From her earliest years, Kerry has been involved in creating and performing music. After comprehensive classical study, she discovered jazz in college. Like George Gershwin, she found the link between the two musical genres and has made it work for her and her listeners.
Jazz Review: How did you first become interested in music? Was music important in your home and family?
Kerry Politzer: I actually discovered music by accident when I was three. My parents bought me one of those toy pianos, and I started picking out little tunes I would hear and writing little songs. They decided that they had to get me into music. When my grandmother passed away, she left me some money with which they bought me a baby grand piano when I was four. I just took it from there. I really started with the music education in the public schools, and they brought me to some after school classes. I started studying serious classical music when I was eight.
I feel strongly about music education. Recently, there have been a lot of cutbacks in the arts in public schools, and they’re so essential for children. When you have that childlike creative spirit, when you develop it at an early age, it’s a gift that will never leave you. Children are so naturally creative and gifted.
Jazz Review: Did the rest of your family have an involvement with music?
Kerry Politzer: My grandfather was a musician; he was a multi-instrumentalist. Although I didn’t have much contact with him, I think I indirectly received some of his musical interest and ability. My mother was also very interested in clarinet and accordion,; and although she didn’t really pursue it, she has a definite ear for music. I had a little brother who loves music but is more interested in the management and producing aspect; so he’s more interested in popular genres.
Jazz Review: How did you become interested in attending the North Carolina School of the Arts? What kind of experiences did you have there?
Kerry Politzer: Well, when I was around fourteen, I was feeling like I needed to branch out and be around people who were doing artistic things, I was living in Potomac, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC. Around my neighborhood, there weren’t a lot of community groups or things that a child who was interested in the arts could do to get together with like-minded people. So I went away to school where everybody was doing the arts. At the North Carolina School of the Arts, there were people in drama and visual arts, and you could be stimulated by all the different genres. One great thing about the school is that you could attend everything for free; you could go to the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, you could go to the gallery and see the art students’ works, you could see orchestras at Symphony Hall downtown, you could have all these multi-cultural experiences for free. When you are around a lot of people who are involved in the arts and believe in the arts, it’s a lot easier to see yourself doing that than if you’re isolated.
Jazz Review: After fourteen years of studying classical music, you earned a Bachelor of Music with a concentration in jazz at The New England Conservatory. What caused you to make the transition, and who influenced you along the way?
Kerry Politzer: I discovered jazz when I was in college. When I got to The New England Conservatory, I was in a kind of rut. I had developed tendonitis and was frustrated because I couldn’t practice as much as I wanted to. I went to a performance by Bevin Manson, who was on the piano faculty there. The performance blew my mind it was so beautiful and inspirational that I decided then and there to start learning about jazz. One thing I could do to further my musical development without using my hands was to do transcriptions. I studied with Bevin, who was a great inspiration, and I would go to hear my peers play. I also started studied with Charlie Banacos who really started to get my head much more into jazz.
Jazz Review: Please tell us about your current musical studies with Charlie Banacos.
Kerry Politzer: Charlie is an endless inspiration, both emotionally and musically. He is one of the most encouraging people I’ve ever met. He used to have a waiting room in his studio where his students would hear the lesson before theirs. I remember that whenever the person before me would come out, Charlie would say "Didn’t he sound great? Didn’t he do a wonderful job?" I would come out of my lesson, and Charlie would say to the next person, "Wasn’t that cookin’?" To have that constant encouragement to do well and create new music was really beneficial.
Jazz Review: After you graduated from The New England Conservatory, how did you get started as a professional musician?
Kerry Politzer: During my last year at school and the year afterwards, I was floundering. I was trying to decide whether to move to New York. In 1996, I decided to enter The American Pianists Association Jazz Piano Competition. I was one of six people who were flown to Indianapolis for this competition. Four of the other people were already living in New York; and I thought that if all these people could move to New York and try to play music there, then maybe I could do it, too.
Jazz Review: In addition to playing in contests like The American Jazz Pianists Association Jazz Competition, you also did the 2000 Songwriters of America Competition and the John Lennon Songwriting Competition. Did you compose pieces especially for these contests?
