Interview with Patrick Zimmerli

The Patrick Zimmerli Quartet with John Hollenbeck, Chris Tordini and me performs at LPR on Saturday September 10 and at Ars Nova Workshop in Philadelphia Sunday September 11. The repertoire is an hour-long Zimmerli suite called Clockworksa commission from Chamber Music America’s 2015 New Jazz Works Program. Clockworks is a kind of musical response to Shores Against Silence, a CD due out in November from Songlines Recordings, which is the first-time release of some of Zimmerli’s earliest pieces for jazz quartet, with Kevin Hays, Larry Grenadier, and Tom Rainey. The CD will finally make his award-winning piece The Paw and others available to the public.

When I came to NYC in the fall of 1991, the first great musician that I got to spend serious time with was Patrick Zimmerli. After being impressed by his tenor playing with Jeff Williams, I was even more struck by the profound originality and difficulty of Pat’s own compositions.

Pat went on to become one of my most important mentors and teachers when I was in my early twenties. I never really practiced that much before Pat: I was talented and inquisitive but goofed off most of the time. Pat was the one to teach me how to really work, perhaps most especially when we learned Milton Babbitt’s Whirled Series together. Several important career milestones like becoming music director for the Mark Morris Dance Group or recording The Rite of Spring with The Bad Plus just wouldn’t have been possible for me without going through the Patrick Zimmerli academy first. I will always owe Pat a great debt.

Ethan Iverson: Where are you from?

Patrick Zimmerli:  I was born in Westchester: Mount Vernon, New York. In high school I moved to West Hartford, Connecticut. West Hartford is well-known in jazz-educational circles as the home of Hall High School, where there’s been a nationally recognized jazz program for maybe 50 years. Brad Mehldau, Joel Frahm, and many others came up through that program. Trombonist Pete McGuinness was one of the first from the school to become a professional musician. Pete is also a great arranger and singer.

When I was the first chair tenor saxophonist we would enter competitions, and my junior year I won the Downbeat “best young soloist” award. My greatest jazz moment! Actually I won it as a senior also, and I really cleaned up that year by winning best soloist in the pop/rock category as well.

Around that time, through a “National Young Arts Award,” I went to Miami where I met Kevin Hays, drummer Justin Page, and other gifted young players of my generation.

EI:  Who were you listening to as a saxophone player?

PZ:  Well in my early adolescence I was a rock guy, so my entrance to jazz was through fusion, groups like Spyro Gyra. But quickly I was taken in hand by Dave Santoro, a great local bassist, who introduced me to Sonny and Bird, Coltrane, and Joe Henderson. I got deep into all those guys, transcribing and listening.

Actually, thanks to the Omnibook, I was playing Bird solos before I really heard them, which I guess is a common phenomenon these days.

EI:  Yeah, I did the same thing.

PZ:  I remember there was one moment, playing out of the Omnibook, where I realized the relationship between the lines I was playing and the underlying harmony.  All of a sudden I understood how it all kind of worked.

But I was really into Coltrane too, and then the generation after, like Brecker.

EI:  Mehldau told me that in high school, you said the “Three B’s” weren’t “Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms,” but “Bach, Beethoven, and Brecker.”

PZ:  I thought I had worked Bartók in there too at one point, but yeah, I was into Brecker! But as a testament to the fact that tastes evolve, I was into Pete Christlieb as well. He was a West Coast player who I was introduced to through various high school big band charts. In subsequent years his influence on my playing would wane.

I also loved Bergonzi, with whom I studied for a summer when I was 17. I was really into “Giant Steps” and all that stuff.

I assiduously transcribed Brecker, Coltrane, Henderson, and others. I tried to play just like them. Eventually I got into Wayne as well.

Dave Santoro would put together groups at the Hillside, a little club in Waterbury, Connecticut,  and we’d play there frequently. He’d get really cool drummers like John Riley or Adam Nussbaum. Kevin would play piano, and we’d play Wayne and Herbie and Joe tunes and lots of standards. Bassist Nat Reeves was also in the area, and with this drummer Larry DiNatale, who was very good but a bit mad, we’d play places like the 880 Club in Hartford.

