Sunday, May 5, 2013

Jean-Yves plays jazz, he just “Don’t think much about it!”

So last week, I wrote about Yakov Kasman, a pianist who I heard play for the Huntsville Chamber Music Guild and who, at his educational event, forthrightly told me that he doesn't play jazz. This week Mrs. S and I took a drive through rainy 40-degree weather to visit Nashville, enjoy a scrumptious dinner at Merchants Restaurant and see another classical pianist perform with the symphony orchestra, Jean-Yves Thibaudet. He performed a modern classic called Piano Concerto No. 3 “The Mysteries of Light” by James MacMillan.
This is what Merchants looks like if you eat as early as we do.
Let me be succinct and clear about what I heard. This is supposed to be some kind of theologically inspired piece about “mysteries”, but what I heard was a fantastically abstract and intricate piece that simply blew me away. There was one “movement” where Thibaudet had to play two completely different lines, in what sounded like completely different meter, that overlapped and threaded their way around each other, and I swear to God, my brain was fried trying to make sense of it. I just don’t see how you can get two hands to play such completely different lines using one brain. In fact, I would say those would have been immensely challenging  lines for two pianists to play accurately. I just never heard anything like it.

This is what Merchants looks like if you drink as much as I do.
Thibaudet, was a true master, but the orchestra was also in top form. A lot of the piece revolves around a certain amount of confusion and cacophony in the sound. There are lots of bells and chimes and while they seem to be echoing the lines coming from the piano, they didn't always match, which was obviously part of the design. Thibaudet was playing a Steinway (very cool when it rose out of the stage), and compared to the Yamaha CF6 we heard DaniloPerez play with Wayne Shorter three weeks ago, it had a duller, more uniform high-end, which I felt was exactly suited to this bit of music. In fact, I’ll go so far to say that the resonant low end, the deep, commanding middle register, and the tinkly, baby-spoon clang of the high-end on the Steinway particularly lent itself to the piece. I think the CF6’s clarity and icicle like sharpness would have broken up the MacMillan piece too much.
This is what Merchants looks like if you think too much about photo captions.
At intermission, we got some CD’s signed and spent a few minutes getting photos and chatting up Jean-Yves, who was immensely personable, smiling, and pleasant. After taking pictures with me across the counter, when Mrs. S asked for one more, he brought her around the counter with him. Just a real nice guy, class act, and superb pianist.
I can't even make my hands move separately when I'm not playing...
I was going to ask him if he plays jazz, but I’m glad I didn't  Turns out he has two “jazz” recordings out, so we went ahead and Amazoned (online purchased) them. I did ask him how he got his hands to play those two contiguous yet conflicting lines so nicely, concluding with, “I don’t see how anyone can do it.” He said simply, “I don’t think much about it.” There was a definite glimmer in his eye. Probably a tear from thinking about how many hours he sat on a piano bench to learn those lines. I don’t know. It scares me, so I don’t think much about it either.
Jean-Yves Thibaudet and me.
The question I’m asking myself is, if it is possible that I was more impressed by Jean-Yves Thibaudet because he does play jazz, keeping in mind that I didn’t know he played jazz when I first heard him last night? The answer is, I think, almost certainly. Maybe it’s jazz, maybe it’s something else, but there's a different quality and dimension to Thibaudet's playing. Regardless, I promise you: You’ll never hear that MacMillan piece performed any better anywhere else, than it was last night with the Nashville Symphony and Jean-Yves Thibuadet.
Dude sure gets a lot closer to the ladies, no?
Yakov don’t play jazz. Jean-Yves don’t think much about it.

I do (play jazz), and, I do (think much about it), but maybe I will (play jazz) and I won’t (think much about it) from now on.