For over thirty years, the enchanting sounds of jazz have reverberated around the world thanks to the mesmerizing talent of Marc Copland. This musical virtuoso, renowned as both a jazz pianist and composer, has traversed the globe, sharing his soul-stirring melodies and improvisations with audiences from all walks of life. Throughout his illustrious career, Copland has made an indelible mark on the jazz landscape through numerous recordings, both as a bandleader and a sideman.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA on May 27, 1948, Marc Copland’s journey in the world of jazz is nothing short of extraordinary. He began his musical odyssey as a saxophonist, immersing himself in the vibrant music scene of Philadelphia. However, it was during his time in New York City that he encountered luminaries like John Abercrombie and collaborated with legends such as Chico Hamilton.
As Copland’s musical explorations evolved, he ventured into experimenting with the electric alto saxophone. Over time, a sense of dissatisfaction with the direction his music was taking prompted him to take a bold step away from the saxophone. During this hiatus, which lasted nearly a decade, he dedicated himself to mastering the piano.
When he re-emerged on the jazz scene in the mid-80s, Marc Copland’s piano artistry was nothing short of a revelation. He had sculpted a uniquely original style that firmly established him as a pianist and composer of great significance. As a highly sought-after sideman, Copland lent his talents to a diverse array of artists, including luminaries like Bob Belden, Jane Ira Bloom, Joe Lovano, Tim Hagans, James Moody, Wallace Roney, and many others.
Although his stint as a sideman in New York was relatively brief, Copland embarked on a remarkable journey as a bandleader. He commenced recording and touring with a remarkable trio featuring Gary Peacock on bass and Billy Hart on drums, resulting in enthralling albums such as “At Night” and “Paradiso.”
Throughout the 1990s, Copland’s reputation soared, thanks to a series of legendary recordings with the Savoy label. These recordings catapulted him onto the stage with an All-Star quintet that included luminaries such as Randy Brecker, Bob Berg, and Dennis Chambers. Later, he formed a quartet with the exceptional guitarist John Abercrombie, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer Billy Hart.
Marc Copland’s musical prowess knows no bounds. He has captivated audiences not only as a pianist in a trio and as a solo artist but has also showcased his remarkable ability as a duo partner. His duo recordings with Greg Osby and Gary Peacock serve as a testament to his unparalleled musical chemistry and collaborative genius. With a storied career spanning decades and a distinctive musical voice, Marc Copland remains an enduring figure in the realm of jazz.
We are delighted to be in the company of the remarkable pianist Marc Copland, who will grace the stage at Zinc on December 12th. Join us as we embark on a journey to explore Marc’s fascinating transition from saxophonist to pianist and delve into his prolific career.
Charles Carlini: Marc, your musical journey began as a saxophonist in the vibrant Philadelphia music scene. Could you share with us the moment or experience that inspired you to transition to the piano?
Marc Copland: The pivotal moment occurred when I met and played with John Abercrombie in Chico Hamilton’s quartet for a solid two years. Back in 1971, I was a discontented 23-year-old alto saxophonist in search of something more. Getting to know John taught me the essence of wholehearted dedication to creating meaningful music, infused with genuine emotion and a scientist’s inclination for fresh discoveries. Fueled by my passion for harmony, this journey eventually led me to the piano.
CC: Your return to the jazz world in the mid-80s as a pianist was described as a “revelation.” What influenced your unique and original style on the piano during that period?
MC: Joni Mitchell, Claude Debussy, Herbie Hancock, late 19th and 20th-century “classical” orchestral and piano music—add to that, the years I dedicated as a saxophonist exploring the works of Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, and so on.
CC: You’ve collaborated with a remarkable array of jazz greats, including Bob Belden, Joe Lovano, and James Moody. Can you tell us about a particularly memorable moment or performance with one of these legendary musicians?
MC: Oh, there are plenty of memorable moments, but two really stand out.
First—After being with Moody for about a year or two, either he or Todd Coolman mentioned to me that, during our first week working together in Seattle, Moody had told Todd, “You know, there’s something in the way that Marc accompanies me that’s a little uncomfortable. I think there’s something for me to learn there.” That’s pretty remarkable on several levels. I had a deep admiration for the guy.
Second—Bob Belden’s big band was playing regularly at Visiones on 3rd St, just a bit west of the Zinc. One night, he handed out a few new charts that we sight-read on the gig. After all the music was distributed, I looked up at Bob and said, “Hey, no parts for me?” He grinned, shrugged, and replied, “Just react!”—with a big smile. Surprisingly, it worked out quite well.
CC: Your trio work with Gary Peacock and Billy Hart is highly acclaimed. What draws you to the trio format, and how does the chemistry between you and your fellow musicians shape your performances?
MC: The trio setting is incredibly intimate, and that’s something I appreciate. Chemistry is everything; it’s the whole ball game. I aim to shut my eyes and sense the lines of communication flowing between all three of us—whether it’s in terms of aesthetics, rhythm, or concept. I don’t give them any instructions, not even to a new band member. If I manage to fulfill my role by communicating through the keyboard, then everyone can instinctively grasp what needs to be done.
CC: Your duo recordings with Greg Osby and Gary Peacock have received critical acclaim. What sets the duo format apart for you, and what do you find most fulfilling in these intimate musical partnerships?
MC: In duos and solo performances, there’s truly no place to hide. You can discern immediately what’s happening. Both Greg and Gary were partners with tremendous ears and a significant spirit, which made the collaboration effortless.
Audiences at Zinc are in for a treat on December 12th, and we can’t wait to witness the magic you bring to the stage. Thank you for sharing your incredible journey with us, Marc!