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Pianist, composer, and writer Ethan Iverson was a founding member of The Bad Plus, a game-changing collective with Reid Anderson and David King.
Post–TBP, Iverson has been very busy with diverse projects. Dan Ouellette wrote a helpful profile for DownBeat in 2018, “A Dynamo at the Crossroads.”
Since 2016, Iverson has been on the jazz piano faculty at New England Conservatory. Joan Anderman covered Iverson’s NEC appointment in the Boston Globe,” A jazz pianist’s spot at the corner of history and what’s new.”
Iverson resides in Park Slope with his wife Sarah Deming.
Selected recent career highlights…
Commission: Iverson premiered the score “Pepperland” for the Mark Morris Dance Group. This hit production has had over 70 performances. Morris told Joshua Kosman in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Ethan thinks in a way that nobody else does — there’s not a lot of received wisdom there.” Mark Swed reviewed in the LA Times, Mark Morris mines the Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’ for an irresistible ‘Pepperland.” The other musicians in the Pepperland Band include Clinton Curtis, Colin Fowler, Rob Schwimmer, Sam Newsome, Jacob Garchik, and Vinnie Sperrazza.
Curation: Alongside Aaron Greenwald, Iverson co-curated a major centennial celebration of Thelonious Monk at Duke University, featuring Melissa Aldana, Ravi Coltrane, Joshua Redman, Houston Person, Chris Potter, David Williams, Victor Lewis, and many others.
Commission: Dance Heginbotham toured “Easy Win,” Iverson’s solo piano score. In 2015, Brian Seibert reviewed the New York premiere in the New York Times, “Dance Heginbotham Shows Off Its Eccentric Style at the Joyce.”
Commission: Iverson premiered Concerto to Scale with the American Composers Orchestra. The work is in three movements for piano, bass drum, and strings. Seth Colter Walls reviewed the premiere in the New York Times, “American Composers Orchestra brings Jazz to Classical, effortlessly.”
A duo album with Mark Turner on ECM, Temporary Kings, was released on ECM. The Iverson/Turner duo toured widely. Turner told Dan Ouellette in DownBeat, “Ethan is iconic. There’s no one like him. He’s a true individual. The main thing he has is his touch, and I like his comping, especially with his note choices and voicings.” In a rave review in the Wall Street Journal, Martin Johnson wrote, “[Iverson] has gone from one of jazz’s leading popularizers to one of its leading geeks.”
An interview with Kevin Sun documents a brief moment where Iverson’s quartet with Dayna Stephens, Thomas Morgan, and Eric McPherson did a few gigs.
With Miranda Cuckson, Iverson performed formal violin sonatas of Louise Talma and George Walker. Anthony Tommasini reviewed in the New York Times, “A Tiny Garage Explodes in Pianistic Madness.”
The Billy Hart quartet with Josh Redman, Ben Street and Iverson toured Europe extensively in the summer. Hart told Ouellette in the aforementioned DownBeat article, “It’s Ethan’s positive vision that he brings to everything. He has a way to make these visions materialize. He has an instinct that is extremely unique. Even in my band, he puts things into motion. He’s an arranger of the highest order, and an innovator who is on a quest.”
As part of the Hart summer tour, Iverson played an informal solo concert at the Umbria Jazz Festival. Josef Woodard wrote in his DownBeat review, “Best of all, another noontime treat spotlighted pianist Ethan Iverson—recently left to his own various creative devices after leaving the Bad Plus. He delivered a rare and riveting solo set, demonstrating a witty and mischievous virtuosity, deconstructed standards finding fresh pathways amid the realm of his solo practice. ‘Laura’ and ‘Misty,’ for example, were subjected to radical, postmodernist reinventions, while somehow respecting the sanctity of the originals.”
Curation: “Ethan Iverson in London” for the London Jazz Festival included Raising Hell with Henry Purcell, Ethan and the British Composers, and Ethan’s Last Rent Party. (Guardian review.)
Commission: “Bud Powell in the 21st Century” w. Ingrid Jensen, Dayna Stephens, Ben Street, Lewis Nash, and the Umbria Jazz Orchestra in Orvieto. This concert will eventually see CD release in 2021.
A new collective trio with Joe Sanders and Jorge Rossy toured Europe twice.
The quartet album Common Practice featuring Tom Harrell, Ben Street, and Eric McPherson was released on ECM.
Chamber music performance with composer/clarinetist Derek Bermel, including works by Bermel, Leonard Bernstein (Clarinet sonata) and Iverson.
Curation: Iverson was artistic director of the Jazz te Gast festival in Holland in collaboration with Marike van Dijk. Premiere of Iverson’s orchestral piece, “Solve for X.”
