to embellish so much—to "hear" the words as if the singer were singing them. I can tell whether an instrumentalist is staying close to the lyrics.


I take a lot of time in deciding whether to play a tune as part of our repertoire. I could play all original music, but it's a question of what tune feels right at a particular moment and will create a color that will reach the audience in a certain way. I have no investment in playing an original. I have no idea why I'm drawn to certain tunes and not to others. We don't just play "ho-hum" standards. These are very vital tunes—we have arrangements that create whole different vibes. Sometimes I'll just remember a tune I've forgotten about for a few years. I'll hear it in my head, and go "Ohhh."

Brazilian music

When I hear it I light up. In the trio we do tunes that are Brazilian influenced, but they are not strictly Brazilian sambas. We do straight eighth tunes or open eighths which might go into more of a groove at some point.


I don't see my compositions as vehicles for blowing. I make sure the changes flow, but I want them to stand alone as compositions—the chord changes have to feel like a tune without the melody going on, and the melody has to stand alone without the chords. That's a tall order. Think of the great melodists. To create a great melody that has whatever that thing is is not an easy thing to do. The process creates almost an uncomfortable feeling. There's a heat in your body, and you want to jump out of there. You hear about musicians who wake up in the middle of the night and write down songs. There have been a few instances I was about to take a nap. I'd hear a melody, and I'd have to write it down because I knew I wouldn't remember it. But most of the time it's a conscious act. I don't usually start with the rhythm— I start with an idea. I listen to it, play it, and sing it to see if I like it. I say to myself, "How does this feel as an opening statement?" If I like it I go on. It's very subjective. I'll take it into several possibilities and write them down and let them simmer till the next day or the next week. I'll come back and say, "Hmm, that third one looks good, but the rest.... No." Occasionally I'll have the whole thing at once—for example The Dove from A Long Road Home. It's a simple, folk-like melody. I was chopping onions for a soup, I heard it, and I Quick! ran to the piano. But that doesn't happen very often.

Electronic instruments

I appreciate their value to musicians who use them to express their inner musicality, but electronic instruments don't appeal to me at all. A piano is a life force in a sense. It has a real personality to it. It's wood with a resonance, a feel. There are so many different colors available through touch.

Playing with strings

I could have an interest in playing in front of a string orchestra at some point. The big question is the arrangements. I haven't written arrangements for a large ensemble myself.

Learning to play jazz

I recommend listening and singing along with records of the masters—using them as a reference point, playing the tune ourselves, and saying, "What's the difference?" Usually it's pretty painful. When I was first playing jazz I can remember saying to myself, "I don't even know where to start. There are so many things wrong with what I'm doing." I tell my students, "You've got to find at least one thing right. It can't be all bad." There are nuggets of gold in everybody's playing. It's a question of percentages—is it 60% or 97%? It's a huge difference. That's what separates someone who's kind of talented but doesn't have it together from the masters.


I teach piano, composition and improvisation. I've worked with saxophone players, vocalists, and other instrumentalists as well. Of course I can't address technical issues with horn players. I'll say, "What might be your next step in your personal evolution?" We do a lot of clinics and master classes wherever we go. We did one in Switzerland, and we just finished one at San Jose State University. We do the Jamey Aebersold clinic two weeks every summer. We really enjoy them. It's a combination of our performing, talking to the students, answering questions, and showing them the important things to practice. We have the students get up and play. Then we give them very specific things to work on that hopefully will make a difference as soon as possible. We have them slow things down so they can hear when they're in, and when they're out—put them in a state where they're relaxed enough to really hear what's going on without freezing up. I encourage students to use their vocabulary to create language—to be in the moment on the spot. To use an analogy with speaking we don't repeat each paragraph we've read in Newsweek today. That would be absurd. We learned words a long time ago, and as we read more and talk more throughout our lives we learn to put words together, and we learn to communicate. It's the same with the language of jazz.

Play alongs

I've recorded a few of the Jamey Aebersold play-alongs—piano, bass, and drums play different standards. The student is able to play along with the trio or isolate on certain tracks and play along with bass and drums alone or just the bass. That is a phenomenal practice tool. Even though it's frozen in time they're really playing with people instead of with a metronome.

Recording vs. live playing

Recording allows you to scrutinize your work. Knowing there's a microphone on can have a big effect on what you're doing. In a live performance you feel energy from the audience. Both are critical to the evolution of a musician. We often prepare a tune by playing it on the road before we record it. After we record it we keep playing it. Often it can take a completely different direction. I honestly don't listen to my own recordings all that much. I'm concentrating on going forward except when I'm doing radio interviews—then I have no choice. I have to listen to my own stuff! Sometimes I say, "I wish I could do that over." Some things I listen back to and think, "Yeah, that's alright!"

Post a comment

Get the Jazz Near You newsletter All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.

To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.




Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and upcoming jazz events near you.