Kerry Politzer: I’m always composing because Charlie has me on a kind of roll. For every lesson I have with him lately, I do a little composition. He’ll give me some chords or some voicings and lead me toward some ideas I can work with. We’ve done about thirty-four of these lessons where I write a little piano piece. Sometimes, through the sheer act of writing, I’ll come up with an idea or tune I will work on later. It keeps your mind going, because your brain can fall into disuse if you’re not actively trying to do something. I think these pieces spontaneously arose from doing these lessons. I was also studying Brazilian music at the time with Vanderlei Pereira, a wonderful teacher in Manhattan. Some of the pieces were a combination of the samba rhythms and the harmonic things I was studying with Charlie.
Jazz Review: How did it feel to have your compositions recognized in a contest?
Kerry Politzer: That was a wonderful feeling! A composition is something you spend your time trying to perfect. You may come up with the idea, and all of a sudden you start hearing it in your head a different way, and then you have to go back and change it. It’s a process that lasts a little while. It’s as if you baked a cake and somebody thought it was delicious.
Jazz Review: How do you view entering contests in terms of your career aspirations?
Kerry Politzer: I guess it’s just something you decide to do. It shouldn’t really be the end. Your compositions are something you do all the time to fulfill yourself, and it’s nice to be recognized; but sometimes these decisions are arbitrary. I don’t go into these things expecting to be affected emotionally by them one way or the other. I just have to just keep on doing what I’m doing, doing things that are fulfilling. It’s a very competitive field, and there are lots of wonderfully talented people out there. Different people will appreciate different aspects of our talent. Actually, I haven’t entered contests in a couple of years, and did them to see what would happen.
Jazz Review: Your composition "Tug of War" has been selected for a compilation CD to be distributed by the Kenwood Corporation. How does it feel to know that 35,000 Kenwood customers will be listening to your composition on their new car stereos?
Kerry Politzer: That all happened because of the web site MP3.com. They have partnerships with different corporations. I really have positive feelings about MP3.com; it’s a way for independent musicians to get their music across to the public. It’s a huge portal where people can discover your music by accident; whereas if you have your own web site, they might not find it. There is every different genre you can imagine. You can spend all day on this site, and the music is always a discovery. Some of their content managers took a liking to my music and featured it on a couple of compilations.
Jazz Review: You are very interested in Brazilian popular music. What first attracted you to this genre?
Kerry Politzer: It was when I first moved to New York. There’s a large Brazilian music scene here, at place like the Zink Bar and the coffee shops. A couple of friends who are interested in this music introduced me to Vanderlei Pereira, who in turn recommended tons of albums. My CD collection grew from there. I discovered what I liked and kept ordering more and more CDs.
Jazz Review: How did "Watercolor" get to be the title track of your new CD?
Kerry Politzer: I thought that the track was representative of the whole CD. Every tune is like a different color; every tune is a different mood. The title track sounds very impressionistic; all the different chords are like different colors blending into each other.
Jazz Review: Can you remember what you were thinking when you composed "Whim" from the Watercolor CD?
Kerry Politzer: I was in a happy mood, feeling bouncy and bubbly. I came up with this crazy melody on a whim, and it just struck my fancy.
Jazz Review: You composed all the pieces on Watercolor except for "A Foggy Day." How do you view George Gershwin in terms of his place in musical history and his influence on today’s jazz artists?
Kerry Politzer: My first exposure to Gershwin was "Rhapsody in Blue," when I was still playing classical music. I was familiar with his music in my subconscious when I started playing jazz. In terms of composition, I don’t know if there is anyone out there today who is writing standards with the kind of melodies that you’ll remember forever. That’s what has affected me the most. When I did "A Foggy Day" on Watercolor, I was thinking of his melody; but I was also thinking about a foggy day in terms of weather. The way that "A Foggy Day" is usually played is pretty happy because it’s a love song about finding someone and being fulfilled. I was thinking about a foggy, gloomy day. On the track, the drummer imitates thunder.
