Take Five With Patrick Zimmerli

Patrick Zimmerli By

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About Patrick Zimmerli
New York-and Paris-based composer/saxophonist Patrick Zimmerli writes a sophisticated yet approachable hybrid of contemporary classical and jazz music. Recent collaborators include Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Brooklyn Rider String Quartet, Brian Blade, Luciana Souza, the Knights Orchestra and the Escher String Quartet. His music has been performed at Carnegie Hall and Town Hall in New York, Wigmore Hall in London, Salle Pleyel in Paris, Sala São Paolo in Brazil, the Vienna Konzerthaus Grosser Saal and the new SF Jazz Center.

Zimmerli has written numerous orchestral, chamber and choral works, including two four-movement Piano Trios for the Seattle Chamber Music Festival and two four-movement Piano Concertos with jazz percussion, written for the Metamorphosen Chamber Orchestra and pianists Ethan Iverson and Sonia Rubinsky.

Zimmerli's Aspects of Darkness and Light, an evening-length work commissioned by the Seattle Commissioning Club, was recently recorded by Joshua Redman, Brooklyn Rider, bassist Scott Colley and percussionist Satoshi Takeishi for Nonesuch Recordings (Warner) and is slated for early 2016 release. Upcoming projects include a large-scale oratorio for male choir, operatic tenor, jazz percussion and piano on the work of Alan Seeger, to be premiered at the storied Invalides in Paris in 2016; and a collaboration with the Paris Percussion Group and choreographer Bruno Bouché to premiere at the 2017 Cannes International Festival of Dance.

Zimmerli was just awarded the 2015 Chamber Music America New Jazz Works Grant, supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. He was also the winner of the CLICK People's Orchestral Commission from the Colorado Music Festival. Other commissions have come from the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Colorado College Summer Music Festival, the Ying String Quartet, Brown University, violinist Timothy Fain, and the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music. From 2002-05, Zimmerli served as Composer in Residence with the Metamorphosen Chamber Orchestra. Awards include first prize in the first annual BMI/Thelonious Monk Institute Composers' Competition.

Zimmerli music has been featured in MoMA's Summergarden series, at the Guggenheim Museum, on NPR and at the Jazz Composers' Collective. His work has been recorded on the Naxos, Nonesuch (Warner), Blue Note, Arabesque, Antilles, Songlines, Jazz City and Naïve labels.


Teachers and/or influences?
I've had a million influences, and I write many styles of music where different influences come to the fore, but my first love was straight-ahead jazz, I loved Bird and Trane and Miles from the '60s and Wayne and Sonny and Monk and all the rest. I think that music has an enduring influence on whatever I do.

As far as teachers, again, I've had countless. I've learned maybe the most from listening to/transcribing/studying the great masters, in both classical and jazz domains; But I've also been formed through lessons with many amazing musicians, from Jerry Bergonzi and Joe Lovano in the jazz realm (both of whose advice I still hear in my head regularly, though my lessons with them date to the mid-1980s) to Fred Lerdahl, Walter Winslow, David Rakowski, Joel Feigin, and numerous others in the contemporary classical field. I should also mention Bill Stanley, my high school band director at Hall High School in West Hartford, CT, who had unforgettable expressions and pithy words of advice. And my brother David, who was a piano prodigy 3 years my senior, instilled very high ideals in me from a young age.

But I guess really my best teachers have been my colleagues. To list just some examples, the great violinist/conductor Scott Yoo, Tim Fain, Andy Lin, Yoon Kwon, Colin and Eric Jacobsen and Nick Cords and Johnny Gandlesman of Brooklyn Rider, and many other classical string players with whom I've worked; Kevin Hays, Brad Mehldau, Josh Redman, Scott Colley, Larry Grenadier, Jeff Williams, Ben Monder, Bill Stewart, Leon Parker, Jon Gordon, Tim Ries, these are just a few off the top of my head from whom I learned a lot.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
It became apparent that I wasn't going to have a career as a baseball player—which happened around my first month in little league, I think I broke the record for lowest batting average ever!

Your sound and approach to music.
As a composer you can have many "sounds" and approaches, since you write for different people, and each piece you write can have a completely different point of view. That's the beauty of composition. As an instrumentalist it's more specific and personal of course, and I've worked really hard to develop a pure tone and approach that's akin to a classical technique on saxophone. I carry that approach on soprano, while on tenor, I have a slightly "dirtier" or funkier sound.

If there was one thing I want to accomplish as both a composer and player, it's that old cliché of "tell a story." I want all my music to engage listeners, to take them on a journey, express a point of view and a kind of narrative that has a beginning, middle, and end. Even my most avant-garde-sounding music has that quality.

Your teaching approach
Again, I've taught a lot of different things, from basic classical theory and ear training to composition, orchestration, and jazz improvisation. I've also done quite a bit of coaching to my colleagues if they have a particularly difficult musical challenge. In each situation I think the priority is to inspire, to instill almost a desperation for excellence, the idea to not stop until you've gone as far and as high as you can go. That, as well as a really positive mindset and approach to problem solving.

Your dream band
As a composer I don't think in these terms exactly, since to me there are many ideal ensembles with potentially great sounds, in different styles. How can you compare the Keith Jarrett Trio to the Emerson String Quartet?

In terms of ideal collaborators, I love working with musicians who are completely open and flexible in terms of approach, because what I bring is something they often haven't done before, and often stretches their boundaries; and also musicians that have the power to really connect emotionally with each other on stage, and to an audience.
About Patrick Zimmerli
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