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Kerrry Politzer

Labyrinth is the third album by jazz pianist Kerry Politzer. Of her music Kerry Politzer says "improvisation over a melody and changes, it definitely is that." To me it is some strikingly good straight ahead jazz with Brazilian and classical influences.

On her third CD "Labyrinth" Kerry plays piano and has composed all ten of the works. She is accompanied by a first rate group of musicians: Andrew Rathbun, soprano and tenor sax; Chris Higgins, bass; George Colligan, drums.

I asked Kerry when she started writing jazz music and she told me it was when she was nineteen, a student at New England Conservatory and studying under Charlie Banacos. Pianist Charlie Banacos is a composer in jazz and classical forms and an important jazz pedagogue.

I mentioned to Kerry that I knew Ran Blake who was the head of the Third Stream department at NEC and we were off and talking.

KERRY POLITZER: Originally, I was a classical pianist. In my first semester at New England Conservatory, I slowly became interested in jazz. I had intended to enter the Third Stream department in order to study both classical and jazz music, but ended up just going into the jazz department.

JAZZREVIEW: What is the impetus for going cold turkey from classical and straight into jazz.

KERRY POLITZER: In my first year at NEC, I developed tendonitis and had to briefly stop playing. During that time, I started listening to jazz and transcribing it. Jazz, which was so new to me, seemed so vibrant. The thought of playing and practicing the same piece for eight hours a day seemed less appealing to me. These days, I still play classical but only for my own enjoyment.

JAZZREVIEW: "Labyrinth" [Polisonic] is your third CD and I see that you have self produced "Yearning" [CAP records] and "Watercolor," [Polisonic]. Where can listeners get these albums?

KERRY POLITZER: They are all available through and there is information on my Website.

JAZZREVIEW: What is your web site?


JAZZREVIEW: Have you been playing with the same group of musicians on all three albums?

KERRY POLITZER: No, but I’ve known the saxophone player on Labyrinth, Andrew Rathbun, since the mid-90s. He was actually on my senior recital at NEC.

JAZZREVIEW: Are you touring in support of "Labyrinth?"

KERRY POLITZER: I have a couple of gigs lined up but I also play regularly at a hotel during the week.

JAZZREVIEW: What hotel is that?

KERRY POLITZER: It is the Hotel Giraffe [365 Park Avenue South @ 26th Street (212) 885 7119] which is in Midtown Manhattan. It’s kind of a new regular gig, so I’m going to probably wait a while before I sub it out for a tour in support of the CD.

JAZZREVIEW: When do you play?

KERRY POLITZER: Tuesday through Friday Evenings from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm.

JAZZREVIEW: Wow that’s like a full time job.


JAZZREVIEW: Are you playing your original music there?

KERRY POLITZER: No. It’s more standards and music to make the atmosphere pleasant.

JAZZREVIEW: And is this solo work?


JAZZREVIEW: Are there any other gigs?

KERRY POLITZER: On December 22nd my quartet on Labyrinth will be playing at the Hotel Kitano [66 Park Avenue @ 38th street (212) 885 7119]. We’re doing an 8 O’Clock set and a 9:45 set.

JAZZREVIEW: Now I also play piano, but possibly I am the slowest piano player in the world, when I hit 48 beats per minute I’m smoking. I use fake books and have to play the vocal line.

KERRY POLITZER: Well that’s how you learn the melody.

JAZZREVIEW: Thank you. However, listening to your music I have to say and I know this is not a jazz term but your music really rocks.

KERRY POLITZER: Thanks. My first CD "Yearning," was probably the most upbeat of the three CDs I’ve released. The second CD, "Watercolor," was a mellower outing. "Labyrinth" has some of the liveliness of the first album, but a couple of the tracks, like After The Smoke, Memories and The End? feature the more pensive mood of "Watercolor."

JAZZREVIEW: One of the things that I said when I first spoke to you was that this seemed to me to be a straight ahead album and then you mentioned the Brazilian influence. I have spoken to a lot of musicians who say that they have a Brazilian influence, so maybe I’m just incorporating that into the straight ahead. Do you feel that Straight Ahead is now Latin tinged?

KERRY POLITZER: Definitely. I think the Latin tinge has always existed, but I think that during the last ten years or so, people are really starting to learn the authentic Afro-Cuban and Brazilian rhythms and to study with musicians from the countries of origin. I studied Brazilian music with a Brazilian percussionist. He has these ensemble classes in which he teaches Brazilian rhythms from their most basic components. For me, it was an inspirational point of departure to learn some of those rhythms, because, when I got them in my head and added chords and a simple melody, I had a tune.

