Take Five with Julian Waterfall Pollack

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Meet Julian Waterfall Pollack:

At the age of twenty-one, New York pianist Julian Waterfall Pollack has the jazz community abuzz with his mature, technically ferocious, and dynamic piano playing. Among his many accomplishments, Pollack was featured on Marian McPartland's renowned NPR show, Piano Jazz, at age eighteen.

He has performed internationally at venues including the Blue Note in New York, the Kennedy Center, the Umbria Jazz Festival, and many more. He is also the recipient of numerous prestigious national awards, such as the National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts (NFAA) Level One Gold Prize and member of its Clifford Brown/Stan Getz All-Stars. He has recently released his second trio album, Infinite Playground.



Teachers and/or influences?

My mother, who is a concert pianist, started teaching me piano when I was five years old. When I was ten, I began taking piano lessons with Susan Muscarella, founder of the Jazzschool in Berkeley, CA. In college, I studied with Andy Milne, Jean-Michel Pilc, Joe Lovano, John Scofield, Gil Goldstein, Tony Moreno, and many others. I got my degree in composition and studied with Ezequiel Vinao for two years.

As far as my influences go, there are so many, in terms of jazz pianists, my top five influences—if I had to say—are Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, and Brad Mehldau, but there are so many more.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

I first heard Oscar Peterson and The Beatles. I guess The Beatles came first when I was seven. My dad introduced me to Oscar's stuff when I was eight. The record was Oscar's version of West Side Story. That record really blew me away.

Your sound and approach to music:

I strive to have a clean, beautiful sound when I play the piano. I love clarity. Mehldau, Peterson, Jarrett, Hancock, and Evans are all masters of clarity—on technical, intellectual, and emotional levels. I also strongly believe in form and development. But, at the end of the day, whatever sounds good sounds good. As Duke Ellington put it, "There's only two kinds of music: good music and bad music."

Your teaching approach:

I try to give students a really solid foundation. I want my students to understand the fundamentals extremely well. That's how I was taught. There is a certain methodology that can be found in Mark Levine's The Jazz Piano Book. That's a great book and I use it to teach my students.

Your dream band:

I enjoy the musicians that I play with now. To me, a "dream band" is pointless unless the players get to play together for a long period of time. Otherwise it's just a conglomerate of names that normally does not add up to a "band vibe." The reason Miles' groups sounded so good is because they were real "bands." They played together so much and that gave them their distinctive vibe.

Road story: Your best or worst experience:

Playing at the Blue Note was really great. We had our debut there on May 5, 2010, opening for Chick Corea. The place was packed, people were really into it, and the sound was great. Plus, they brought in a special piano just for Chick which I got to play. It was like butter!

Favorite venue:

Hard to say, I really like Smalls Jazz Club because of the vibe and the acoustics. I also like the piano there when it's in tune. To me, it's a real living jazz club. Lots of up-and-coming people are coming out of there as well as people who are preserving the tradition.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

I like my new album best! I'm really excited about. I got some of my best friends—who are superb musicians—playing on the record. We all have the same sonic vision and we all know what we want to hear. So we do it!

The first Jazz album I bought was:

Oscar Peterson, West Side Story;

John Coltrane, Giant Steps.

My dad bought them both at the same time for me when I was eight years old.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

I'm attempting to contribute beauty. Also, I'm attempting to further blur the lines between what "jazz" "classical" and "pop" music is. I'm just at the beginning of my journey. But it starts with the piano trio. Then it will branch out.

Did you know...

I love making pasta from scratch. I love doing card tricks and coin magic. I also have a secret desire to buy every lego I see (which will be a problem when I have kids).

CDs you are listening to now:

Johnny Adams, Century Rolls (Nonesuch);

Brad Mehldau, Art of the Trio, Volume 4: Back at the Village Vanguard (Warner Bros.);

Aaron Parks, Invisible Cinema (Blue Note);

Miles Davis, Four and More Live (Columbia);

Hilliard Greene, Perotin (ECM).

Desert Island picks:

Oscar Peterson = 10250}}, West Side Story;

John Coltrane, Giant Steps;

Brad Mehldau, Art of the Trio, Volume 4: Back at the Village Vanguard;

The Beatles, Rubber Soul;

J.S. Bach, 48 Preludes and Fugues.

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

It's great! So much great music out there right now. Everyone is always saying that jazz is dead. Well, if that's the case, it's been dead. Jazz is deep and if you know something about it, you'll appreciate it. The more you know about it the more you love it. At least that's my experience.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

Keep people informed. Try to let them in somehow. Don't cater to them—show them. It's difficult though. There's an element of jazz that is very "heady." That turns certain people off. I love it. As a matter of fact that's why I like art music: there's something to think about emotionally and intellectually.

What is in the near future?

The release of my new record is right around the corner. I'll be touring with my trio as well as with other acts. I look forward to a bunch of performances this summer as well as some serious sun-tanning.

By Day:

Music 24/7.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:

Nothing else. Music is the only option.

Photo Credit

Courtesy of Nicholas Wilson

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