The agony of having supported side by side the six-year battle of his beloved spouse of thirty years, Célia Cooke’s, illness and then having to endure her loss to cancer on March 30th of this year, pianist/composer Jed Distler looks to some old friends for solace and to his life in music.
An outgrowth of his need to heal is his recently released CD, “Meditate with the Masters”, produced during these recent hard times for the Musical Concepts label. He sees his contribution as helpful in creating a “gentle ambiance, ideal for holistic and therapeutic treatments, or for intimate dinner gatherings and solitary afternoons at home… as well as for public situations, such as waiting rooms, airport lounges, restaurants…”
The hint of the familiar in each of the fifteen tracks that Distler titles after a renowned composer –after Schumann, after Chopin, after Distler, for example – (he includes himself nonchalantly in the list of pianistic masters with a dash of good humor) provides pianistically pleasant variations, composed in a traditional style with rhythmically soothing, unfussy piano treatments. One of my favorites is his folk-like treatment of Schumann’s ‘Von fremden Ländern und Menschen’ from Kinderszenen, infusing the beautiful Schumann theme within a new and original connective musical tissue. Some of the compositions suggest his great sensibility for jazz formulations, an area Distler is known for through his published Art Tatum and Bill Evans transcriptions for solo piano. These became renowned when pianist’s Jean –Yves Thibaudet recorded for the Decca label in 1997, “Conversations with Bill Evans,” arranged and transcribed by Distler.
Distler’s new music is often performed and recorded by star performers of the new music scene. “Three Landscapes for Peter Wyer, for toy piano,” recorded by Margaret Leng Tan on Point records was featured in three film scores, and his “Loose Changes” for two pianos was recorded by Quattro Mani on Bridge recordings. Pianist Jenny Lin and ‘ETHEL’s violinist Cornelius Duffalo (see my article ) are among the many artists he has been commissioned by.
“As a composer I am mostly inspired by a commission and deadlines. I am anchored in the pianist/composer tradition, but I don’t believe in any music snobbery, I try to be open minded. All good music is equal. Jimi Hendrix, for example will never be dated, while there are pieces of so-called “serious” music that I never want to listen to! For me music is about good communication and it is also about a lifestyle that includes a good work ethic, in order to maintain great technique, which is necessary to delivery. I read somewhere that the great jazz pianist Bill Evans said how technique was being able to do musically what you want to do, without having to worry about your hands. Better still, that other extraordinary jazz pianist Oscar Peterson once defined technique as the thing that made your ideas listenable. These thoughts help me try to entertain and communicate effectively with an audience,” says Distler.
He does not volunteer elucidation about his own compositions, feeling too close to it to comment, but rather leaves that to the musicians who perform them and who will establish his oeuvre. However, he prolifically comments on others, though, making his mark by way of his often-insightful music reviews, published chiefly in Gramophone and Classicstoday.com. Distler is committed to making a difference in the world of music, engaging his many talents as lecturer, writer, promoter, presenter and pianist for various media and concert performances.
On the piano and as artistic director of ‘Composers Collaborative’, co-founded with his late wife Célia Cooke , Distler has performed and programmed other composers’ works and continues to create and to partake in music initiatives on Public Radio and in venues like the Cornelia Street Café. Last week’s ‘Serial Underground’, a new music series performed for several years at this intimate setting, brought me in personal contact with this seasoned musician’s expressive pianism for the first time. Dubbed “the subversive nightclub series” by TIME OUT NY, Distler followed a performance of a group called “Other Life Forms,” with some intimate renderings of Thelonious Monk pieces.
Reaching out to his audiences is an innate talent of Distler and he certainly does achieve what he has set out to do in exactly the way he describes it:”Communicating comes first, expressiveness follows.”
Since it is impossible to mention all the endeavors he shared with me on a long list, I am just going to point you to one of the many interesting projects taking place at the Cornelia Street Cornelia Café, the ComposersCollaborative Inc, presentation of “Mano-a- Mano” Piano Festival on August 21, 22, and 23rd as well as a promising undertaking of Thelonious Monk’s entire piano oeuvre, the resourceful pianist plans to perform right here on February 17, 2012, the 30th anniversary of Monk’s death.