Five Questions with Geoffrey Keezer

Geoffrey Keezer
Geoffrey Keezer

Time Magazine on pianist Geoffrey Keezer: Geoffrey possesses a refreshingly open-eared sensibility in the modern manner, and he has more than enough virtuosity and sheer musical wit and intelligence to weave all of his apparently disparate strands of influence into an original and compelling whole.”

Geoffrey Keezer with Chris Botti
Geoffrey Keezer with Chris Botti

With his highly regarded discography, unique compositions, and acclaimed performances in a variety of configurations, pianist Geoffrey Keezer commands the attention typically reserved for the living legends of jazz. Whether recording with Diana Krall or Dianne Reeves, touring with trumpet king  Chris Botti, or collaborating with pop icon Sting, sax legend Wayne Shorter, guitar wizard Jim Hall, star bassist Christian McBride or vibes master Joe Locke, Keezer has more than what it takes.

Geoffrey Keezer and Sting | Blue Note, NYC
Geoffrey Keezer and Sting | Blue Note, NYC

A native of Eau Claire, WI, Keezer was playing in jazz clubs as a teenager, holding down the piano chair for Art Blakey at age 18, and touring in the company of Joshua Redman, Benny Golson and Ray Brown in his 20s. More recently he has toured with David Sanborn, Chris Botti, Joe Locke and Christian McBride; worked with vocalist Denise Donatelli on projects garnering three GRAMMY® nominations, and released a series of albums drawing influences from Hawaiian, Okinawan and Afro-Peruvian folk traditions. Perhaps the most exciting turn in Geoffrey’s career is his recent focus on solo piano and his first solo release in thirteen years, Heart of the Piano (2013, Motema Records). On a mission to redefine solo jazz piano as a personal and interactive showcase of melody, energy and groove, Keezer brings to Heart of the Piano his most direct and focused artistry to date.

"My dad is a jazz drummer and educator and my mom played French horn and taught horn, piano, and voice lessons at home. Between the two of them, they had a wonderful and diverse record collection. When I was five, I was listening to Oscar Brown Jr., Chick Corea, Oscar Peterson and Weather Report, along with Beethoven symphonies and Bach organ works." - Geoffrey Keezer
“My dad is a jazz drummer and educator and my mom played French horn and taught horn, piano, and voice lessons at home. Between the two of them, they had a wonderful and diverse record collection. When I was five, I was listening to Oscar Brown Jr., Chick Corea, Oscar Peterson and Weather Report, along with Beethoven symphonies and Bach organ works.”
– Geoffrey Keezer

Barely into his 40s, Geoffrey Keezer’s singular style of intellectually abstract lyricism woven over exotically complex rhythms and harmonies makes him one of the most sought-after artists on the modern jazz scene. Regardless of the nature of his projects, from solo to duo to quartet, from bandleader to big band, from post bop jazz to electronica to global fusion, from composer to arranger, Geoffrey delivers music from the heart of the piano to the ear, and heart, of the listener.

Geoffrey Keezer with Wayne Shorter
Geoffrey Keezer with Wayne Shorter

“In the universe of piano players that I have been exposed to over the years, Geoffrey has proved himself to be not only a superb technician and improviser, but also above and beyond this, a composer and conceptualist who can maintain the overall line and the DNA of the song in everything he plays. A musician’s musician.” – Sting

“You look like you can’t do nothin’…we should work together!” – Miles Davis

“Beautiful playing! I love your improvised pianisms together with your wonderful compositions. Very inspiring!” – Chick Corea

Check out his busy tour schedule.

I’ve loved Keezer’s playing for years, and am very happy to feature him with FIVE QUESTIONS. I reached him in his home town of Eau Claire WI.

1) How much time do you spend practicing? How much time do you spend on the business of music? How do you decide your next musical direction?

GK – Not enough! I rarely have time to practice. On tour, I’m lucky if I get five minutes at soundcheck to warm up. So, I try to rely on my reserves (the “riding a bicycle” analogy) and use the first couple of tunes of the set as my practice. If I have to learn a new piece of music, especially if it’s a composed, notey kind of piece, then I will carve out time in my day to practice. I think, however, that if I actually had a daily practice routine, I’d be further along.

2) Will you speak about your influences? How’d you develop your sound? Where are you taking your sound right now? Who are your favorite players out there right now?

