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Chops: Pianist Pete Malinverni on Playing Jazz in Church

Pianist/composer Pete Malinverni on the advantages and challenges of the religious gig

Pete Malinverni (photo by Sally Green)
Pete Malinverni (photo by Sally Green)

One glorious, soul-filled Sunday morning years ago, in the choir loft at the Devoe Street Baptist Church in Brooklyn, I had an epiphany.

While I often found myself worrying if I was playing “real,” valid jazz onstage, the music at Devoe always flowed easily and authentically. I wondered why. Well, it was because in that setting, with everyone open to the spirit, I was feeling it too. I wasn’t taking ownership of the music, or feeling responsible for generating it. Rather, I was trusting my years of preparation to give me the language to be a vessel for it at the moment of its creation.

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Pete Malinverni

Pianist, composer and educator Pete Malinverni is Head of Jazz Studies at the SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Music. He also serves in religious settings, writing for and directing choirs in English and Hebrew as well as curating jazz vespers and other performance series. He currently works as the pianist and conductor at the Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, N.Y., and as Director of Music at the Pound Ridge Community Church, also in Westchester County. His latest jazz recording is Heaven (Saranac), with Ben Allison and Akira Tana and featuring Karrin Allyson, Steve Wilson and Jon Faddis. For more on Malinverni’s jazz composing and performing, visit