On Friday, October 30 at Bard, the Fisher Center and the Catskill Jazz Factory will present the internationally decorated pianist and composer Dan Tepfer (who is also an advanced student of astrophysics, making him a Chomskyesque figure of multiple masteries) and Aaron Diehl, another accredited young jazz piano master (who also happens to be a licensed pilot), in “Double Trouble: Jazz Meets Classical.” In this exclusive, collaborative performance, Tepfer and Diehl perform a mash-up of J. S. Bach and the Great American Songbook, blending traditional with contemporary and improvisational jazz styles.
Among players, the jazz/classical crossover typically flows in only one direction, from jazz toward classical. Jazz, like its older sibling concert music, requires extreme discipline and mastery from its players, and it is increasingly a grant-patronized conservatory art as well. The difference is that a jazz education includes the additional module of improvisation and a real-time, actionable command of harmony, for which a classical player would have to double-major in Composition and then loosen up with some drinks and funny cigarettes.
But the performance standards of serious music are so grueling, so microscopic, that it would be a mistake to assume that every fleet-fingered jazz cat is a candidate for classical virtuosity. In truth, almost none is. A handful of jazz players – really just a handful – have distinguished themselves as recognized interpreters of serious music: Keith Jarrett, the ECM softie whose crystalline, balanced tone and phrasing have made him a lucid interpreter of Bach and others; Wynton Marsalis, the Todd Marinovich of music, engineered from the DNA up for all of it, including the world’s most difficult trumpet concertos; and a few others.
This handful of elite players tends to respect the wall between the worlds and the wardrobes; they are duplicitous moonlighters, dual identities with secret second families. But the young pianist Dan Tepfer has quietly positioned himself as a unique crossover figure. He has not yet donned the tails and declared an identity as a concert performer of classical repertoire. Instead, his crossover gesture is integrative and on jazz turf, a collision by design of the two arts: the dialectical Goldberg Variations/Variations, in which Tepfer performs Bach’s famous keyboard variations in sequence (quite credibly, according to ears more discriminating than mine), following each of Bach’s 30 miniatures with a piano improvisation on its themes.
To see Tepfer perform his variations is to witness a subtle-but-profound mode and identity shift repeated 30 times. Following each variation, Tepfer allows a breath pause, and his posture and body language morph visibly as he moves from the firm discipline of channeling Bach’s exacting counterpoint to the wild-mind receptivity of channeling…whatever demon it is that jazz solos come from. Typically, the strictures of Baroque harmony are the first thing to go in the improvs, but the counterpoint remains, comes loose in time and is taken to otherworldly places by Tepfer’s exquisitely musical hands and ears.
On Friday, October 30 at the LUMA Theater in Bard’s Fisher Center, the Fisher Center and the Catskill Jazz Factory present the internationally decorated pianist and composer Dan Tepfer (who is also an advanced student of astrophysics, making him a Chomskyesque figure of multiple masteries) and Aaron Diehl, another accredited young jazz piano master (who also happens to be a licensed pilot), in “Double Trouble: Jazz Meets Classical.” In this exclusive, collaborative performance, Tepfer and Diehl perform a mash-up of J. S. Bach and the Great American Songbook, blending traditional with contemporary and improvisational jazz styles.
The New York Times describes Diehl’s talent as “melodic precision, harmonic erudition and elegant restraint,” and Tepfer as a pianist who “combines superb technique with a complex set of impulses: He’s a deeply rational improviser drawn to the unknown.”
“Aaron really comes from a place of being a student of the early tradition of jazz piano; I come from a passion for the more modern, ‘cutting-edge’ jazz,” said Tepfer. “In many ways, Aaron is working his way forward and I’m working my way backwards, in terms of how we’re each filling in our knowledge of the music. The places where we meet, our common love for Bach and the American Songbook: These are the starting places for our upcoming collaboration.”
Tickets for Double Trouble: Jazz Meets Classical cost $25 and can be purchased online at https://fishercenter.bard.edu or by calling the box office at (845) 758-7900. Bard College is located in Annandale-on-Hudson.
Dan Tepfer/Aaron Diehl, Double Trouble: Jazz Meets Classical, Friday, October 30, 8 p.m., $25, LUMA Theater, Fisher Center, Bard College, Annandale; https://fishercenter.bard.edu.