EI:  Out of high school, though, you went to Columbia and became a composer. When did you get into classical music?

PZ:  There was always classical music around my house. Indeed, my brother was a classical piano prodigy. He’s three years older, so by the time I was sentient he was playing the Well-Tempered Clavier and Beethoven Sonatas. In a way my brother was my lodestar, the person I took greatest inspiration from. He was a very facile musician, he had perfect pitch. To this day he can play Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, and Brahms for hours, it’s all in his fingers.

Not only that, he had a real understanding of the music theoretically. One summer we went through the 32 Beethoven sonatas together. He’d play through each one and then we’d analyze them, discuss form, thematic content and usage, harmony, rhythm, and so forth.

But then there were territorial issues. My brother was the pianist, so I wasn’t allowed to play piano. I think I would have been a pianist otherwise! To be different than my sibling, I got into woodwinds, and then I discovered I had a capacity for improvising that my brother totally didn’t.

I was reintroduced to classical music when a friend gave me a tape of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra while I was senior in high school. I loved that piece! I loved it so much. I listened to it over and over in the car.

I was lucky to go to Columbia where there were actual composers and their acolytes, and they started turning me on to really fancy contemporary music.

EI:  Composers like Jacques Monod?

PZ:  Yes! Although I started with Dave Pannett, who was very brilliant and is sadly not in music anymore, the most famous person who I had a lot of contact with was Jacques Monod. Monod was brought up in the French tradition and was an unbelievable musician trained in the French school. He’d done a lot of premieres of Milton Babbitt and even American premieres of Webern, people like that. Monod was an amazing, amazing musician and a complete lunatic, smoking endless cigarettes while wearing a suit and sandals in counterpoint class. He gave me a really good grounding in species counterpoint and a serious interest in Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School.

EI:  The recording of Monod playing Webern’s Variations from the 50’s is now up on YouTube. (I looked for this for a long time, the LP is extremely scarce.)

PZ:  Monod was a very serious musician. He was very principled, and would ask for unreasonable amounts of rehearsals when engaged to perform contemporary pieces. When he got what he asked for (over 100 rehearsals for a Pierrot Lunaire, for example!) the results were absolutely stunning. But when his demands weren’t met, he would simply walk away from the gig.

He was a contemporary of Boulez, they were rivals at the Conservatoire. But Boulez was much more worldly and adaptable, which allowed Boulez to soar to global fame in a way Monod never could.

Jacques is still alive, back in France, and currently writing some very interesting music.

Other people I worked with included Walter Winslow, Joel Feigin, and David Rakowski. On clarinet I studied with Allen Blustine, or “The Swami” as we called him. He was part of this amazing new music band Speculum Musicae. They were great. They’d do the hardest contemporary music imaginable and just nail it.

EI:  Did Monod or anyone else teach twelve-tone music?

PZ: No, no one taught twelve-tone music. You did your own independent study if you became interested in this or that composer. At the time there was no set theory being taught (that has since changed).

I was extremely motivated to learn about this music once I encountered it. I spent a lot of time at the library reading articles and books about it, and listening and studying scores.

EI: Of course, this is the generation after Schoenberg you are talking about.

PZ: Yes, although I was also very interested in Schoenberg himself. That guy was really brilliant. But, indeed, I got really into Milton Babbitt and Elliott Carter. I wanted to understand their music. To me, it was the most complicated music out there, and that was what I was looking for. From the European side, I was also interested in Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

EI: For fun, name a favorite piece from all four of those pillars of modernism.

PZ: Absolutely! It’s easy!

…Well, with Babbitt it is tough, because I know and love so much of it. There are levels of nerdiness within Babbitt love, so I’m tempted to choose something really nerdy.

