When describing the career arc of pianist Matthew Shipp, “prolific” is the definitive understatement. Now pushing 60, this longtime downtown New York City force has a staggering oeuvre as leader, co-leader, and collaborator. Yet his mission—to reinvent jazz piano—has remained constant. You can hear that on Signature, Shipp’s debut recording for the legendary ESP-Disk’ with his trio of bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Newman Taylor Baker, following a pair of 2018 sets in other formats for the label (the quartet date Sonic Fiction and the solo Zero). Both freewheeling and scientific as it runs the stylistic gamut from traditional jazz to bebop to the avant-garde, this creatively dizzying masterwork makes clear that Shipp’s playing and composing stays within only one consistent genre: his own.
For this interview, conducted in Shipp’s Manhattan apartment, the pianist discussed his evolution as a player, the changing face of New York, his wish to keep things simple (yes, really), and a subject he’s broached more than once before—the possible end of his recording career.