New Year’s gig featuring Marcy Harriell singing Burt Bacharach at Zinc Bar.
The pandemic closed most everything down, but there were two good pieces of socially-distanced art-making, “Tempo Guisto” for Miranda Cuckson (supported by American Composers Orchestra) and Grand Pa, with choreographer John Heginbotham, dancer Gus Solomons Jr, and video editor Maile Okamura.
Streaming concerts: The Billy Hart quartet was the first group ever to stream from the Village Vanguard, and celebrated Hart’s 80’s birthday at Dizzy’s. Iverson presented a set of original music with Ben Street and Nasheet Waits from Smalls, and a set of Count Basie and Duke Ellington duo with Thomas Morgan at Mezzrow. In his review of the latter in The New York City Jazz Record, Andrey Henkin called Iverson and Morgan “ultramodernists,” which is now the working title of a future Iverson/Morgan duo recording: The Ultramodernists.
Release of Bud Powell in the 21st Century with Ingrid Jensen, Dayna Stephens, Ben Street, Lewis Nash, and the Umbria Jazz Orchestra on Sunnyside Records. Iverson was on the cover of the March issue of DownBeat; the associated article was written by Ed Enright. Iverson says, “It’s the easiest thing in the world when you’re writing for all those instruments to make it very thick all the time. It becomes a real etude at some point. So when I talk about Bud Powell’s vocal quality—that’s what we need. We need the blues, we need vocal quality, we need simplicity. I once heard Ornette Coleman talking about his ideal orchestra: that you could hear every single person in the band while they were playing…that’s much more my world.”
Score Study video from Brian Krock, an “explainer” about the Iverson aesthetic.
Iverson has been in the critically-acclaimed Billy Hart quartet for well over a decade and occasionally performs with an elder statesman like Albert “Tootie” Heath or Ron Carter. In a DownBeat blindfold test, Ralph Peterson Jr. commented favorably on one the Heath/Iverson recordings:
For over 15 years Iverson’s website Do the Math has been a repository of musician-to-musician interviews and analysis, surely one reason Time Out New York selected Iverson as one of 25 essential New York jazz icons: “Perhaps NYC’s most thoughtful and passionate student of jazz tradition—the most admirable sort of artist-scholar.” (Shaun Brady in JazzTimes: A Decade of Do the Math.)
During his time with The Bad Plus, The New York Times called TBP “…Better than anyone at melding the sensibilities of post-60’s jazz and indie rock.” TBP performed in venues as diverse as the Village Vanguard, Carnegie Hall, and Bonnaroo; collaborated with Joshua Redman, Bill Frisell, and the Mark Morris Dance Group; and created a faithful arrangement of Igor Stravinky’s The Rite of Spring and a radical reinvention of Ornette Coleman’s Science Fiction.
Chris Richards reviewed Temporary Kings in the Washington Post. Richards also tweeted a photo of the print edition:
Links to Iverson’s writing outside DTM:
Stanley Crouch obit (NPR)
Review of Pixar’s Soul (The Nation)
Andre Guess: Jazz and Race with Wynton Marsalis and Ethan Iverson
- James Newton
- John Scofield, Steve Swallow, Adam Nussbaum
- Mary Lou Williams
- Don Cherry
- Charli Persip (RIP)
- Shirley Horn
- Harold Mabern, Larry Willis, and Richard Wyands
- Bertha Hope
- Gary Peacock (RIP)
- Jimmy Lyons
- Wynton Kelly at Left Bank
- Paul Desmond
- Old and New Dreams
- Larry Young and Woody Shaw
- Jacob Garchik and Andrew D’Angelo
- Meredith D’Ambrosio
- Eubie Blake
- McCoy Tyner as sideman
- Ron Carter in the early 80s
- Pete La Roca (as told by Steve Swallow)
- Ralph Peterson with Geri Allen
A Few More Details:
Born February 11, 1973 in Menomonie, Wisconsin – moved to New York City in 1991 and played dance classes, comedy sports, theatre pits, and in the New York Tango Trio with Raul Jaurena and Pablo Aslan – studied with Fred Hersch, then Sophia Rosoff, – became music director of Mark Morris Dance Group in 1998 – was part of late-’90s indie jazz scene along with Bill McHenry, Jeff Williams, Reid Anderson and others, mainly documented on Fresh Sound New Talent, thanks to Jorge Rossy – worked as a sideman with Kurt Rosenwinkel and Mark Turner in 2000/2001.
The Bad Plus with Anderson and Dave King formed in 2001, the Billy Hart Quartet with Turner and Ben Street formed in 2003, Do the Math debuted in 2005. His most recent piano studies have been with John Bloomfield of the Dorothy Taubman tradition.
2016 photos by Jimmy Katz: