Joe Alterman: What’s on Your Playlist?

December 17, 2012

Atlanta native Joe Alterman took New York by storm when he arrived in 2007 to study at NYU.  He’s since earned his degree and is now working on a master’s (his teachers have included Don Friedman, Jean Michel-Pilc, Ralph Lalama, Joe Lovano and John Scofield), but in the meantime he’s toured the world and earned acclaim as a vibrant young talent. With a healthy admiration for the lyrical masters of the past, prodigious piano chops, and a strong compositional voice, Alterman is wooing audiences and critics alike. Critic Will Friedwald calls Alterman an “amazing new keyboardist” in the Wall Street Journal and NEA Jazz Master (and JAZZed columnist) Nat Hentoff says: “Talk about the joy of jazz!… It’s a pleasure to hear this music.”

Alterman was recently selected by noted pianist Bill Charlap to be a participant in Charlap’s “Jazz Piano Masterclass” at New York’s 92nd Street Y, and was asked to perform at the “Marian McPartland Piano Jazz All-Star Celebration” at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, as well as at Jack Kleinsinger Presents “Highlights in Jazz” 2012, as a part of the “Next Generation All-Stars.”   Alterman’s new CD Give Me the Simple Life on Miles High Records features Houston Person among others.

1.  Erroll Garner – Body And Soul

His version of “The Way You Look Tonight” encapsulates everything that I love about jazz; it’s a perfect example of making the most out of an already beautiful melody, and swinging like crazy on it. I love how every note he plays during his improvisation is something that I can hum along to all day and get stuck in my head just as much as the melody. I love his feel, full of romance, so much, and every single thing he plays baffles me yet also feels so good. His playing is so amazing to me, so “free,” and, above all, so full of music.

2.  Ahmad Jamal – Complete Argo Sessions 1956-1962

I often wonder if I’d be playing music today had I never heard 1:26-1:27 of “Like Someone In Love” from Mr. Jamals’ Live at the Blackhawk recording. All it took was that twinkle; immediately upon hearing those few seconds for the first time, I fell in love with jazz and knew that that was exactly what I wanted to do. Mr. Jamal’s music has had a very deep and important impact on me. To me, what Mr. Jamal gets out of the piano is just as much magic as it is music; who else can make you hear the notes he’s not playing? No one can play a melody like Mr. Jamal!

3.  Bill Charlap – Written In The Stars

Charlap was one of the first pianists whose music I fell in love listening to. Even when I was 13 or 14 years old and barely able to play the piano, there was something about his music specifically that struck me as something personal and reminded me of the feeling and sound that I had been hearing in my head when I imagined what I’d love to play like someday when I could hopefully be myself at the piano. His music, among others, has taught me the importance of having a nice, soft touch on the piano. His line playing is something very unique and special; he certainly has created his own logic to it and a lot of the things he is playing note-wise are very “out” or dissonant, but that doesn’t really strike most people because, in a way, his beautiful touch disguises those dissonances. I love that.

4.  Eddie Heywood – Eddie Heywood

Eddie Heywood is one of the first pianists who made me fall in love with melody playing. This is one of those records where I would listen to Heywood’s interpretation of the melody and love it so much that, just before it would get to the improvisation section, I’d start the track over and listen to his interpretation of the melody again, and again, and again. It helped instill in me that I want to, one day, be a great interpretor of melody, doing my best to honor the song. I really admire Heywood because to me, it sounds like his goal was to make that melody sound as beautiful as it possibly could, and for me, that’s about all I hope to do, too.

5.  Les McCann LTD – But Not Really

Mr. McCann’s music has had a very deep and important impact on me. His music really helped give me the confidence to be myself at the piano. Like him, I feel a strong connection to the blues. During my first couple of years in New York, I felt a sort-of avoidance of the blues by many of my peers and the musicians who they listened to. I tried hard to relate, but I just couldn’t, and that experience only reinforced in me that deep love of blues. Les’ music not only always lifts my spirits and gets me dancing and smiling, but it has often served as important reminder that I should play what I feel that I should play, no matter what anyone says, just like Les did.

6.  Hank Jones – Live at Maybeck Recital Hall, Volume 16

Hank Jones is, to me, the perfect pianist. Every note he plays is, quite simply, the perfect note to play. I love his strong left hand, his frequent use of walking 10ths as well as his superb and unique stride piano feel. The solo lines in his right hand baffle me just as much as Charlie Parker or Art Tatum lines do. Like I mentioned with Charlap’s playing, some of his very dissonant or “out” line playing (there is lots of it!) is disguised by his beautifully warm and soft touch. McCoy Tyner once told me that Hank Jones had the “magic touch.” There’s nothing I could say that sums it up more perfectly. When it comes to pianistic excellence, Hank is my idol.

7.  Oscar Peterson Trio – Complete London House Sessions

It’s often hard for me to describe in technical musical terms what I love about particular recordings and musicians. This is because the reason I got into jazz in the first place was because I enjoyed listening to it way before I became a musician. There’s just certain things in music that fill you up inside and make you smile; Oscar Peterson’s music is one of those things. His piano playing is, of course monstrous, but what I love about listening to Peterson is that, unlike some other monster pianists, I don’t automatically focus in on his technique and what he is doing pianistically. First and foremost, I am drawn into the feel of his music and how good it feels listening to it. The technique is a given, but I love that that’s not the first thing I focus in on; it’s all feeling. And swing.

Some of my most fun and exciting moments have been listening to this trio play in a 2 feel, when you know that 4 is about to hit; you know that it’s coming, but you just don’t know when or how intense it will be. That tension and excitement is sometimes almost too much to handle!

8.  Don Friedman – Circle Waltz

Don was my private teacher for all four years of my undergraduate study at New York University. I learned more standing behind him and watching him play solo piano for those four years than I ever had. His influence on my playing and my harmonic approach is huge. He is a master of harmony and I often wonder where I would be today had I not had the wonderful opportunity to learn from him. He is one of the all-time greats of jazz piano. I sure hope he gets wider recognition because I cannot think of anyone more deserving.

9.  Nat King Cole – After Midnight

This is the record I recommend to people when someone asks what’s a good first jazz record to get. To me, it encapsulates everything that I love most about jazz. Beautiful melodies, lyrics, vocals, arrangements and playing. The tempos aren’t too fast (good toe-tapping tempo!), and just about every song will make you (or your date!) smile. One of the things that first attracted me to jazz when I was younger was its feel of romance – an important part of the music that I feel is almost being ignored today – and I love the fact that Mr. Cole played for the ladies (and knew how to do so!) and I am proud to say that this is the first record I’d put on during a date. As musicians, our goal is to make people feel a wide range of emotions, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with trying to make people want to feel romantic.

10.  Blossom Dearie – Give Him The Ooh-La-La

Blossom Dearie has had a wonderful impact on me. Besides her unique, refreshing and beautiful voice as well as her superb piano accompaniment and playing, Blossom’s music really inspired me to dig deep into the vast repertoire of the Great American Songbook. When I first bought this record I was shocked at how beautiful all the melodies of these songs are, many of which I hadn’t previously even heard of or even seen the titles of on any of the thousands of records I’ve listened to or browsed in my lifetime. It made me realize how many great melodies must be out there and immediately after hearing this record I began a hunt (which I’m sure will last my entire life!) through all the songbooks I could find for more of those beautiful melodies. It’s obvious that she really did her homework and she inspires me to do mine, too.

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