This Monday, August 21st, The Jazz Gallery is pleased to welcome pianist Shai Maestro to our stage for two sets of solo piano. Best known for exquisite work with his trio, like on last year’s record The Stone Skipper (Sound Surveyor), and as vocal accompanist (with Theo Bleckmann among others), this solo show marks the beginning of a new avenue of exploration for Maestro. We caught up with Maestro by phone after a busy summer of touring—he had just arrived in Israel after a long summer tour through Europe. We talked about the continuing evolution of the music from The Stone Skipper, and his mental and emotional approach to playing solo; excerpts of our conversation are below.
The Jazz Gallery: When did you arrive in Israel?
Shai Maestro: I arrived yesterday, I came from Belgium.
TJG: You’ve been touring since the end of June and through all of July—how has that been? You’ve been with the trio mostly?
SM: Yeah, mostly with the trio. My career these days is divided into trio, solo, and side bands and projects. So this was mainly trio, I did two gigs with the Mark Guiliana quartet, and now I’m here in Israel to play three solo shows, I have one solo show in France in a week, and then we are going to Kazakhstan and Japan—we have a bunch of stuff going on.
TJG: How has it been performing with the trio now that you last album, The Stone Skipper, has been out for a while. Do you feel like the music has evolved a lot?
SM: Oh yeah, definitely. I actually had a conversation about that recently, someone asked me if when I listen back to The Stone Skipper I feel regret, because the music has evolved so much, and if I wish the music had been different on the album, and my answer is no, because I feel like with The Stone Skipper, we managed to capture something that is honest, at least for me, and that was a representation of this moment in time. And sure, as soon as I understand that music is basically an extension of life, then the change is inevitable. We change as people, and so everything is felt in the music. So the music has developed a lot, but I see it as a beautiful thing, not as a regret.
TJG: How do you typically adapt your music from playing in the trio setting to when you’re playing in the solo piano setting?
SM: The first thing I try to do is embrace the new sonority. To embrace the fact that it’s only me and to embrace the fact that the sonic information onstage is less than half. You feel very naked all of a sudden. The idea is to not expect anything, and to have a constant dialogue with silence, first of all, and then come out from that. So each note feels like it’s full instead of feeling like I’m missing something, like I’m missing the trio. So that’s the first thing.
The second thing is interaction—I have to be the ventriloquist and the dummy; I have to be the one activating and the one activated. And it’s kind of a schizophrenic reality to live in. when I’m playing trio or with other people, I’m still executing my own thoughts, but when it’s solo, I’m the only one responsible for it. It’s a really beautiful freedom, but it’s also a great challenge. And that’s something that I have to be very conscious of what does A-minor do to you as a performer, instead of playing for your bass player or playing for your drummer.
The third thing is the left hand challenge, which is something I think that all piano players neglect—the majority of piano players neglect the left hand because this register is taken by the bass player or by the drummer usually, so you can kind of hide and play things that are almost there, but not quite there. And when you’re playing solo you’re very exposed so you have to take care of it, so this has been a great gift to me to be able to work on that.