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Pianist Marc Copland speaks with a slow…scratchy…monotonic…voice. It could be that he’s still groggy by the time our midafternoon interview begins (hey, he’s a jazzman), or it could be that my stunning questions are rendering him cloudy (“How’s it goin’?”), or maybe Copland saves his best answers for whatever musical questions his sidemen throw at him during a gig (hey, I’m just a writer). Copland, who lived in Virginia and Maryland from 1974 to 1984, is returning to Blues Alley, the club that during that time harbored him for “one or two years” as its house pianist. Now a New Yorker, Copland began his jazz career as a saxophonist before returning to his childhood instrument and moving to the area to play in a band with drummer Mike Smith.
So how did he end up at Blues Alley? “Ahhh…(deathly long pause)…I guess they just heard about me and started calling me to play there with my own group and to back up national acts.” Hmmmm. After his decade in D.C., Copland returned to New York for very practical purposes. “I love [D.C.], but professionally there’s just more for me to do [in New York]. Washington is a great place to live and a great place to play music.” This he says without hesitation.
Copland’s current Savoy CD, Second Look, featuring his quartet, is filled with impressionistic originals by the pianist and his co-leader, guitarist John Abercrombie. But it’s Copland’s last disc, Stompin’ With Savoy, that’ll get the full treatment at Blues Alley on Sept. 26 and 27. Stompin’ is a quintet date that features horns and a classic selection of jazz standards including Wayne Shorter’s “Footsteps,” Miles Davis’ “All Blues,” and Herbie Hancock’s “One Finger Snap.” If that’s not enough from Davis’ world, Copland’s playing is reminiscent of occasional Davis sideman Bill Evans, whose work was defined by a light, though not lightweight, touch.
Copland’s fingers are nimbler than his mouth, and the results are far more lyrical than the words that stumble from his lips, especially those he uses to describe his music. “I think…(long pause)…I…(long pause)…I value the kind of vibe where everyone feels like they can contribute equally. Where all the musicians feel free to throw ideas around and take the music in a direction if they hear it.” Deep breath. “So…(really long pause)…while I’m the leader of both my Savoy CDs, it kind of feels to me like a way of teaching that was in vogue while I was in college—directed discussion. I had one or two great professors I still remember from college who didn’t tell you what was but directed the class to discuss something until we found the answer ourselves. That’s the way I feel music. That’s kind of a long answer.” It’s all right, bro, it was worth the wait.—Christopher Porter