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  • Writer's pictureIlona Oltuski

Pianist Matt Herskovitz – Jazz Icon rooted deeply in the “classical canon”

Great performance flair and exquisite pianistic technique have led pianist Matt Herskovitz on a genre-bending musical exploration, incorporating classical idioms with jazz- and world-music. Thanks to his “rare passion, ...precise sense of nuance..power, artistry and chops…”(Le Devoir/ Downbeat), he has carved out his individual voice in his free style improvisations, arranging others and his own compositions. His prolific recording catalogue includes works as different as Glazunov’s 2nd Piano Concerto, released on the Chandos label, to the pianist’s “Solo-Album of the Year (Le Devoir)”: Matt Herskovitz Upstairs. A captivating array of arrangements of works by Gershwin to Schumann to Dave Brubeck, it includes originals based on the classical canon by Herskovitz, like his Bach à la Jazz, his own arrangement on Bach’s Prelude in C Minor, previously released on the Grammy-nominated EMI soundtrack for The Triplets of Belleville.

His collaborations with The Knights, the Brooklyn based eclectic Symphony Orchestra, which premiered his 2012 Concerto Grosso in Central Park’s Naumburg Orchestral Concert Series, ravishing Canadian Violinist Lara St. John, Emmy-nominated Russian/American violinist Philippe Quint, as well as with his own jazz trio, cover Herskovitz’s talent in all of its skilled facets at the piano and grand realm of musical imagination.

So much imagination in fact manifested itself in the Juilliard and Curtis Institute of Music’s graduate’s playing, that there was confusion with his initial placing within the concertizing business. “Apparently presenters just couldn't wrap their heads around a guy who was equally proficient in two musical disciplines; if you played jazz, you couldn't possibly be a 'real' classical pianist!” he says.

“However, I never really left classical entirely, so I worked it back in with my jazz arrangements of classical pieces. In the last four years I started getting more ambitious with this, arranging very difficult Chopin and Prokofiev Etudes, Schumann Toccata, and virtuosic Bach pieces, playing every note of the original versions while incorporating jazz and improvisation, which includes free improvisation as well as improvising (or 'blowing', in jazz jargon) over the chord changes of the music. As nobody else in the world is really doing this, at least not in the way I'm doing it, I decided that this was the way to go.”

For GetClassical’s series at Zinc Bar, Herskovitz will stick to some masterpieces of the “strict, classical canon” and let the audience follow his astonishing personal take on them.

“When I play Chopin’s Berceuse, for example, which already sounds like a big, beautiful improvisation on its haunting ostinato, thinking of it like this gives it another dimension; the wonder of it unfolding, into not knowing what’s coming up next,” he explains.

On Mai 14th, Matt Herskowitz will perform a planned program on the GetClassical Series @ZincBar

Program Zinc Bar:

J.S. Bach, arr. Matt Herskowitz: Prelude in C minor, WTC book 1: “Bach à la Jazz”

I accidentally made this arrangement while recording the prelude in the style of Glenn Gould for the film The Triplets of Belleville. While I was waiting in the studio after having done a take, I started playing it as a jazz waltz, just for fun. The producer looked up at me and said, “Hey, that sounds pretty cool. Wanna do a take?” I did, and he ended up using in the film, as well as on the soundtrack CD. It thus became known as Bach à la Jazz.

Dave Brubeck: Dziekuje

Dave’s hommage to Frédéric Chopin, to whom all pianists, he said, no matter what style they play, owe a great debt. I couldn't agree more.

F. Chopin, arr. M. Herskowitz:

Etude op. 10 no. 1 in C

Etude op. 10 no. 3 in E

Etude op. 25 no. 6 in G# minor

Etude op. 10 no. 2 in A minor

These arrangements are in different jazz styles: Op. 10 no. 1, sometimes known as The Waterfall, becomes The Boogie-Woogie ; op. 10 no. 2, originally nicknamed The Chromatic, becomes El Montuno! ; Op. 10 no. 3, known as La Tristesse, morphs into a jazz ballad, then into a free improvisation before returning to the original piece. Op. 25 no. 6, known as the Thirds Etude, becomes a tango. All my arrangements are integrated into the original pieces, so the original etudes remain intact, just ‘enhanced' :).

Matt Herskowitz: Nagilara

I composed this piece for violinist Lara St. John, with whom I performed it on the concert, for our upcoming album of original compositions and arrangements based on eastern European folk melodies. My piece is based on the famous Jewish folk song, Hava Nagila.

Matt Herskowitz: Bella’s Lament

This piece is from a musical theatre production, for which I was the composer, called Bella: The Colour of Love. The musical is about the lives of Bella Chagall and her famous artist husband, Marc, as told by Bella. This song closes the play, with Bella reminiscing about her life with Marc as she’s dying.

R. Schumann, arr. M. Herskowitz: Träumerei

My jazz interpretation of Schumann’s timeless classic from Kinderscenen.

G. Gershwin, arr. M. Herskowitz: I’ve Got Rhythm

My arrangement of Gershwin’s seminal song, arranged in odd meters with an original intro, middle section and coda.



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