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Take Five With Noah Haidu

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Meet Noah Haidu:
Pianist and composer Noah Haidu is evidence that 21st century jazz can be adventurous, fresh and swing hard; that an exciting, modern pianist can play memorable melodies and soulful grooves. His powerful Posi-Tone Records CDs Slipstream and Momentum garnered an impressive response: write-ups included All About Jazz, JazzTimes, The Financial Times, and Downbeat; while his music was played in heavy rotation on radio, satellite, and cable jazz channels. Noah has also gained the attention of the jazz world through live appearances or recordings with artists such as Mike Stern, Jeremy Pelt, Ambrose Akinmusire, Benny Golson, Jon Irabagon, Eddie Henderson, Billy Hart, Duane Eubanks, and Winard Harper.

Born in Charlottesville, Virginia, Noah was exposed early on to all kinds of music: classical, avant-garde, rock, and jazz. His high school years were spent in New Jersey and Los Angeles, where he was increasingly drawn to jazz and blues piano. His father, an avid music fan, took him to countless concerts, lessons, and band rehearsals and his first jazz shows. He moved to Brooklyn, New York and it wasn't long before he was constantly performing.

Now one of New York's leading young jazz pianists, Noah combines new rhythmic ideas, harmonic sophistication, spontaneity, soul, and swing into his own unique approach.

Instrument(s):
Piano

Teachers and/or influences?
Teachers: Kenny Barron, Barry Harris, David Hazeltine, Bruce Barth.
Influences: Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Kenny Kirkland, Wynton Kelly, Gene Harris.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
I got my first record as a kid, around seven years old. It was Thriller by Michael Jackson. I listened to it beginning to end every day after school. Couldn't decide which was my favorite song. I liked it that much.

Your sound and approach to music:
My music is Jazz from right now, not some other period. I believe in tight arrangements attractive melodies and improvisation that goes somewhere. The goal is take the audience into the music, forget their surroundings and feel something.

Your dream band:
My next recording will feature Jon Irabagon and Sharel Cassity on saxophones; in the rhythm section drummer John Davis and upright bassist Ariel Alejandro de la Portilla. There's no one i'd rather be playing with then these people. They all bring so much to the music and really bring my vision to life. There's alot of pressure on artists right now to play and record with "all-star bands" but that doesn't always lead to great music...or even good music. As it happens my band members are all very well-known but that's not why I work with them. Musicianship, shared vision, dedication, creativity, the ability and desire to communicate through music. Those are the qualities I look for in other musicians. So that's my dream band: the Noah Haidu Quintet. .

The first Jazz album I bought was:
Renaissance by Branford Marsalis.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
I try to get outside of my own head with the music. It's not just about playing the piano. When I play I do get lost in the music. But the way I do that is I connect with the musicians I'm playing with and the audience. I can't enjoy performing without the audience and the band to inspire me. I use modern techniques as tools to add to a performance, not tricks to impress my musician friends.

Did you know...
Haidu is a common name in Hungary. Almost like Smith is in the United States.

CDs you are listening to now:
Kenny Kirkland, Kenny Kirkland (Verve);
Jimmy Greene Quartet, Forever (Criss Cross Jazz);
Keith Jarrett Trio, Standards in Norway (ECM Records);
Rudy Royston, 303 (Greenleaf Music).

How would you describe the state of jazz today?
I've talked about this a lot already. The music is healthy to my ear. But because there are many musicians competing for few gigs the camaraderie among the players has been somewhat eroded. It still exists, but it's harder to come by then what I've heard about earlier generations.

What is in the near future?
First is my show at Birdland, that's Thursday February 5, 2015. That's the aforementioned band with Sharel Cassity, John Davis and Ariel de la Portilla. We will be heading into the studio very soon to record my next CD. I've let this particular project marinade for a bit and it's time to get it out there. We've got a run of gigs planned for the summer starting in New England in June and heading south from there. In July we have a concert at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Miami.

Also I will be collaborating with bassist Peter Brendler and Jon Irabagon on a recording project in the near future. Both Jon and Pete play on a very high level and have their own unique approaches to playing and composing. It's a different side of my musical personality that comes through with that band.

Road story: Your best or worst experience

My last tour was primarily mostly a trio with a few quintet appearances. So saxophonist Vincent Herring and trumpeter Alex Norris were traveling separately down to Maryland to join us for our show at the Silver Spring Jazz Festival. One of the roads on the way was shut down with a traffic accident, so I was on the phone with Vince making sure they had the alternate route.

Naturally I wondered if they would make the gig on time, as we were getting close to start time I still hadn't seen those guys. Vincent calls me up and says: "Noah can you check in the green room to see if there are any crab cakes for the band? since we are in Maryland I gotta have crab cakes... otherwise I'll pick some up on the way to the gig." I was in the green room at the time... the spread was comprised of the standard sandwiches, crackers, etc... no crabcakes to be found. Now anyone who knows me is aware that I'm a very literal person. I also strive to be polite and respectful. So I say: "Uuhhh, Vincent, it's getting late... can we do the crab cakes after the gig??" Vincent laughed and walked in to the green room ready to go for the show. The concert was great. It was filmed for TV, and is up on my Youtube Channel. After that show the trio tour continued with a show at Smalls, then up to Boston, and then we did a concert at a church in Southern Maine. Now all of these gigs were very well attended but this was my first gig in Maine and this particular concert series had never presented jazz before. Tickets were sold at the door only and everyone was wondering if anyone would show up to hear us. It was time to play so we are driving over and there were these dark storm clouds. It started pouring buckets of rain and the whole trio let out a collective groan—you could almost see the rain washing away our audience for the night. Then we pulled in to the parking lot and there's cars everywhere, the place was packed. Over 130 people there and the venue was at capacity. We played for two hours straight and afterwards the audience gave us a standing ovation. It was great to see people responding to your music like that in a range of venues and across different towns. That makes all the hours practicing and writing music even more rewarding.
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