Before & After: Jacky Terrasson

IMG_3920After living in New York for the past 18 years, pianist Jacky Terrasson is puzzled and somewhat frustrated that the jazz world thinks he’s still based in Paris. Terrasson spent his formative years studying at Berklee and working with Art Taylor and Betty Carter. He gained international attention by winning the 1993 Monk Piano Competition and signing with Blue Note records. Since then he’s traveled the world, usually working with his highly regarded trio.


1. Eddy Louiss & Michel Petrucciani

“All The Things You Are” (from Conference de Presse, Dreyfus Jazz). Louiss, organ; Petrucciani, piano. Recorded in 1994.

Before: Piano and organ? I’m thinking about Eddy Louiss and Michel Petrucciani. There are not many duos like this. Yeah, this is Michel. He really likes that style out of bebop, the Oscar Peterson influence with very volatile right hand. He plays those long phrases. The challenge with playing two keyboards is that both players need to be strong rhythmically and make sure that the tempo doesn’t slip away. At the same time you don’t want to always play bass lines with the left hand. It’s got to be implied sometime. In the beginning, I thought they had a little difficulty getting into it, but now they’re on track. I like this.

After: I think they made two records together. I remember their version of “Autumn Leaves.” Eddy Louiss is a great player but totally unknown here. He had a good trio with J.F. Jenny-Clark and Daniel Humair. I like his lines but I don’t really look out for organ players. Maybe it’s because I had to play the organ at one point. In Boston it was my main gig, at Wally’s. I came to like it though, playing the Hammond B-3.

2. Jaki Byard

“The Hollis Stomp” (from Solo/Strings, Prestige). Byard, piano. Recorded in 1969.

Before: Is that one guy? Damn, this guy is all over the place. He’s obviously coming out of the stride thing but it’s modern. Something makes me say that it’s someone who really looked into stride but he’s not from that era. Judging by the chops—did you go French on me again?– I want to say Martial Solal, because he has tremendous chops and he could do something like that. I love it; the intro and the descending 3rds, and I’m blown away by the facility. I’d like to hear something else by this guy.

After: Wow. I never saw him but I’ve heard great things about him. Beautiful. I know some people who studied with him and they say he was a great teacher. He’s one of the cats that I skipped for some reason. I was so stuck in the Bud Powell, Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk thing for like 12 years and [felt] that was all I needed to know. I was just stubborn with that.

3. Bobo Stenson

“Chiquilín de Bachín” (from Cantando, ECM) Stenson, piano; Anders Jormin, bass; Jon Fält, drums. Recorded in 2007.

Before: Nice piece, long form. It sounds like someone who’s been influenced by the Keith Jarrett Trio. The air in the music reminds me of him. It’s nicely recorded. It’s kind of going for that early ECM thing. Very airy, lots of space. Even the playing is like that. And the piano player, some of his phrases remind me of Jarrett. I’m thinking maybe Danilo [Perez] or Enrico Pieranunzi or Gonzalo [Rubalcaba]. I need to listen to the bass, maybe that will give it away.

After: I know some of his recordings with Charles Lloyd, but I don’t know much of his solo work. I could hear the urge of wanting to let it go free.

4. Alon Yavnai

“Blues for Alon” (from Picture This, Bon Rapport Music). Yavnai, piano; Massimo Biolcati, bass; Take Toriyama, percussion. Recorded in 2004.

Before: Is this Tigran [Hamasyan]? I’m thinking it could be Tigran because he likes to play with those East European, North African sounds. He’s stretching out harmonically with complex rhythms on top of 4/4. It sounds eastern European or Arabic, the scales and muting the strings on the piano. I would think it’s someone fairly young.

After: Cool. I just wish it would have unfolded a little more. I like to hear people tell the story fully. I felt this was just the introduction. [looks at song titles] Oh wow, this guy’s playing one of the Bach fugues.

5. Dick Hyman

“Thinking About Bix” (from Thinking About Bix, Reference). Hyman, piano. Recorded in 2008.

