Michelle Pollace is a performing Latin jazz musician, composer, and music-book author based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
A San Francisco Bay Area native, Michelle began writing songs at age 11. She took formal piano lessons sporadically but preferred playing by ear, also picking up bass and guitar in her teens. Michelle has embraced many musical styles over her career; her performance and recording credits include orchestra member in Lou Harrison’s internationally renowned Gamelan Si Betty (Indonesian orchestra), keyboardist for Chepito Areas (Santana’s original percussionist/arranger), co-leader of blues-rock band featuring Robbie Hoddinott (Kingfish, Bob Weir), chorus member in a Gilbert & Sullivan theater company, bassist for a grunge band, and more. Besides studying classical and jazz piano (through SJSU and privately with Martan Mann), she has studied Latin piano/arranging (privately with Rebeca Mauleon) and Latin percussion (with Dan Sabanovich). Michelle is also co-author of a music-education book/CD called Musicreation.
Before launching her current solo career, Michelle co-led Zarate Pollace Project with guitarist Abel Zarate (who also wrote hit songs for Malo and Willie Bobo). ZPP enlisted the musical contributions of many Bay Area luminaries, including John Santos, Paul VanWageningen, Dave Belove, Michael Spiro, Curtis Ohlson, and others to realize the blend of jazz, fusion, Brazilian, and Afro-Cuban styles comprising ZPP's music. ZPP released the CD "Soul Redemption" (2005), which garnered worldwide radio airplay and favorable reviews.
And now, with Michelle Pollace's Latin Jazz, she expresses her love of both jazz and Latin rhythms, inspired particularly by the small piano-centric combos of Michel Camilo, Hilton Ruiz, and, in his explorations of Latin jazz, McCoy Tyner. Her arrangements of jazz, Brazilian, and Afro-Cuban standards are original, and her own compositions honor the roots of the music while adding a new voice. Her recently released latest CD, New Beginning (April 2013), has garnered accolades as well as airplay on around 200 satellite, public, and college radio stations, plus made the “most added releases” list in JazzWeek. The CD features some of the San Francisco Bay Area's top-call musicians -- producer Rebeca Mauleon; David Belove on bass; Phil Hawkins on drums; Carlos Caro and Michaelle Goerlitz on percussion; and saxophonist Kristen Strom.
Michelle regularly plays throughout the San Francisco Bay Area in configurations ranging from trio (piano, bass, drums or percussion) to a fuller band featuring complete percussion section and horns. Michelle is a versatile performer who also plays in a jazz-funk ensemble occasionally, and also plays solo piano.
My Jazz Story
I love jazz because I hear musicians being in the "now", creating on the spot.
I was first exposed to jazz by my father. He doesn't play (though he has dabbled with piano in the past), but apparently jazz runs in the family blood. My grandfather, a professional jazz pianist, once accompanied Judy Garland when she strolled into the Chicago hotel where he played; one of the songs they performed was, of course, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." I never got to hear my grandfather play, because he gave up "the life" when he moved to California, when my dad was still in high school. However, my grandpa remains an inspiration, so I wrote an arrangement of "Somewhere" in Latin Jazz style, and dedicated to my father and to the memory of my grandfather.
The first jazz record I bought was McCoy Tyner, "Dimensions." McCoy is a great influence on my piano playing to this day.
My advice to new listeners is, have an open mind; let the music develop, let the artists take you on a journey. Jazz is human, personal, and carries great immediacy. In an age where technology replaces the human element in much art, jazz in general is all about the performance. Even in recording, it is a moment of spontaneity frozen in time. So support live music, support live jazz! Keep us human in the modern world.