Carnegie Hall. Never thought I would journey to New York City for the sole purpose of sitting in a sold out hall to listen to a solo piano recital of Debussy Etudes mixed with a selection of jazz originals. Never thought I’d do that and especially never thought I’d know anyone personally who played Carnegie Hall. But here I am at LaGuardia remembering how my wife Connie and I came to New York to hear Jeremy Siskind and be a part of two standing ovations for his amazing performance and musical virtuosity.
Our journey to Carnegie Hall began three years ago with a cold call. Joel Harrison, the very dedicated CEO and Artistic Director of the American Pianists Association, happened to see our home – and baby grand piano – featured in Indianapolis Monthly Magazine. He tracked us down and called to ask if we wouldn’t mind hosting a jazz recital by Dan Tepfer for about 50 APA patrons who we don’t know. We didn’t know Joel, we didn’t know Dan and we really didn’t know about APA. To our surprise…we, of course, said yes. We came to learn that 26 year-old Dan Tepfer was the APA’s 2007 Cole Porter Fellow in Jazz and had become internationally renowned as a unique jazz talent. And he was coming to play at our home! Dan came and played and thrilled those 50 people we didn’t know – plus us. It was for me and Connie, a magical evening. Dan’s amazing talent, the friendly APA staff and many APA supporters that evening convinced us that the APA was a special organization with a special mission. The APA’s mission of discovering, promoting and advancing the careers of young American world-class jazz and classical pianists resonated with us. We were hooked from that night forward!
As Connie and I attended more events we became increasingly enthusiastic in our support of APA and the exceptional talent that is its hallmark. Soon, the next Cole Porter Jazz Fellowship Competition was coming up on the calendar. This competition occurs over eight months and provides $100,000 in cash and career assistance to the one young pianist judged to be that year’s Jazz Fellow. There are five Finalists who each come to Indianapolis over those eight months for individual solo juried performances. The final judging happens in April every third year. When the Finalists are in Indianapolis they are hosted by an APA family. And that’s how we came to know Jeremy Siskind and how we came to Carnegie Hall.
To say that the experience of hosting an immensely talented young man in our home – playing our piano as it’s never been played before (not counting Dan Tepfer’s gig) – is an understatement. Connie and I marveled at how Jeremy interpreted complex pieces of his own creation and made them totally enthralling for our two sets of ears not used to jazz. We were hooked again!
Being a host family was immensely satisfying. We greeted Jeremy at the airport as he arrived from his current home in Manhattan and he looked like any normal twenty-three year old, backpack and all. Our job was to offer him a comfortable home base, transport, feed and allow him the space he needed to prepare for the competition and the other events that each of the Finalists do while in town. Those include several days of teaching at local high schools, recitals at local residential facilities and being recognized at the Governor’s reception. Through this process we also came to know the other Finalists, all of whom are extraordinarily talented as well. Indeed, we along with other host families facilitated “play dates” for our respective Finalists where they would come over and just hang out like any twenty-something – only there usually was a great deal of experimental piano playing involved – just for fun!
Over those months of the competition Jeremy became like a second son to us, in much the same way we became like his second set of parents. We were touched when he publicly acknowledged us at his juried performance and even more touched when he first called to wish Connie a “Happy Mother’s Day” – a tradition that continues.
Aaron Diehl was eventually named the 2011 Cole Porter Fellow in Jazz after Jeremy, Emmet Cohen, Zach Lapidus and Glenn Zaleski and Aaron completed their Finals performances with three-time Grammy winner Dee Dee Bridgewater. All the Finalists turned in stellar performances. I don’t envy the job of the judges.
We have continued to host Jeremy whenever he returns to town and we have stayed in touch with the other young Finalists. We traveled to see Aaron as he was featured at the Savannah Music Festival and have followed the careers of Emmet and Glenn as they both travel the world. Last time Jeremy was in town, Zach joined us for dinner at our home. For dessert we all spent some time learning to balance eggs – a mental focusing technique that Jeremy’s instructor, Sophia Rosoff, taught him. Both Jeremy and Zach could do it. I apparently wasn’t focused enough.
When we heard that Jeremy was set to perform at Carnegie Hall sponsored by the Abby Whiteside Foundation we didn’t think twice about going there to see our second “son”. His program displayed his technical virtuosity with his own world premier “Such Harmonious Madness” and the extremely challenging Debussy Etudes. Beautiful, surprising and quite modern to our ears. The second half of Jeremy’s program was made up of five of his own modern jazz compositions with two of his unique interpretations of Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” and Harold Adamson’s “Too Young to Go Steady”. These pieces were so very Jeremy – full of fun, expressive and captivating.
One of Jeremy’s own compositions, “The Inevitable Letdown”, was a highlight. As he describes the piece, exciting events in one’s life lead to an inevitable letdown because the anticipation is often more meaningful than the event itself. Well, I can understand that but in our years in knowing Jeremy, the APA and the many young artists that have been a part of the American Pianists Association story – there has yet to be any letdown for us. It just keeps on being an amazing experience and we are so fortunate to be a part of it all.
Steve Lyman, American Pianists Association Board Member