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Jean-Michel Pilc: Self-Taught, Still Learning

How one tune led to constant discovery

Jean-Michel Pilc
Jean-Michel Pilc

There may be no more diverse, unpredictable jazz piano player, song to song, than Jean-Michel Pilc. Go hear him at Smalls or the Kitano in New York, or put on any of his nearly 20 records, and you might encounter a violent, thundering assault on “So What,” followed by a wistful, crystalline fragmentation of “Scarborough Fair” and then a thorny, hardhearted “Tenderly.”

He is self-taught but erudite, with an extensive knowledge of the Western classical tradition and jazz piano history. He can erect towering two-handed Baroque architecture, or knock you down with rhythmic force, or break your heart with harmony like Bill Evans, sometimes within the same piece. He has the chops to execute his wildest impulses.

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