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Leslie Pintchik

'We're Here to Listen' by pianist Leslie Pintchik is a wonderful showcase for her skills as a performer, composer and arranger.  Her talents have placed the album right up there with genres best and when recently I was fortunate enough to interview Leslie it proved to be a totally enjoyable experience.

JazzReview: I love the single 'Blowin' In The Wind', what a great track. And I know the world's going to embrace that song as well as the entire album because it really sets the tone for the entire project and really exemplifies who you are as a person and an artist.

Leslie Pintchik: Many thanks Bea for your very generous ears; it's much appreciated!  It always means a lot to know that our music has hit a chord with a listener.  I'm glad to know that you enjoyed 'Blowin' In The Wind'.

JazzReview: When did you discover the passion to play music?  Was the passion there instantly or did you discover it at some point later on?

Leslie Pintchik: I'm somewhat of a late starter in music, relative to many of the musicians I've met and with whom I've played.  I spent most of my early years reading books, and I originally hoped for a career in academia as a literature professor.  While I was working towards a Master of Philosophy degree in seventeenth-century English literature at Columbia University I taught literature there as a teaching assistant.  As an undergraduate, I had begun to play the piano a bit, and I continued to play in graduate school.  Over time, I found myself being drawn more deeply into music, although I never thought I could (or would) pursue it professionally.

Monk and Miles were two early inspirations, particularly for their startling originality.  Their music spoke to me with such emotional directness, and also because their virtuosity seemed to me as much conceptual as it was technical.  I was encouraged to try to become a musician.

So in answer to your question, as I began to appreciate and better understand what made the musicians I loved so special, the music grew on me.  Music and I had a long courtship before I found the courage to get engaged.

JazzReview: You can tell with 'We're Here to Listen' that everyone really had a great time playing the music.  The arrangements are impeccable.  Tell me about how you came up with these arrangements.

Leslie Pintchik: Whether I'm writing an original tune or arranging something written by another composer, I always seem to start with a feeling.  Then I try to work to clarify and refine that feeling, and flesh it out in sound.  With my own compositions, in the initial process of conception, the tune and arrangement in terms of form and content, take shape together.

I co-arranged the tunes by other composers, 'Blowin' In The Wind', 'I Can't Make You Love Me' and 'For All We Know' with my bass player Scott Hardy who also contributed the hauntingly beautiful 'Ancient' which I use to close out the CD.  We work as a tag team, and the performance evolves over time, as we tweak the conception, and then bring it to life with our drummer Mark Dodge.

JazzReview: Tell us about your band members.

Leslie Pintchik: Scott Hardy is the "house" bass player.  I often joke on the bandstand that he was so good I had no choice but to marry him.  In addition to being a superb soloist, he's also enormously shrewd and responsive in all his accompaniment choices. Scott is a wonderful musician and partner.  It is always a deep pleasure to share any bandstand with him.

Mark Dodge has been a member of my trio for almost 13 years now.  A savvy and very musical drummer, Mark is an integral part of the voice of this music, as well as a dear friend.

Our percussionist Satoshi Takeishi always manages to bring startlingly beautiful and provocative colors to the mix.  Both his grooves and colors add an extra depth and dimension to the music.  His use of the cajon and waterphone are standouts.  Both subtle and powerful, Satoshi brings magic to the bandstand.

JazzReview: What songs from 'We're Here to Listen' did you enjoy recording the most?

Leslie Pintchik: Each piece had its challenges and pleasures.  The tempo of our arrangement of 'I Can't Make You Love Me', which we did as a very slow Afro-Peruvian rhythm called a landó, was difficult to sustain.  While we recorded it, I felt like the whole band needed to float like a large slow-moving blimp; if anyone rushed in the slightest, it would have marred the fragile beauty and sense of yearning that we were going for.  Scott, Mark and Satoshi managed to lay down a flawless rhythmic cushion, so it was a joy to play the melody on top of that foundation.

'In the Wrong Place at the Right Time' was also a particular pleasure to record.  The tune has a comedic bent and Satoshi's percussion effects and startling punctuations are both witty, and also very funny in an almost slapstick kind of way.  So thanks to Satoshi, I had a hard time not laughing out loud during the recording of that tune.

JazzReview: Can you tell me what it means for you to perform live in front of an audience versus recording in a studio?

Leslie Pintchik: A live performance, at least one that goes fairly well, with a responsive audience is always a great pleasure.  I really value and enjoy the immediate sense of exchange and conversation between the band and our listeners.

A studio recording affords a different kind of pleasure.  It's more similar to composing, since there's always the opportunity for multiple takes.  Sometimes several takes of the same tune allow the band to refine and deepen the feeling of a particular piece of music in a special way.

JazzReview: This recording is absolutely fabulous.  All the people associated with it should be congratulated because its one of the top projects of the year.  I think it has so many elements and is so unrestricted, it just punches the core of creativity, innovation and improvisation on every level.

Leslie Pintchik: Thank you again, Bea!  I'm proud of the recording, and I think everyone involved, the musicians and the recording engineers, did a wonderful job.

JazzReview: Who were your early influences and what did those influences mean to you?

Leslie Pintchik: As I mentioned earlier, Miles and Monk were two of my earliest inspirations; perhaps because both their voices were so singular and unique to themselves.  Hearing them gave me the courage to try to find my own way as a musician.  Of course there are so many other musicians whose music has touched me.  Amongst them are pianists Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans.  Then there are the Brazilian singers Joao Gilberto, Rosa Passos and Leila Pinheiro.  Saxophonists Wayne Shorter and Stan Getz are also on the list then of course there is the classical pianist Richard Goode.

JazzReview: I really enjoyed the track 'Too Close For Comfort'.  Can you talk to us about the making of that track?

Leslie Pintchik: I assume you're speaking about our newly released DVD 'Leslie Pintchik Quartet Live In Concert', since that is where you can hear (and see) our performance of 'Too Close For Comfort'.  Perhaps most jazz fans know that tune from the great Ella Fitzgerald's powerful swinging version.  This performance revamped the tune by using two Brazilian rhythms: partido-alto for the opening melody, and samba for the bridge.  It was a lot of fun to play for all of us.  Of course Mark and Satoshi provided great grooves and energy throughout.

JazzReview: Tell us about your upcoming projects.

Leslie Pintchik: We have some new arrangements and compositions in the pipeline, and I look forward to recording the new material, hopefully sooner than later, with my current band-members, and possibly some guest artists.  That's not too specific, but generally I find that the music doesn't take its final shape until I'm fairly well along, and in the midst of planning an actual recording.  Stay tuned!

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Leslie Pintchik
  • Interview Date: April 2011
  • Subtitle: We're Here To Listen
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