During the Covid pandemic, I experienced contrasting periods of artistic lucidity and activity and periods of despondency. Overall, the former won over, and I’m happy to share a few developments that occurred during this time.
When the pandemic first hit, I knew if I didn’t stay active playing piano I would go insane, so I just started practicing for hours every morning. I needed a new challenge to distract myself from the recording sessions, gigs, and tours that had recently gotten demolished, so I started practicing classical music. I earned numerous pieces, but the highlights for me were learning The Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D-minor by Johann Sebastian Bach and Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109 by Ludwig van Beethoven. I always wanted to tackle the Beethoven sonata but never had enough time, so learning all three movements felt incredibly rewarding.
Thereafter, I returned to improvised music by releasing a few albums in 2020 with material that I had recorded previously. Many of these albums were with my long-time collaborator Ben Cohen, and I chronicled others during various pre-pandemic travels. Here are links to the recordings:
In the Fall of 2020, studios began to open up again, and I recorded three albums:
I also appear on a trio record with Erica Dicker and Deric Dickens which is yet to be released.
In 2021 these recordings were also released:
Then in 2021, I finally decided it was time to record some of my own projects. I created a graphic score, Precepts for Piano and Strings, in Fall 2020, and in March 2021 I booked a session to record it. The entire process was a turning point for me as I had never recorded one of my graphic scores in the studio. I was happy with the result, and I decided to put it out. Infrequent Seams was interested in the music, and I’m grateful they opted to release it.
Last year was also auspicious because I tracked my first solo piano album in a recording studio. I scheduled this project for 2020, but the pandemic forced us into quarantine, and I could not record it. I rescheduled the session for May 2021. After over a year of anticipation, the recording session carried a peculiar and wild yet focused energy. The album revolves around specific preparations for the piano and how they inform the morphology of the improvisation. Through daily practice, these preparations became crystallized, essentially transforming the music into pieces with a specific framework. There was no notated music during the recording session, but I was effectively performing compositions that I had rehearsed due to the scripted nature of the preparations. The result is four distinct pieces utilizing different preparations and three interludes (all using the same preparation) that tie the album together. I’m ecstatic to release this, and I’m biding my time until it drops in December of this year.
Finally, in 2021 I was fortunate to attend two artist residencies, one at Casa Wabi in Mexico and one at The Cannery in South Penobscot in Maine, with my dear friend Drew Wesely. Another project that I’m very excited about is a quartet with Cecilia Lopez, Michael Foster, and Sean Ali. We recorded in May 2021, and our album will be coming out June 3 on Tripticks Tapes.
Throughout this pandemic period, the group MAW (with Jessica Ackerley and Frank Meadows) has been a central pillar of collaboration and camaraderie. We recorded before Jessica left for Hawai’i, and we have continued to collaborate long-distance, including releasing an EP and full album (both listed previously) and playing shows on the East Coast in October 2021. We are shaping plans for many ongoing projects, and I can’t wait to see where they take us; this group and these two musicians are very special to me.
Plans for the future include more solo piano projects, and I’m currently working on another composition/graphic score for piano and string instruments. Eventually, I’d like to begin brainstorming a large ensemble project, but we’ll have to see if I have the gall to carry that idea to fruition.
This pandemic period has been very productive in many ways, and I’m thrilled at the opportunity to release so much music with musicians with whom I wholeheartedly enjoy collaborating. However, the challenges are still there: I miss performing, I miss being active, I miss playing with people all the time. Currently, musical activity is intermittent, and performing feels very foreign when afforded an opportunity. I wish I was busy and constantly involved in musical activities, and I hope that someday soon, that will be a reality again. However, it’s difficult because there are so few venues with pianos in New York, and it seems like that number has been cut further by the pandemic. For now, I’m content to share the recordings that I’m fortunate enough to release. Thanks for reading, thanks for listening, and thanks for the invitation to contribute to Jazz Right Now!
Cover Photo Credit: Rafael Arriaga Zazueta