Before: Is this Ellis Marsalis? Marcus Roberts? This is nice. I’m thinking of the bass player’s son, Gerald Clayton. I hear a lot of classical in his playing and this is something he would have studied and nailed. The style is from the ’30s or earlier. It sounds like a classical piece, no improv. This is something that was written, maybe for a movie? It’s meticulous. I like hearing people play that way but I don’t want to play that way. It’s a great interpretation, though. Very well done.

After: I met him years back. So he’s going back to Bix? It’s definitely in that style.

6. George Russell
“Concerto for Billy The Kid” (from Jazz Workshop, RCA Bluebird). Russell, composer; Bill Evans, piano; Art Farmer, trumpet; Hal McKusick, alto saxophone; Barry Galbraith, guitar; Teddy Kotick, bass; Osie Johnson, drums. Recorded in 1956.

Before: Uh oh. [at start of piano solo, hunches shoulders and goes into deep listening mode] Yeah. Nice. Is this Tete [Montoliu]? I love this. Great stuff, man. Now I’m thinking Sonny Clark; that kind of phrasing on the piano with those angles. It’s very articulate, the message is very clear. There’s a certain eloquence to it. I like the composition, very well orchestrated. Modern. I’m guessing it’s late ‘50s. I should really nail this piano player. At one point it made me think of early Bill Evans, because of the phrasing. Someone from that time.

After: Really? I don’t know this record. I love that kind of phrasing, he’s got his own language. Great stuff. Thanks for playing that.

7. Kenny Barron

“Memories of You” (from The Traveler, Sunnyside). Barron, piano. Recorded in 2007.

[starts singing along with the melody] “Memories of You.” Kenny Barron. That was easy. I heard him playing this two weeks ago at the Vanguard. I love how he plays the tune, takes his time and tells his story. It’s a nice tune, too. I love Monk’s version of this. For me, melody is so important, it’s got to sing. Kenny and I have the same manager and I’ve been listening to his recordings for years. There used to be a club in Paris called Le Village that played one of his recordings all the time, with a great take on “Spring Is Here” (Landscape). Then I heard him there at the club and it was great. I like the way he just locks into his tempo, nothing can disturb him.

8. Bebo Valdés & Javier Colina

“Bilongo” (from Live at the Village Vanguard, Calle 54). Valdés, piano; Colina, bass. Recorded in 2005

Before: Are we in Cuba? Yeah, this could be Bebo or Chucho Valdés. Or it could be the guy from Buena Vista Social Club [Rubén Gonzáles]. I’d love to go to Cuba for the culture and that kind of passion they have for music. It’s just in their blood.

After: He’s 86? Wow. You have to be from there to make it sound like that. This is not someone trying to play in that style. This is authentic.

9. Red Garland

“If I Were a Bell” (from Red Garland’s Piano, Prestige). Garland, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Art Taylor, drums. Recorded in 1956.

Before: Aw man, why are you doing this to me? Is it Red? Those block chords and that little bounce right there is his signature. I don’t know who the bassist is. It’s not Paul is it? This brings a smile to my face. Drummers don’t play like that anymore. He’s just laying it down. Beautiful. You got to give it up, it’s piano time. It sounds effortless, there’s no stress in his playing, it’s so relaxed. And the swing is so natural. Check out where he places his chords with his left hand. It’s that be-bop language. You don’t have to play like that but you have to know it. I know Red more from the things he did with Miles. This is so simple, yet it’s so meaningful.

After: This is classic. [sees the drummer] Oh, I should have guessed AT. I spent two years with him. For him, it was all about the rhythm section and doing a great job supporting the horns and making sure the rhythm section was locked in, building into climaxes.

Did he teach by example or did he actually explain things?

He rehearsed like a madman. Yeah, we had more time at his house than on stage. We rehearsed every week for about six hours, going through tunes. It was really about where to place the accents. If we were going to play at the Vanguard, we’d rehearse for a month before that. There’s nothing like hearing a band that’s tight. Sure, improv and impromptu things are fun and it’s part of what makes this music exciting. But this trio is really locked. They’re tight. Musicians today might say he’s not doing much on drums but it’s perfect, steady, irreplaceable. It feels good.

10. Keith Jarrett

“Victoria” (from Keith Jarrett: The Impulse Story, Impulse). Jarrett, piano. Recorded in 1974.