I guess I can’t pick just one, because there are too many I could talk about at great length. I love Groupwise, a chamber piece for flute/piccolo plus Piano Quartet that’s got some incredibly tasty flute and piccolo writing. There’s Arie da Capo,  I wore out the proverbial grooves on the Harvey Sollberger/Group for Contemporary Music recording (featuring my man the Swami on clarinet) of that one. Then of course there’s the more straight-ahead pieces, Philomel, Vision and Prayer, and other works of electronic music. The electronic stuff is amazing! Ensembles for Synthesizer: you can’t go wrong. I got way into the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, a forbidding 26-minute work of which I had made a copy of a study score Peters had sent me. (Not sure if that was entirely legal. I also bootlegged the unrecorded 2nd Concerto from the Premiere at Carnegie with Levine and Robert Taub.)
I tried to play Semi-Simple Variations at the piano. Who wouldn’t?

EI: Indeed.

PZ: For Carter, the piece that was unquestionably the most influential to me at the time was the Piano Concerto, another forbidding concerto with lots of crazy polyrhythms. It was Carter’s rhythmic concept that I delved into the deepest. I took a lot from him.

Boulez: Le Marteau sans Maître, The Hammer Without a Master, was most important for me, but I checked out tons of other Boulez. From Stockhausen I liked Kontrapunkt, a chamber piece without electronics. I loved the Stockhausen piano music; and Boulez’s Third Piano Sonata was also an important influence on me.

I guess my knowledge was deep but very focused. I wasn’t a new music specialist who knew what all the modern composers were up to. Ligeti wasn’t that important to me; I liked the Chamber Concerto but I didn’t find him as interesting as most people did.

EI:  Well, Ligeti is less rigorous, or at least occasionally theatrical.

PZ:  Right! I was looking for the composers that really had specific technical things to offer.

EI:  Every note in a Babbitt or Boulez score is backed up by theory.

PZ:  I guess so…But really I was trying to mine that music for ideas I could use. Noise music or microtonality weren’t things that resonated because I was having enough trouble just trying to control the twelve tempered tones!

EI:  I once described your music from this period as jazz + Milton Babbitt harmony and Elliott Carter rhythm. Is that fair?

PZ:  I think it is completely fair!

My early ‘90s music was sometimes treated as this completely original thing, but it totally comes from certain references. I certainly don’t think of myself as a particularly original composer.

As you say, I took some polyrhythmic concepts from Carter and repurposed harmonic techniques from Babbitt in a more tonal way and put them in a jazz context.

EI:  How did that actually happen, though, getting it into jazz?

PZ:  Well I was working a lot with Kevin Hays, we were practicing almost daily together at that time. I remember bringing in some charts that had Allan Forte atonal analysis numbers instead of changes. Instead of C major seven, Am7, Db or whatever, it would be: 0 1 4 7, 0 1 2 3, 0 2 5 8. I would try to get Kevin to indulge me and try to improvise based on groups of related interval and interval qualities instead of chords with fixed tonal centers.

That was really difficult to make that transition.

EI:  Jeez, I wonder why!

PZ:  [laughs] Well, you need to practice that like anything else. But honestly I don’t think it really got off the ground, no one really got it, although there was some cool music from then. This was the late 80s, when I was still in college. Along with Kevin, the other musicians would have been either Larry Grenadier or Scott Colley on bass, and Bill Stewart or Jeff Williams on drums. I was in Jeff’s band at that time.

EI:  Yes, the first time I saw you play was on a Jeff Williams gig with Kevin, Tim Reis, and Doug Weiss at Mondo Perso in the fall of ’91.

I never saw charts of yours with numbers instead of chords, though.

PZ:  No, by the early 90s my pieces were more extravagant and integrated.  The band with Kevin, Larry, and Tom Rainey played the Village Gate around that time.

EI:  I was there! I was also at the recording session of Shores Against Silence.

PZ:  Ironically, it will be almost 25 years to the day that this new/old quartet with you, Chris Tordini, and John Hollenbeck will play at LPR, which as you know is the basement of the old Village Gate.

The place I would hang and play at the most though was the club called Augie’s, which is now called Smoke and has a totally different vibe.

At Augie’s there were weekly gigs and jam sessions. That’s where I met Ben Monder. Leon Parker was around…Kevin played there frequently, always on Rhodes, as there was no piano at that time. Larry Goldings, Pete Bernstein, Bill Stewart, Scott Colley…I have a tape of Kevin, Scott, Bill and myself trying to play “Conceptualysis” in 1990.

