Interview with Yaron Herman

Yaron Herman is a charismatic and passionate pianist and composer whose youth belies amazing talent and experience. He has performed more than 100 concerts in 30 different countries at venues including the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in Paris and the Sumida Triphony Hall in Tokyo, not to mention jazz festivals at Monterey, Montréal and San Francisco. Herman was also the first Jazz pianist to play in the Forbidden City in Beijing.

Herman has garnered many honors, including best new instrumentalist of the year at the 2008 Victoires du Jazz, the Sunside New Talents Trophy and the 2007 Adami Jazz Talent award. Herman’s Variations album won the Disque d’émoi award from Jazz Magazine.

The Melody Book recently spoke with Yaron Herman:

Q:  How did you meet and decide to work with the newest members of your trio, Chris Tordini (bass) and Tommy Crane (drums)?

A:  It happened quite naturally. I was playing with bass player Matt Brewer, who was a part of my first trio, along with Gerald Cleaver on drums. There were a few tours that Gerald couldn’t attend, and I was looking for another drummer, so Matt recommended Tommy Crane, since they had worked together for several years. The three of us worked well together, and it was a lot of fun, so we decided to do an entire project together one day. Later on I decided to change the lineup, and Tommy recommended Chris Tordini. Chris, Tommy and I toured together and the music was really intense, and we recorded our first album Follow the White Rabbit together and that’s how it all happened.


Q:  How do you choose the pieces you perform? Have you gotten any feedback from the artists you cover, such as Björk, The Police, or Britney Spears?

A:  When it’s my own composition, these are usually ideas that I’ve been working on for a while in my head, or I’m trying to express a certain feeling or mood through sound. The songs we play are an expression of an interior need to get something out. When I write it down it’s coming through me, I don’t really understand how and why, but that’s how it works. When I choose to play a standard or some covers, it’s usually because the songs have a special meaning for me, and they’ve been a part of my musical landscape growing up. Or they are songs that I’ve known and loved for a long time. You always want to play with elements which are close to you, that have an emotional impact, so I try and stay close to that.

Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten any feedback from any of the artists I cover. I would love to have a phone call from Britney saying something like: “It’s Britney, bitch!” but that hasn’t happened yet. It’s possible that Sting heard my version of “Message in a Bottle,” because his guitar player, Dominic Miller, who I know very well, loved the arrangement.


Q:  What are the most significant differences in your experiences performing as a soloist, as opposed to with your trio or guest musicians?

A:  When you’re playing alone, you’re more free to go wherever you want, whenever you want, which is a lot of fun. I don’t have to worry about what will happen if I try something and the others aren’t able to follow, or they don’t go in the same direction. On the other hand, when you’re playing alone, you have less input and you have to come up with everything all the time. You can’t really take a step back and observe the music. You’re so much a part of creating the content, editing the content, and directing all at the same time, you’re doing the job of four people, at least. And this is all in real time when you’re dealing with improvisation, so it can be a rough task. Still, the freedom is incredible, and I love doing solo work.

When you play with others, the advantage is the communication. You exchange ideas, and you get different points of view on your own music. When you share your ideas you can see them transformed while you’re performing. It’s just like in life; sometimes it’s good to be alone, and sometimes it’s good to be friends sharing ideas, thoughts and feelings. I guess you have to have both to have a complete experience of what it means to create music.


Q:  Who are your favorite classical and contemporary musicians? Who inspires and influences you?

A:  That’s a long list of people. From the classical world, I’d say Bach, Brahms, ChopinBartók, and Messiaen. These are the first names that pop up, I’m sure I’m forgetting many other influential and incredible musicians, which I love. From the jazz world, it’s also a long list, from Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Monk, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and all the usual suspects. From the pop world, there are the artists everyone likes, like Björk, Radiohead and Blonde Redhead, as well as other bands I’m discovering every day, like Mode Selektor and Deerhoof. I try to keep my ears open every day, because there is so much great music out there, some of it by people you don’t really hear about, so you have to seek it out. There are a lot of young people today creating great music too; I try to keep an open ear for inspiration.


Q: What projects are you working on currently?

A:  Right now I’m composing for a new record which will be released this September. It will be a quartet, but not the traditional kind of quartet. This one will include solo, duo and trio formats. I guess this will be the most personal album I’ve worked on so far in terms of the melodies and compositional development. I’m really looking forward to this one, actually. I’m so bad with names and I don’t have a title for it yet, but I’m thinking about it. I wish I could just release albums without names and still have people buy them! It’s like parents who wait until their baby is born to give them a name. I’m waiting to see what it is before I name it.

I will also be doing some classical music projects and solo piano performances, playing with Michel Portal, but I’m mostly concentrating on my new album, which takes a lot of time and energy.


You can hear Official Bootlegs of Yaron Herman’s music here. For more information on Yaron Herman′s upcoming concerts and performances, check the Concert section on his website.


Giuliana is a writer and social media strategist who lives in Jersey City with her husband and adorable Maltese puppy, Bianca. Connect with Giuliana on Google+