What's New?
The PoD Roundtable
moderated by Bill Shoemaker


Shoemaker: The jazz piano tradition is vast and unwieldy. Understandably, swaths of it are not going to inspire an artist, while other aspects can fuel a pianist for a lifetime. Knowing why a pianist doesn’t play, say, rags or fusion is just as important to understanding why he or she chooses what they do play. What don’t you play, and why?

Lerner: You know that's a hard question. It is much easier to say what I'm drawn to that what I'm not! Also do you mean "perform" or "play"? My first thought is that I don't play music that I don't feel a strong connection to – either lyrics of a tune or the music itself.

Having said that I'm not really a "straight ahead" player-in that I haven't chosen to focus on straight-ahead – which is an entire lifetime and I think that has to be your passion. That is not to say that I don't have occasion to perform it or that I don't learn from it. And no I don't play fusion so much-I was never crazy about the rock/jazz combo except for maybe Weather Report or Mahavishnu. Dixieland is also not my favorite!

There's a lot of music I don't play because I don't have the time, but if it's good music I certainly listen to it.

Crothers: I never bring sheet music up on the bandstand. I feel that if the music is important enough to me to perform, it’s important enough to memorize and internalize, present it by ear rather than by reading. Part of the reason I feel this way is because I feel that the improvising is better, coming entirely from the intuitive mind instead of partly from the mind that reads and thinks. Another reason I feel this way is that I feel that sheet music comes between the musician and the audience. I want immediate and personal contact with the audience when I’m performing.

I don’t play Latin music, or music with a Latin rhythm. It took me awhile to figure out why. I realized what it was about when I lived near a spot where Latin musicians had sessions--all night in a stairwell in a schoolyard, one complex rhythm straight through the night, no breaks. They live it; it isn’t a style for them.

Although I have recorded with a rock guitarist, Bud Tristano (Primal Elegance on New Artists, a duet), I don’t play rock. Bud and I approached the session as improvisers. There were no stylistic considerations. It worked, much better than “fusion,” I feel.

I could say, in general, I avoid stylistic approaches in favor of pure intuitive improvisation.

Karayorgis: I wish I could simply answer "I don't play ragtime or fusion" but the issue seems much more complicated than that. (There probably is a good way to play both.) I also completely agree with you that what one doesn't play is just as important as what one plays, and sometimes it takes a great deal of restraint to not go in obvious directions.

I like to think of the music I aspire to play, as stemming from a long tradition where style was not as important a consideration as the need to find and express one's own voice at the fringes of stylistic borders (I'm thinking of Monk or Tristano within Bebop). I know this sounds kind of trite, but it is still an idea that gets cited often but not followed widely.

I am attracted to things that seem original and vital to me. That can sometimes transcend styles, even jazz styles. What I avoid playing is not so much particular genres but particular gestures and pretenses (some styles tend to have more of those than others). In any style, there needs to be a balance between direct, unpretentious expression and a clearly defined aesthetic and context, a reason for the music to exist.

Shoemaker: In what ways has your music changed over the past ten years, and where would you like to take it in the next ten?

Lerner: As I get older and I find that I experience my life more deeply and I know my music changes to reflect that. I feel things more intensely but with less angst, with more appreciation and thankfulness for the richness of experience, in deepening connection with others and in the realization that life is finite. I find I can hear myself better and I am focusing on refining my sound technically, in order to develop more in terms of who I already am. For me that partially involves a deepening technique inside the piano, a more open approach to composition and a more focused and expressive improvisational voice.

Over the past ten years I have struggled to find that voice from several musical passions – free jazz, creative improv, Jewish folk music – and that has been a difficult but fruitful journey. In the next ten years I hope to continue to grow in terms of writing, collaboration, and solo work. I hope to make more musical connections with like-minded souls and to take more musical chances. I strive to have more control in terms of the depth: Clarity of expression and intention behind each note, to have a heart connection with those who listen to my work.

Crothers: During the last ten years my most important musical expansion has been a deeper perception of the nature of melody. During the next ten years, I hope to be part of a community of musicians in New York City who will be able to live in buildings with soundproof live-work units – with affordable rents – and with in-house performing spaces. My dream is to be able to participate in an improvising musical culture, with musician-run performance rooms in all the boroughs – many of them – some large, for festivals, some small, for more personal performances and at least one 24/7 jam session room. I feel that if this happens we will be in a jazz renaissance – an explosion of creative improvised music. There is so much exciting music going on, but too little of it reaches a public audience. We musicians should be performing all the time – the music that we love and want, our very best music, not some compromised solution to getting the gig. I am convinced that there is an audience for this. We do have two rooms now – C.I.M. and The Stone. The success of these rooms demonstrates that “now’s the time” – as Bird said. To participate in this jazz renaissance, musicians must be able to continue to live in this city. I am currently the Chairman of the Housing Committee of Rise Up. I am working with many individuals right now to gather information and develop a strategy for accomplishing this dream.

Karayorgis: It is only natural that with the passing of time most things in life become clearer, and in that respect, I feel that my musical understanding has also changed. Many of the technical aspects that used to concern me have now taken second place to other, more musical, considerations. This has allowed me to open-up my approach to harmony and rhythm in ways that were not possible before. I also have seen big changes in the way I write music, both in content as well as in compositional process. In this area too, it seems the larger picture has become more important.

I hope that in coming years I will be able to dig deeper into the core elements of my music and to be able to communicate my ideas with greater clarity but with the same intensity as now. In other words, I hope to gain a little musical wisdom!

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