EI:  “Conceptualysis” is the piece based of a phrase of Boulez’s Le Marteau sans Maître.

PZ:  Exactly. Finally the second recording we did, in 1992, is coming out.

EI:  25 years later! I still love this record. “Three Dreams of Repose” is definitely a favorite composition of mine.

PZ:  “Shores Against Silence” is a quote from John Barth, who was a writer I was really into at that time.

EI:  Because of you I read The End of the Road…also Thomas Pynchon’s V thanks to your recommendation. Those were my “intellectual years,” Pat! I even got the score of the Carter Piano Concerto.

The densest track on Shores Against Silence is probably “The Paw,” which ended up winning the first Thelonious Monk Composers Competition in 1993.

Paw 1

Paw 2

“The Paw” (first two pages)

PZ:  I was chosen to be a finalist in the 1991 Monk saxophone competition, which Josh Redman won. Chris Potter was there too…there were a lot of guys there.

The next year the Monk Institute called me and asked me to submit for the composition thing. I sent in “Conceptualysis” and “The Paw,” and they chose “The Paw” as one of three finalist pieces.

The idea was that a house band would play each of the finalist compositions and the winner would be selected from that, but of course in the case of “The Paw” there was no way a house band was going to read the piece.

EI:  No.

PZ:  So I got them to agree to bring my band down to play my piece specifically. We all went down to D.C. in a van. That was a memorable occasion, playing “The Paw” in front of Herbie Hancock, Dave Brubeck, and others in a basement room at the Kennedy Center. Afterwards we started to pack up, and Herbie stopped us. “Wait a minute! Can I ask you some questions?”

So I went up and went through the score with Herbie a little bit. The other two pieces were good, but I think we won because I’d brought the whole band, we’d obviously put in a lot of time, and we were coming from a really unexpected place.

We played the big concert that night, but it was hard. I hadn’t really exposed myself to a wider public before. Some people thought we were playing free, whereas of course it was very specific, with chords, harmonies and rhythms governing the improvisation.

EI:  In a way it isn’t even that much music: the meat of it is four bars in canon under a pretty tune. But if you don’t know how to listen to it I suppose it might just sound “out.”

PZ:  Looking back, 25 years later, I have to say that it is really compositionally quite strong. It is well-constructed, and very fresh. What held us back was dealing with the join between the very unique style of “The Paw” and the way four excellent jazz musicians would traditionally improvise. The closest reference seemed to be free music, so we kind of improvised that way, which ultimately wasn’t the right approach. Also, I’ve learned a lot more about how to teach (and learn myself) hard music. I know some tricks now that could have really helped us then.

EI:  Musically the next group, the Patrick Zimmerli Ensemble with Ben Monder, Stomu Takeishi and Satoshi Takeishi, seemed actually closer to a true blend of all the influences. At the least, it sounded less like “jazz,” and more simply like “new music.”

PZ:  Yes, absolutely right. Some of it had to do with my personal relationship with jazz and the jazz musicians. This was another non-strength for me.

The sociological aspect was relevant: I grew up as a white kid, I was super nerdy and cared about being smart. The world of jazz at that time was still dominated by older black guys who had had crazy life experiences that I didn’t really know anything about. I got a vibe from some gatekeepers that this was turf on which I shouldn’t be staking any claim. So I really questioned what my place was within that continuum. That questioning led me to wanting to separate myself from jazz.

I wanted to find a vocabulary that was…well, less “imperialistic” if you want? You can analyze and say I don’t have the right to use swing and blues. At any rate I didn’t feel warmly accepted by the jazz community.

This was all then, by the way. I’ve learned a lot more context since, and would understand better why someone would speak or act in a certain way. Indeed jazz, or maybe I should say the tradition of intellectual black music that arose particularly in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s, is still nowhere near part of the mainstream culture, nowhere near widely understood or even known about, nowhere near culturally integrated. You have Kind of Blue, that tip of a vast iceberg, playing at pricey grocery stores, but people like Sonny Stitt, Clifford Brown, Kenny Dorham? Outside of academic circles these guys are largely forgotten. There’s maybe an analogy there between that music and what has happened to certain black communities in this country.