GK – My first musical influences were my parents, both music teachers. My dad is a jazz drummer and educator and my mom played French horn and taught horn, piano, and voice lessons at home. Between the two of them, they had a wonderful and diverse record collection. When I was five, I was listening to Oscar Brown Jr., Chick Corea, Oscar Peterson and Weather Report, along with Beethoven symphonies and Bach organ works. My dad used to bring home orchestral study scores from the library and I would spend hours listening to the recordings and following along with the scores. I was a really nerdy but happy kid! Later, in my teens, I got into the Blue Note sound, especially Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, which eventually became my first major gig. When I was 16, I learned about the Memphis pianist Phineas Newborn Jr. from another pianist and dear friend, James Williams. Phineas’ style really caught my ear and became a major influence on my playing. Also pianists like Harold Mabern, Mulgrew Miller, Buddy Montgomery, Hank Jones and Ahmad Jamal.

Where am I taking my sound right now? I don’t know really! I just love to play, to improvise, to open myself up completely to the universe and (usually) enjoy what comes out. Playing music is my greatest joy. I also love playing and goofing around with my 7-year-old son 🙂

Favorite players out there right now? Still Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, who are in their 70’s and still at the top of their game. Out of the players roughly in my generation or younger, I enjoy listening to Taylor Eigsti, Aaron Diehl, Jason Moran, Axel Tosca, Gary Versace, Aaron Parks, Peter Martin, Christian Sands, Gerald Clayton, Eldar, so many others I’m forgetting right now. Everybody has something to say and deserves to be heard.

3) What is your favorite/ideal setting to play in? What have been your best memories of gigs/stand out moments?

GK – My favorite setting to play in is any place where people come solely to LISTEN. I don’t enjoy competing with people eating, drinking, and talking. I just don’t understand why anyone would leave their home and pay a hefty cover charge to sit and TALK OVER the music. It’s incredibly rude and distracting to the artists on stage. I’m not overly precious about my “art” – I hope my shows are also entertaining and fun – but for the sake of everyone else who shelled out $20 or more to listen to a concert, can you simply focus for 75 minutes and shut the hell up? And turn off your cell phone too? Thanks!

One great memory: I was playing a duo concert with vibraphonist Joe Locke at the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society in Half Moon Bay, CA, one of my favorite venues in the world. The shows there started at 4PM and ran until about 7, and the venue was in a beach house overlooking the ocean. Through the big glass windows, you could watch the sun setting over the ocean during the course of the performance. A gorgeous and inspiring venue, and a great and dedicated LISTENING audience. While we were playing a very quiet ballad, it began to rain. The sound of the rain on the roof became the third musician in the band! We fell into a very sparse, pretty and ambient little exploration, playing against and with the sound of the rain. It was very Zen and beautiful.

4) Who were your teachers/mentors? How did they reach you? What advice do you have for young, hungry players?

GK – My first piano teacher was my mom. Then I had a succession of college students, and eventually a classical piano teacher in high school and in my one year of college at Berklee. I never imagined I’d be a classical pianist professionally (I didn’t have the patience) but I’m glad I studied it. It helped me with my touch and technique. I’ll still occasionally practice something from the Well Tempered Clavier (Bach) or Mozart or Chopin, just to sharpen my sightreading skills, but I have no hopes of ever becoming a classical pianist at this point. The ironic part is, I’ve played all the great venues around the world (the Carnegie Halls, etc) as a JAZZ pianist. I never would have made it into those joints as a half-baked classical musician!

I was a product of summer jazz camps. My dad taught at the Indianhead Arts Center in Shell Lake, WI every summer, and I spent my summers hanging around the camp and eventually as a student. My piano teacher there, John Radd, was a kind and gentle soul who was very supportive. I also attended Jamey Aebersold camp one summer and worked with David Baker. I think these camps provide wonderful opportunities for kids to get exposure to this great art form – great not only because of its place in American history, but because it enables people to express their humanity and creativity through music in a way that no other music can.

5) Do you have a project in the works?Goals for the future? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

GK – My next album release will be a reissue of my 2000 solo piano album “Zero One”. I’ve remastered it, updated the sound of the piano a bit, weeded out the weaker material and replaced it with (recent) live versions of some of the songs. It will be a somewhat different version of the album, so if you already have the original, it’s still worth checking out! I’ve grown quite a bit as a pianist since then, but I think the album still holds up strong.

In 5 years? I would like to continue to give more solo piano concerts worldwide, as well as writing for TV and film. We’ll see what happens…

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1/14/15

xo

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