“The Unusual Jay Gottlieb” – Article

Translation of the French original, “L’insolite Jay Gottlieb.”

I heard Jay play for the first time at The Atrium Daniel Magne, January 22. I wanted to discover the music of this personage, so unusual and so endearing.

The first surprise on arriving: a jam-packed hall. Surprise, because it is not customary in the Atrium (which I have myself seen by attending two master classes in the past). There, a very diversified crowd thronged, happy and eager to listen to Jay. I say “happy” because upon arrival, even before the entry onstage of the pianist, one felt very clearly a lot of friendship in the air: they were not there just to listen to a talented and renowned pianist, but to listen to Jay. And in an atmosphere like that, it greatly increases desire and pleasure.

The context was quite special: it was the live recording for France-Musique of the radio show called “A L’Improviste” (in this case, a carte blanche for pianist Jay Gottlieb) with a particular feature this time, or rather a surprise on the part of Jay Gottlieb: to involve the public which will offer themes for improvisation and at a fast pace, where the microphone will be passed quickly (sometimes in less than a minute) from one person to another to suggest words, phrases, ideas to inspire improvisation.

It might seem pointless or futile, concerning a pianist, to talk about the character himself, humor, kindness and generosity that were reflected in his words, if these traits didn’t appear so clearly in his music.

I will not dwell on the virtuosity of the musician: it is obvious and goes without saying when he delivers improvised impromptus on such a broad range of themes, colors and emotions. I still remember his interpretation of a poem about a little girl on the subject of rain in which he ended up standing in order to pluck the strings inside the piano. Or his vision (at the moment, I am convinced that another time, his interpretation of the city would have been completely different) of New York, his hometown. By turns joyful, thoughtful, gentle, violent, contemplative, more than a simple demonstration of talent, he offered us a range of variations on his sensitivity, of his surprising originality, and the different facets of his character, such as he is in life.

I repeat my standing ovation.

“Jay Gottlieb is a phenomenon.” First of all, virtuosic technique, which has enabled him to tackle the most demanding piano repertoire of the twentieth century; artistic sensibility, too, because he has brought to these scores a light, a reading in depth and colors that make this remarkable virtuoso a great musician. The press has never ceased to proclaim the generosity of this New Yorker inspired by fingers which have enabled hearing the daring of today’s composers. “It is rare to hear new music in a way that honors that of the past. An intense inner life which burns in him but that he knows how to share with his listeners. A masterful interpretation, haunting, incantatory, timbres of dense colors, rich, unforgettable.”

The critics are unanimous and international. Composers also express their admiration for the pianist, from Pierre Boulez to Olivier Messiaen, from Luciano Berio to Leonard Bernstein.

But for all the great premieres of recent decades, Jay Gottlieb is nonetheless an excellent interpreter of other repertoires. The program proposed here under the banner of American masters (Crumb, Gershwin) bears witness to his openness. A program that does not spare his means or his energy and will enable an appreciation of the scope of interpretation of a genuine talent.

A rare opportunity to hear in concert what a recording might make you forget: a living musician enabling the hearing of living music: in short, a lesson in music.

(Source: Espace des Arts, on the occasion of Pianissimo, January 16, 2005)
Alexandre de Almeida