For whatever reason I was unable to navigate these waters at that time.

Plus, I was into new music anyway, and wanted to make my world more hermetic, and really find my own sound. Thus guitar, electric bass, and Satoshi on percussion instead of drum set.

Those compositions are much, much more complicated than the material for the 1992 band. For example, “Hemispheres” is– while still fundamentally A-B-A!– very extended, very formalist in its structure, and very indebted to Milton Babbitt for its basic sound.

RingsOpeningDuo

“Rings” from Explosion (opening)

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“Don’t Stop” from Explosion (opening)

EI: How did you get Gerhard Richter to do the cover art for Explosion?

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PZ:  I was really interested in visual art in college, where I acquired a strong taste for the American Abstractionists, people like Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock. Gerhard Richter was a very interesting painter who was (among other things) carrying on the Abstract tradition in a very energetic, dynamic way. In the early 90s, Richter was well-known but he hadn’t yet reached the heights of art-world superstardom that he would later attain. So I sent a request to his gallery, Marian Goodman, and they were like, “Mr. Richter would like to hear a tape of the music.” So I sent a cassette, and he said yes. I never did meet him, though.

EI:  Did you a pay a fee?

PZ:  No fee!

EI:  Amazing!

PZ:  Yeah, in retrospect the cover of Explosion was one of the many cool things about the record.

EI:  Do you feel that the two records Explosion and Expansion are a good representation of that ensemble?

PZ: We rehearsed a lot. I mean, really a lot. We really wanted to play those hard rhythms honestly and well. I think those rhythms are pretty much there on the records.

But the other question is, “How much are the musicians in tune vibrationally with the aesthetic?”

EI: Ah. The “jazz” problem again.

PZ: Yes. This music asks players to get outside of what they’ve learned and deal with the material at hand. Ben Monder is a great, great friend, and really kind of an older brother to me, but when he saw chord changes he tended to revert to playing like a jazz guitarist.

And I too was still struggling with the Coltrane influence. I think there’s too much of that on Explosion. So I think we almost got to that music, which really is apart from any other music, but not quite.

The standards are pretty nice. “Seven Steps to Heaven” is insane. That was monstrously complicated. I don’t have the score anymore and I can no longer figure out what we were doing! I know that the form itself was expanding and contracting each chorus according to a specific pattern.

On Expansion I was in transition on the saxophone, trying to get rid of the Coltrane influence and approach it more like a classical saxophonist. There were lots of hard intervals. I was trying to improvise with intervals as well, and was trying to find a way to make all that easier.

ElementsSuiteFire

“Fire” from Expansion (opening)

EI: As I recall you were studying with Alexander Berne at that time.

PZ: Yes. I was trying to change from this metal mouthpiece and post-Brecker approach to something else. Alex was a friend of mine who had studied with John Purcell, who had a systematic, ground-up way of approaching technique that I found interesting. It was supposed to make all the registers more even and give me access to all the notes at once.

When I listen back now, I think that I was closer to getting to the sound and technique I was looking for than I had originally thought, and so I’ve gone back to treating my saxophone playing more simply like a jazz musician.

EI: The next Zimmerli group was one I was in with Reid Anderson and John Hollenbeck. Twelve Sacred Dances.

Twelve SD

“Introit  II” from Twelve Sacred Dances (excerpt)

I know I recommended Reid, he was new in town. How did you know John?

PZ:  Actually we went back to high school days as well, where we played in the McDonalds All-American High School Jazz Band.  We played the Jerry Lewis Telethon together!

EI:  Was Twelve Sacred Dances the last Babbitt/Carter influenced piece before you had a big change in composing style?

PZ:  Hmmm. I’m not sure. The transition was fairly gradual. But the real pivotal moment was a ’95 gig at the Guggenheim museum with Ben and the rest of the Ensemble. We had eight nights in the course of a month. We played this ridiculously hard music. “Sand” from the second CD is just unbelievably hard.

SandEndofHeadwAnnotations

“Sand” from Expansion (excerpt)

We’d rehearse during the week and play on the weekend.