Before: Turn that up. Whew! Keith? I hear him developing something, then another line comes in and it gets more complex. There’s a classical approach with great control over the instrument. I have just about all his recordings but this is something I don’t know. If it’s not Keith, it’s someone who’s listened to him. Which recording is that? It’s remarkable.

After: Which track was this? Yeah, I’m gonna have to get that. As a pianist, I really admire the control he has over the instrument. He seems like someone who has three brains and just makes them work together somehow. It’s talent and originality. He’s some kind of genius–I’m not afraid to use that word. I’ve never met the guy.

If you were to meet him, what would you want to talk about?

I’d probably just shut up and let him speak [laughs]. I would want to talk about his approach–it’s beyond music at this point–his approach to an idea, his approach to life. I have almost all of his recordings. This period is one of my favorites. I really love the stuff with Dewey. Those guys were afraid of nothing. When you listen to the raw Keith Jarrett, that shit is so exciting.

Your favorite Keith Jarrett recordings?

Facing You, the first tune is just wild. The compositions are great; surprisingly fresh and adventurous. I like people who just go for it, and he does that. I love all the solo things, the Sun Bear concerts and the stuff with Dewey and with Charles Lloyd. And I love the trio with Gary and Jack, especially from the ’80s when he came back with the Standards.

11. Cecil Taylor & Buell Neidlinger

“O.P.” (From New York City R&B, Candid). Taylor, piano; Buell Neidlinger, bass; Billy Higgins, drums. Recorded in 1961.

Before: Duke? No. Cecil? It took me a long time to dig Cecil. Now I love him. He’s just so different. He was at the Vanguard when Kenny was playing. I love that album Silent Tongues, that’s the one that did it for me. His touch–some people just put their hand on the piano and you know. It’s humor, contrast and the unexpected.

For you, does this swing?

Well, swing has such a rigid etiquette to it. You’ve just got to respect this for what it is. I’m all for everyone swinging their own way. Unfortunately, some jazz Republicans would say no. I’m a jazz Democrat. You know, you’ve got to be open. This is wild. People think free music is like anything can happen. It’s really not. It requires a lot of control over the instrument and over the telling of the story. In Silent Tongues, I felt this is the real Cecil Taylor. There were things he played on the piano I had never heard before. This I like, but I’d like to hear everyone really go for it.

After: Chaos is so close to freedom, that’s where the danger is.

So where do you draw the line between them?

You just gotta believe. And rehearse. There’s got to be a thread where everybody’s on the same page. And that’s when I like free music, when there’s a lot of info but they all want to get to one point. It’s not as interesting when everybody’s doing their own thing. I like it when I feel there’s a sense of direction. But then maybe that’s no longer free. You’ve got to re-define free every second.

12. Danilo Perez

“The Saga of Rita Joe” (from Across The Crystal Sea, Emarcy). Perez, piano; Christian McBride, bass; Lewis Nash, drums, Luis Quintero, percussion; orchestra arranged & conducted by Claus Ogerman. Recorded in 2007.

Before: Nice scoring. I like the arranging a lot, the texture. I like the pianist, but in the middle there’s too much stuff, too many notes. I’m kind of thinking Danilo. I love Danilo, what he’s doing with Wayne, the way he opens things up. Did he write this? See, for me right now, this part makes more sense. But I’m not going to say anything bad about Danilo, I love him.

After: Yeah, very nice. This is new? Sorry, Danilo. I didn’t mean to say anything bad. I recorded once with strings for a movie called Primary Colors. I’d love to do more of that. This was a beautiful tapestry. Nice stuff. I’m going to get this. Danilo is a great player: he’s got a musical personality, independence and a great harmonic sense. And he’s not afraid.

Name three or four recordings that changed your life.

“When Will Blues Leave” by Paul Bley on his record Footloose!; Keith Jarrett, “Too Young To Go Steady” from Standards Live, that’s a fantastic trio recording. “Impressions” by Coltrane, and Shirley Horn doing “You Won’t Forget Me” with Miles.


This B&A originally appeared in JazzTimes in 2008. Photograph by Larry Appelbaum.

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