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Take Five with Michael Kocour

Michael Kocour By

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Meet Michael Kocour:
Michael Kocour is a jazz pianist, organist and composer. He also serves as Director of Jazz Studies in the School of Music at Arizona State University. Hailed by the Chicago Tribune as "one of the most sophisticated pianists in jazz," Kocour has performed at venues around the world and has been a guest on Marian McPartland's internationally syndicated NPR program Piano Jazz. Among the many artists and ensembles with whom he has appeared with are Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Lovano, Eddie Harris, James Moody, Eddie Daniels, Randy Brecker, Benny Golson, Ira Sullivan, Carl Fontana, Dewey Redman, Lew Tabackin, and the Chicago Symphony.

Instrument(s):
Piano & Hammond B3

Teachers and/or influences?
I am very grateful for the teachers that have played an important role in my development. While in high school from 1978-1980 I studied jazz improvisation with Chicago saxophonist Joe Daley who provided me with the professional training I needed to become successful as a jazz pianist. From 1986-88 I studied with Mary Sauer, pianist for the Chicago Symphony. In 1989 I received an NEA study grant to study with pianist/composer Jim McNeely who gave me a thousand aha-moments that are still opening my ears up to new concepts today. Of course every musician I have ever worked with has taught me something new. Even after his passing, I'm still learning from the many gigs I played with James Moody. Benny Golson takes me to school every time we play together and continues to teach with the stories he tells the band on the breaks.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
I knew I wanted to be a musician when I discovered jazz music.

Your sound and approach to music:
While I am interested in musical experimentation, I am also committed to preserving great music from the past. It is my goal to do both when I perform.

Your teaching approach:
My job is to help students play more efficiently and to help them get quicker at playing what they hear in their head, on records and around them on the bandstand.

Favorite venue:
I love the Jazz Showcase in Chicago. Joe and Wayne Segal treat me like a member of the family there. That's also where I heard most of my jazz heroes play.

The first Jazz album I bought was:
Oscar Peterson: Return Engagement. Verve released this two album set as a "best of" the Oscar Peterson Trio. There are a few tracks on there from "Night Train" and "Very Tall." I was lucky to find this album in a mall record store in 1977. It was in tiny jazz record bin that was hard to find in a sea of disco titles.

CDs you are listening to now:
Mike LeDonne Awwlright!
Cory Weeds: Condition Blue
Peter Bernstein: Signs of Life
Greg Gisbert: Harcology
Bruce Forman: The Book of Forman

Desert Island picks:
Hank Jones: Solo Piano
Jimmy Smith & Wes Montgomery: The Dynamic Duo
Oscar Peterson: Very Tall
Wes Montgomery & Wynton Kelly: Smokin' at the Half Note
Thelonious Monk: Alone in San Francisco

How would you describe the state of jazz today?
We have way more jazz music to choose from today and more ways to experience it. It's pretty overwhelming and a lot to keep track of.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?
Our society needs to support music education in our public schools and live performance in our communities. That's why I teach at Arizona State University.

What is in the near future?
Currently I have another solo piano CD in the works and I'm composing forty-five minutes of music for jazz piano trio and string orchestra that I'll perform with the National Orchestra of Paraguay in summer 2016.

What's your greatest fear when you perform?
My greatest fear occurs before the performance. I never want to be late for the gig.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:
If I weren't a jazz musician, I might have become a middle school teacher or a sous chef.

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