It seemed really exciting. The exhibition surrounding us was called, “Abstraction in the 20th Century.” So I thought, “Great! People will see the art, hear this music, it will all make sense, my music will find its place.”

But in reality the Guggenheim didn’t like it, they sort of wanted simpler stuff. We got a lot of requests to play jazz standards, more “inside,” etc.

It really caused me to consider how different abstraction is in visual art versus music.

EI:  Milton Babbitt is just too hard for most people, especially now that he isn’t around to represent for it personally.

PZ:  Well it’s a question of context, and experience. If you have a very very high level of experience with a certain stream of new music and jazz (and maybe, in his case, a particular disposition as well) Babbitt’s music can just roll into your ears like a monologue by an interesting and humorous old friend– you’re laughing, you’re crying, you’re nodding along to the truths. But most people just have none of this equipment, and for them there’s no entry point. It still lives on — there was a concert recently that I was sad to miss — but it’s so rarefied that essentially twenty or thirty people have the wherewithal to appreciate it.

And, I think that music that is written for twenty to thirty people should exist!

EI:  Absolutely!

PZ:  I love music written for thirty people. By the way, I am one of those thirty people.

However, as an artist, as someone who wants to impart a message, I felt my message just wasn’t being understood. Even good musicians didn’t get my music. At some point, I needed to stop pointing my finger at everybody else and say, “You’re an idiot” and look to my own responsibilities as an artist. If you are a normal, intellectually interested person, you should be able to understand what I am doing. To do that, you have to go more toward shared references.

Instead of copping Babbitt and Carter, I started copping Brahms and Bach. All of a sudden, people got it. I started using sonata forms, and I got a great reaction from classical musicians.

However, the transition wasn’t that linear. In fact, I should mention the Piano Concerto

As part of my DMA requirement at Columbia, I had to write an extended piece, which ended up being this work for piano, string orchestra, and percussion. The piece was much less hard than the Ensemble music or Twelve Sacred Dances. It was all sixteenth notes, just in rapid changes of mixed meter.

I was looking for orchestras who might play the piece and came across this incredible young orchestra that had an amazing sound, called Metamorphosen (after the Strauss piece). The very next day I was dragged to a party that I totally didn’t want to go to, and who should I meet there but Scott Yoo, the conductor of the orchestra! We hit it off immediately, and when I sent him the score he agreed to program the piece on the spot.

Then, as the actual performance approached, I got a call from Scott, who wanted me to completely change the notation of a lot of the rhythms. I realized it was still way too complicated for them. Even with added rehearsals, an orchestra was not equipped to play 21/16 going into 7/8 going into 2/4 or whatever.

PianoConcertoTooHardforStrings!

Original first movement for Concerto No. 1 for Piano, Jazz Percussion and String Orchestra (excerpt)

I had also invented this cool new notation for five 16ths, or 5 8ths, do you remember that?

PZ'sNotationof5s

EI:  Scott told me that was one way he realized that you were a significant composer, that you had invented a new notation, although he also said there was no way an orchestra would put up with this.

PZ:  Exactly. I realized during that phone call my expectations were still hopelessly unrealistic. So I wrote a whole new first movement. Around the same time I was called to grand jury duty, where I had to sit there every day for a month. During that time I got in the habit of waking up really early to work. That’s when I wrote the new movement, and that movement was the first in the simplified style. It was all in 3/4, very clear and melodic, though there were still cross-rhythms.

The second movement was a passacaglia that went all over the piano in displaced octaves, and the last movement, while having some mixed meter, was not overly difficult for the orchestra. You played the premiere in Boston and we had great success with it.

EI:  I learned a lot working on that piece. I certainly could play it better now.

You and Scott went on to do much more, right?

PZ:  Absolutely. Despite both of us having, uh, issues of temperament, we managed to do ten or twelve years of work together. I was composer-in-residence for Metamorphosen, and then there were the Piano Trios, recorded for Arabesque with Scott on violin. Those trios are very different than my earlier music, they are much more readable in terms of harmony, rhythm, and form.

