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John Bickerton

"It’s like being submerged beneath the surface of the ocean or a large lake experiencing the otherworldliness, the sense of new, the out of the ordinary, that’s where I try to go with each song.”

This highly personal, searching aesthetic is what drives New York-based pianist and composer John Bickerton. His latest recorded effort, Submerged, is the first release on the musician-run, independent new music label, Simple Harmonic Motion. On Submerged, John invites listeners on an imaginative journey using elements of free jazz and contemporary piano technique.

The record is a set of six performances including highly transformed readings of Led Zeppelin’s Going to California, Neil Young’s Sugar Mountain and the Beatles’ Within You Without You. An original interpretation of Ornette Coleman's Mob Job points to John's inclination toward experimentation and spontaneity.

He describes, “Each performance begins with a simple, tonal melody which gradually morphs into an open and vast sound world. I was after musical performances where the mix of tonality and a free chromaticism seem organic, and the resulting language feels natural".

Born in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, in 1959, John Bickerton began studying piano at age six, under the direction of Quebecois sisters at St. Mary's Academy. His many years of intense study of piano and composition, first at Carnegie-Mellon University (BFA), and later at Boston University (MFA), led him to explore not only classical forms but also The New York School movement, including the work of John Cage, Morton Feldman and Earle Brown. Recalling these formative years, Bickerton explains, "one of my most influential teachers was the Spanish composer Leonardo Balada. He encouraged us to compose "aleatory" music - music that introduces elements of chance with respect to pitch and duration." Bickerton also credits Joanne Brackeen, with whom he studied jazz piano. An excellent teacher, she had a way of building his confidence and challenging him at the same time. Prodding him to work on his piano technique, she would say - "your ears are ahead of your hands." Her admiration of Bickerton's compositions helped him remain faithful to his voice.

John's three-year stint leading a resident trio with bassist Hide Tanaka and drummer Frank Bambara (or Wade Barnes) at the club Caliban, on Manhattan's east side (26th & 3rd) in the late 1980s, provided him with invaluable experience. The group played host to many jazz artists including Valery Ponomarev, Junior Cooke, Eddie Henderson, Joe Magnarelli, bassist Calvin Hill, the Albert Ayler-inspired saxophonist Booker T., and Cecil Taylor alum Rashid Bakr (Charles Downs).

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Album Review

John Bickerton: Submerged

Read "Submerged" reviewed by Karl Ackermann

Pianist and composer John Bickerton has been absent from active recording since his 1999 Shadow Boxes (Leo Records). That trio outing established his proficiency at blending lyricism, free jazz and the avant-garde as he had done on his previous release Drinking from the Golden Cup (Loud Neighbors Music, 1997). He returns almost twenty years later with the solo piano release Submerged.Bickerton is a native of Ontario, Canada who had studied with pianist Joanne Brackeen and he holds a ...

Album Review

The John Bickerton Trio: Shadow Boxes

Read "Shadow Boxes" reviewed by Robert Spencer

Sometimes an artist doesn't need a big canvas on which to work. Miniatures can be just as artistically exacting and just as pleasing to the audience. John Bickerton is a worker in miniatures: he favors little phrases, not simply repeated but re-aired, re- floated, remade in different conjunctions and combinations. Matthew Heyner (bass) and Rashid Bakr (drums) are his able and willing fellow miniaturists.That's not to say that this is soft or restrained music, but simply that when ...

Album Review

John Bickerton: Shadow Boxes

Read "Shadow Boxes" reviewed by Glenn Astarita

Pianist John Bickerton declares...”I am no “young lion” and am happy not to be one. I learned about jazz in the 1970s and the groove then was to find your own sound, that was the premium ”. Well, on his debut release for the Leo Lab label, “The John Bickerton Trio” effectively illustrate an altogether stylistic approach thanks to Bickerton’s uncanny melding of melody into a somewhat anatomic albeit fresh compositional approach. Shadow Boxes is all about weaving clusters surrounded ...

Album Review

John Bickerton Trio: Drinking From the Golden Cup

Read "Drinking From the Golden Cup" reviewed by AAJ Staff

The cover gets your attention, even before the music comes on. On the front, all is peaceful: three birds in flight form the golden cup of the title, from which they drink. Expecting a placid “sounds of the seasons” album, you turn to the back and see those enigmatic titles. “Don Quixote and Don Juan Meet Their Fate in Brooklyn”? “Midnight Epiphany on Westbound 46”? They sound like avant-garde “it could mean anything” titles. So: is it gentle or experimental? ...

Album Review

John Bickerton Trio: Drinking from the Golden Cup

Read "Drinking from the Golden Cup" reviewed by Joel Roberts

It is always a treat to stumble upon exciting and innovative new music by relatively unknown performers. This piano trio album, featuring all original compositions by Brooklyn-based pianist and leader John Bickerton, offers the opportunity to hear challenging improvised music played at a very high level by musicians whose names most people probably don't even know.

Bickerton runs much more in the Bill Evans / Paul Bley / Keith Jarrett wing of piano improvisation than the Cecil Taylor wing. Jarrett ...

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"John Bickerton fashions lively improvisations out of deceptively simple themes. The pianist is adept at luring his listener in through repetition before catching him unaware with striking variation." —Coda Magazine.

"Bickerton’s compositions are wonderful things, reminiscent of Mary Lou Williams’s, Monkish but in an updated way, bringing dissonance and that apparently awkward grace to the fore and letting swing transform into the pulse of free improvisation." —Richard Cochrane, International Improvised Music Archive

“Bickerton has created an album of experimental music that dares to be pretty.” — All About Jazz

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Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson


Simple Harmonic Motion Records


Shadow Boxes

Leo Records


Drinking from the...

Loud Neighbors Music



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