JAZZREVIEW: Who is this teacher?

KERRY POLITZER: His name is Vanderlei Pereira.

JAZZREVIEW: How would one of these classes go? You’re a pianist and he’s a percussionist.

KERRY POLITZER: Each class is a grouping of bass, guitar and piano (with Vanderlei on drums, it’s a quartet). Vanderlei makes an effort to put musicians of similar levels in compatible ensembles. He teaches everyone the rhythms on their specific instruments and also has the students play percussion. He also shows the pianist and the guitarist how to interact so that they don’t clash harmonically. I learned everything I know about Brazilian music, including a lot of great repertoire, from these classes.

JAZZREVIEW: When he is playing percussion what type of percussion instruments is he playing?

KERRY POLITZER: He actually plays drum set with the ensemble, but also uses surdo and tamborim.

JAZZREVIEW: Do you have any plans of going to Brazil?

KERRY POLITZER: I would love to but I haven’t made any plans to do so at this point.

JAZZREVIEW: Any plans for another CD yet?

KERRY POLITZER: I’m going to give it a moment, since I just released this one but I’m thinking of possibly embarking on a slightly different path that involves singing and popular songs, but that’s not definite, its just something I’ve been doing a little bit of.

JAZZREVIEW: Are you talking about what they are calling the "American Song Book" or other genres or what?

KERRY POLITZER: Maybe jazz influenced singer-song writer, but it might be more in the context of writing these songs and having them bought by more established artists.

JAZZREVIEW: That’s always a good thing to do. Do you also sing?

KERRY POLITZER: I have been studying voice with a really wonderful teacher here in New York.

JAZZREVIEW: Who is that?

KERRY POLITZER: Melissa Cross. She has this DVD called The Zen of Screaming in which she teaches people how to use all parts of their voice without injuring themselves.

JAZZREVIEW: That would be a good thing to have happen. Do they have anything to keep your ears from going?

KERRY POLITZER: Earplugs, especially on the New York City subway!

JAZZREVIEW: Is there anything that we have missed?

KERRY POLITZER: The drummer on the CD Labyrinth is my new husband, George Colligan. He is well known as a great jazz pianist, so people might recognize his name on the CD. This is first album as a sideman on drums (he also plays organ and trumpet).

JAZZREVIEW: Does George have any of his own CDs out?

KERRY POLITZER: Yes he has probably fifteen under his own name and then over sixty as a sideman, including dates with Buster Williams and Don Byron.

JAZZREVIEW: That should be very good for your career, because it always seems to be a benefit to hangout with people who are going places if you have talent and you seem to have quite a bit of talent, so I couldn’t imagine it hurting you a lot.

KERRY POLITZER: Well it’s nice on a personal level for two pianists to be together because you understand each other’s language it’s a comforting feeling.

JAZZREVIEW: I was spoke to Bob Brookmeyer, a while ago.

KERRY POLITZER: He’s amazing.

JAZZREVIEW: Bob did an album called "The Ivory Hunters."

KERRY POLITZER: Wasn’t that with Bill Evans?

JAZZREVIEW: Yes it was with Bill Evans. They both played pianos and while Bob is most well known as a trombone player he was amazing on that album and both pianists seemed to be able to communicate in the same language.

KERRY POLITZER: He’s incredible both as a valve trombonist and a pianist.

JAZZREVIEW: Yes I saw him in 2004 at Boston Court in Pasadena and other than the fact that he sits down now when he plays he’s one of the hardest playing guys I’ve ever seen. He played with Larry Koonse and they seemed to have that "two people locked in a most enjoyable conversation" thing going.

KERRY POLITZER: He’s an incredible arranger and musician.

JAZZREVIEW: You are gigging mostly on the East Coast for now.

KERRY POLITZER: We have a gig at the Kitano which has turned into a very nice jazz venue. Basically I have been playing around New York. When I get more settled into this gig, maybe I will have some concerts elsewhere.

JAZZREVIEW: Are there any clubs in New York that you really want to play when you have the opportunity?

KERRY POLITZER: I sometimes play at K’av’eh’az’s [37 West 26th Street, (212) 343-0612]; Cornelia Street Café [29 Cornelia Street, (212) 989-9319]; and Detour [349 E. 13th Street, (212) 533-6212].

JAZZREVIEW: Well thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I certainly hope that we will be hearing a lot more from you in the years to come.

KERRY POLITZER: Thank you very much.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Kerry Politzer
  • Subtitle: In the Labyrinth of New York City Jazz
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