EI:  For those of us that knew and loved your ‘90s music, the Piano Trios came as a shock.

PZ:  Yes…I managed to completely scandalize my die-hard fans– all five of you. I disappointed five people terribly! Ethan Iverson being one of the five.

EI:  [laughs]

PZ:  No, but really, my life didn’t change. Those trios, for example, are very hard for classical musicians.

EI:  Oh, no doubt. And you’ve grown into having a career where your music is commissioned and played by high level groups in classical music.

PZ:  Yes, it’s been great, I’ve had some fabulous opportunities to write orchestral and chamber music. It’s always changing: I’m going into a little different phase right now. In addition to playing some tenor again, even the classical music I’m writing is opening up into different things.

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Piano Trio No. 1 (opening)

Some people saw music like the Piano Trios as utterly reactionary. While I am maybe sometimes a contrarian, I honestly don’t have a reactionary bone in my body. I’m just using different tools, copping different influences. I don’t think the Piano Trios are less original than the music of the Ensemble. The Piano Trios still don’t sound like any other music that’s out there.

Some classical music professionals are bothered by my use of sonata form, which they regard as eye-rollingly anachronistic and square. Sonata form is a structure that allows a kind of dialectic between different kinds of ideas, have those different ideas engage with each other, and come to a resolution or not. It’s a way of treating multiple ideas within a given piece which is very effective. In the classical world it can be seen as retrograde but for me, very simple form has always been incredibly important. My jazz forms were basic ABA forms even though I filled that container with sometimes extraordinarily elaborate harmony and rhythm. I still think a basic form is a great thing to build on.

EI:  I’ve always told everybody that you were a master of form, no matter what the content.

PZ:  To me, structure is message. If you give a speech, you want people to understand. It’s almost like rhetoric: you want people to be moved by what you communicate. That’s the motivation behind structure: you want to be convincing. Form is a way to make the best case for my message. And I don’t think my fundamental feelings about what it means to be human have changed over the years, regardless of style.

EI:  Well it seems like we still have over a decade to cover before we get to the present!

PZ:  Oh yes, so much has happened since then! I’ll just hit some highlights, there was a second piano/percussion concerto, even more monstrous, 45 minutes long! In that case I worked with a classical pianist, Sonia Rubinsky, and sort of wrote out improvisations for her, which proved a really successful formula— we just reprised an expanded version of that piece at Sala Sao Paolo in Brazil, which I conducted. I ran a concert series called Emergence which combined jazz and classical musicians and influences (a precursor to IN/TER\SECT, the series I’m currently curating at Bryant Park). I continued to work with Kevin Hays on several projects, including one with our old mutual friend and colleague Brad Mehldau, that explored the relationship between jazz and minimalism. That one featured a bunch of my compositions and arrangements, and they eventually released the CD on Brad’s label Nonesuch and toured it to big concert halls around the world.

That collaboration led to several others, notably with Joshua Redman. I got a commission to write an evening-length suite for Josh, string quartet, bass, and percussion; the piece, called Aspects of Darkness and Light, was premiered at Wigmore Hall in London and recorded for Nonesuch.

I also met my wife, who’s French— we’ve been between NYC and Paris, and I’ve managed to develop some nice relationships in France, for example with Thomas Enhco, a young French jazz pianist who commissioned me for a piece that he just recorded on his Deutsche Grammophon debut; and some amazing percussionists, including the extraordinary Bulgarian virtuoso Vassilena Serafimova and the Paris Percussion Group, who I wrote a piece for just this year that was premiered at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

Now this recent project, Clockworks, where I work with some earlier collaborators and kind of reconsider my early work, and attempt to bridge it with my later style, has been really gratifying.

EI:  I am looking forward to trying out Clockworks in September. The Zimmerli adventure continues!

PZ:  Right on!

Waltz

“Waltz of the Palindromic Polyrhythm” from  Clockworks (excerpt)

Scherzo .jpg

“Scherzo of the Palindromic Polyrhythm” from Clockworks (excerpt)

Anthem

“Anthem: Hiding Among a Crowd of Stars” from Clockworks (excerpt)

 

Patrick Zimmerli website.