Jazz Review: When you compose, how much is written down? What part of your recordings is improvised? Do your compositions evolve as the recording session progresses?
Kerry Politzer: I have a lot of pages here with scribbling that I can’t even read. Some ideas get lost. I have a big book full of random scribblings and sometimes an idea in there will turn into something completely different. I just got a sequencing keyboard that will help me to record my ideas spontaneously. I never play the head of a composition the way twice. One of my teachers once told me that I had to be more aware of playing an original composition consistently so that people would know the melody of what they were listening to.
Jazz Review: You are involved in several different musical groups at the moment; as a performer, composer, and ensemble leader. How does each of these activities excite you as a musician?
Kerry Politzer: I actually have three ensembles, and some of the personnel are interchangeable . The Brazilian repertoire group is always exciting because it causes me to find new repertoire for the group and listen to new things. Sometimes, new ideas and arrangements arise out of the group, ideas that are inspirational. That group is to preserve the culture and learn about the music. I use Vanderlei Pereira in that group because he knows so much. The first CD, Yearning, has a quintet and does my original compositions that are Brazilian influenced. And then, there is my trio from Watercolor. Anything that inspires you to keep writing or listening to new music brings you a lot of joy.
Jazz ReviewHow do you view yourself as an ensemble leader?
Kerry Politzer: I’m pretty lenient. I feel that each person needs to bring his own soul to the music. My musicians are always surprising me with different ideas and interpretations; and I just let them flow with it. I’m not a stickler about everything being exactly the way I want it to be, as long as the first note and the last note are right.
Jazz Review: You have worked with vocalist Dianne Schuur. What are the differences that you experience in working with a vocalist rather than an instrumental jazz ensemble?
Kerry Politzer: Maybe because the lyrics are a more direct way of getting through to the audience, you have to be more emotional and more conscious of the breath. I love working with vocalists because it’s such an organic process. They are so directly expressing an emotion and you are there as part of that emotion. I’ve just started taking singing lessons because I wanted to become more aware of that. As an instrumentalist, you should be taking breaths also, even though it’s tempting not to. I thought it would help my piano playing and would be another fun thing to study. I never realized how much work it was I got so lightheaded the first time I took a breath!
Jazz Review: I understand that you are going to London in a few days. Will you be playing while you are there?
Kerry Politzer: I’m going there for fun to see my boyfriend play with Buster Williams and Lenny Scott; my boyfriend’s also a piano player. I’m really excited and I’m a big fan of fish and chips. Food is another one of my great loves. I have a web site where I do restaurant reviews, and I’ll probably end up reviewing some of the places I eat at over there.
Jazz Review: At this point in your career, what are your musical goals for the future?
Kerry Politzer: I want to continue to compose. The exciting thing about that is, what you would have composed three years ago is completely different from what you would hear nowadays. It’s an inspiring thing that makes you happy about life because you feel connected to the universe. When ideas are flowing into your head, it’s a fulfilling and inspiring experience. I want to put out more CDs of compositions, interesting assortments of songs. Hopefully, I’ll develop more of a performing career, playing festivals and things, be satisfied playing music and making other people happy, too.
Jazz Review: If you could have one musical wish, what would it be?
Kerry Politzer: Sometimes I wish that I was born thirty years ago when everyone was still alive. I would love to have met people like Coltrane, Monk, Kelly, all the people that I admire so much and only know through their recordings.
Jazz Review: Where do you mostly perform?
Kerry Politzer: I sometimes play at Cornelius Street Café. This year, I performed in the Wave Hill Concert Series, a botanical garden in Riverdale. I play in smaller venues around the city.
Jazz Review: What new things are you looking toward?
Kerry Politzer: Right now, I’m thinking about Watercolor and where I’m going to go from there. I hope to play at more venues outside NYC in the future. I sent my material to the Kennedy Center’s "Women in Jazz" Festival this year; so maybe I’ll be chosen for that.
For more information about Kerry Politzer, visit her musical web site, and her food web site, salivates.com.