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Take Five with Ryan Slatko

Ryan Slatko By

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About Ryan Slatko
Ryan Slatko's musical journey began with his father who played guitar and introduced him to jazz/fusion artists like Pat Metheny, Chick Corea and Weather Report; and to progressive rock greats such as Genesis, Kansas, Rush, Yes, and Emerson Lake and Palmer. Slatko took up drums at 11 years old, also taking an interest in piano at 13 and eventually switching focus entirely to the latter.

Slatko earned his bachelor's degree at the University of North Florida, studying under the critically acclaimed pianist Lynne Arriale. In Fall 2015, Ryan moved to New York to join the diverse music scene and to earn his master's degree at New York University. Slatko has had the privilege of studying under great artists like Don Friedman, Alan Broadbent, Ari Hoenig, Gil Goldstein, Taylor Eigsti and Kenny Werner.

Slatko's achievements include placing 3rd in the 2014 Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition, and making the semifinals for the American Jazz Pianist Competition two years in a row. His debut album First Impressions features Grammy-nominated drummer and producer, Ulysses Owens, Jr. Slatko has also performed or recorded with Rich Perry, Alex Sipiagin, Chris Potter, Tom Scott, Linda Oh, Adam Rogers, Randy Brecker, Ari Hoenig and many more. He was the musical director for Lights Out, a play with song about Nat "King" Cole in which he worked with the likes of Patricia MacGregor, Colman Domingo, Dulé Hill and Daniel J. Watts. Having formerly been a drummer, Ryan brings a strong rhythmic concept to everything he does, whether it be his often percussive approach to piano playing or his inventive arrangements and compositions.


Teachers and/or influences?
I studied under Lynne Arriale at University of North Florida for four years. She played a major role in shaping me into the musician I am today, as she had a very direct and honest teaching approach. Like any great teacher, she was more concerned with making you a better musician than protecting your ego. Studying with her there was always a lot of emphasis on melodicism, phrasing, and solo piano.

One of my greatest mentors at NYU was Ari Hoenig, with whom I studied for about a year. In addition to being someone who I've looked up to for a while, he's a terrific educator, and really deepened my understanding of different rhythms. I also learned a lot about how to play well with drummers, something that I feel separates the men from the boys.

My earliest influences include Chick Corea, Lyle Mays, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, and Herbie of course. Later on I got big into Taylor Eigsti, Geoff Keezer, Brad Mehldau, Phineas Newborn, Jr.... the list goes on forever, there's not many artists I don't like, and these are just pianists!

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
I was in my high school jazz band, back when I still played drums. It dawned on me one day that people play music for a living and for me it was a kind of eureka moment. I realized that it was possible for me to do what I love for a living, to be happy to work each day and be able to put food on the table. Of course I realized from the get go that I'd have to be really good at music to make this happen, and that has always been something that drives me to be greater.

Your sound and approach to music.
Having formerly been a drummer, I definitely try to bring a certain rhythmic intensity to whatever I do. It happens to be an avenue of music I'm fascinated by and that I continue to explore, but I also feel it's something that far few people are exploring than chops and technique.

I also place a lot of emphasis on composition and melody. When I improvise I really try to think like a composer, giving my solo some form of structure and a beginning/middle/end. I find myself drawn to artists who tell a story, and it's my hope that I can do the same.

Your teaching approach
I've realized that a good music teacher tells their students where they need improvement in an honest and frank way, and doesn't worry about protecting the ego. I've had many experiences with mentors, where they maybe told me something I didn't want to hear at the time but looking back I'm glad they were direct and honest with me. I would also say that no two students are the same, which is why I also to personalize my teaching approach as much as possible.

Your dream band
It's been a long time dream of mine to join Ari Hoenig's group. Also up there for me is Miles Davis, Pat Metheny, Art Blakey.


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