Pianist/composer Joan Stiles has been gaining recognition for her highly creative approach to the jazz tradition. She recently joined the roster of pianists who have appeared on Marian McPartland’s PianoJazz show and she was profiled on WBGO’s hour-long “Jazz from the Archives” broadcast. Her 2nd CD, Hurly-Burly garnered a 4-star review from Downbeat Magazine and topped JazzWeek Radio charts. Ted Panken writes, “Joan Stiles possesses the chops, craft, imagination, wit and sophistication to be mentioned iwith the most distinguished descendants of Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, and Mary Lou Williams.”
Stiles’ 3rd CD, Three Musicians (Fall 2011 release on Oo-Bla-Dee records) is an adventurous trio outing with repertoire ranging from standards, show tunes, Monk, Strayhorn, Mary Lou Williams to Beatles and Clapton. Highlights include collages on LOVE “In the Sunshine of My Funny Valentine’s Love” and MONEY "“Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” meets “Can’t Buy Me Love.” Stiles' compositions, "West End Boogie," a soulful rhythmic odd-meter blues, and her Gillespie/Dameron- inspired "Bebopicity" add to the eclectic mix.
In Pablo Picasso’s iconic Cubist masterpiece “Three Musicians,” the Spanish painter constructs a joyous geometric collage portraying himself and two close friends as a carnivalesque combo. On pianist Joan Stiles’ consistently inspired new CD, Three Musicians, she’s created an equally vivid portrait of bold artists in action, a captivating aural collage full of witty, often jaw- dropping juxtapositions (she’s also responsible for the CD’s smart cover art, a Picasso homage-collage).
Her first two albums, (Hurly-Burly and Love Call) showcased Stiles as a resourceful and inventive arranger. With its stripped-down instrumentation, Three Musicians reveals the pianist as a madcap seat-of-the- pants improviser who combines vast harmonic resources and rhythmic acuity with a sharp sense of humor.
The unusual trio features saxophonist Joel Frahm and drummer Matt Wilson, superlative musicians who share Stiles’ prodigious sense of play. The concept for the group flowed from the talent-laden sextet featured on Stiles’s 2007 album Hurly-Burly with Frahm, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, alto saxophonist Steve Wilson, and the consummate rhythm section of bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash.
A jazz artist doesn’t create an unorthodox album like Three Musicians without a deep well of experiences to draw upon. Joan Stiles has taken a long, circuitous route to becoming one of jazz’s most inventive pianists and bandleaders. Born and raised in Brooklyn, she gravitated to a converted player piano in her grandmother’s Greenpoint apartment, picking out TV commercial themes “by ear.” Encouraged by her father, an amateur singer, she quickly learned how to read lead sheets, improvise, and accompany him singing standards. In her early teens, she found a creative outlet as a guitar-wielding singer/songwriter who performed around Brooklyn. Later on as a precocious 17-year-old college sophomore, she dropped out of NYU to join a rock band as keyboardist and vocalist.