Get to know Jazz Fellowship Awards Finalist Zach Lapidus


We are pleased to introduce you to ZACH LAPIDUS, one of the five Finalists for the American Pianists Association’s 2014 – 2015 Jazz Fellowship Awards presented by REI Real Estate Services.

Zach Lapidus Piano green tie

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Portland, OR, and grew up in Vancouver, WA until I left for college. Vancouver is a suburb of Portland that lies across both the Oregon state line and Columbia River. This dual-state relationship is fortunate, as it allows me to feel a simultaneous ownership of both grunge and Elliott Smith.


Are you from a musical family?

I was very lucky to always be surrounded by music as a child. My father was a banjo and guitar player and had a very large record collection. My mother played piano as a child, and also loved music, so there was always music around the house.


What attracted you to the piano/can you play any other instruments?

Both my parents worked a lot when I was younger, and I was lucky enough to have a baby sitter who took piano lessons. She would sometimes practice on my mother’s piano. Although we had a piano in the house, I had never seen or really heard anybody play classical piano before, and I was spellbound. I remember a Telemann minuet and “Knight Rupert” from Schumann’s Album for the Young specifically. I had a tape recorder that my grandparents had let me borrow, and I would record her playing the pieces and listen back to them a lot; I thought it was the coolest thing! I was obsessed with music as a child, and begged my parents for lessons. When I was around seven or eight, my parents thought I was old enough to begin taking lessons, and there I went.


I used to play the violin. Until I went to college, I considered it to be my main instrument; even though I still took piano lessons, I saw myself as a violinist through and through until my freshman year of college. I was drawn to the violin as it felt more collaborative than piano, at least as I knew it. I played violin in youth orchestras, in quartets, and in all manner of arrangements. I never played jazz seriously until college so I’d never really played the piano in ensembles — I never knew how much I would love it.


I also have an accordion and love to mess around on it, as I love the sound of the instrument.


What age were you when you started to play the piano?

I can’t remember exactly when I started playing the piano; I was either seven or eight. I’ve talked to my parents about this and we can’t remember the exact age. What I know for sure is that I didn’t really get serious about the piano until I was 13, and started studying classical piano with two wonderful teachers and pianists: Joanna Hodges and Jon McLaughlin. Until then, I was the type of mercurial student that drives me crazy as a teacher today!


How do you deal with the pressure and being on stage?

To deal with the pressure of being on stage, I try my best to breathe deeply, relax, and be myself. I go through different periods where it is more difficult or less difficult to be myself when I’m performing. It’s something I try to get a little better at every time I play.

Solo Recital

Favorite venue? 

My favorite venue will probably always be the Chatterbox Jazz Club on Massachusetts Ave in Indianapolis, Indiana. It’s a totally unpretentious dive bar with a great Yamaha upright, great jukebox, the most awesome crew of bartenders, and it is firmly my second home. They also have a great proprietor, David Andrichik, that tries to keep the historic building as intact and as close to its original appearance as possible. It’s a small, cramped space where I’ve witnessed some of the most amazing music I’ve ever heard. It’s long been the place to see the best jazz on a weeknight in Indianapolis. Among many other performers, the great Claude Sifferlen and Frank Glover played there at least once a week for almost twenty years, and many musicians would make pilgrimages to see their amazing duo. There are also a crowd of lovely and often eccentric regulars who come back over and over again to be around the music and their network of Chatterbox-family. I had been lucky enough to play there at least once a week (sometimes twice or three times!) for seven years when I was living in Indianapolis.


The bar used to be completely choked in smoke — most of the regulars smoked cigarettes while they drank and listened to the music, and it was a very small space, with the doors almost always closed. It was so notorious for this atmosphere that many musicians would wear separate pairs of clothes when they played there. Although it kept some people out of the bar, I loved this idiosyncrasy.  One of my amplifiers still smells like smoke, even though the bar has been smoke free since 2012! 


They mayor signed in a citywide smoking ban into effect back in 2012, and the last night you could legally smoke in a bar happened to fall on the same night as my regular trio gig. This was a very significant judgment for the Chatterbox. I ended the night with “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” and led the bar in a group lighting-up in which nearly the entire audience participated, while a few regulars sang along morosely. Stories and moments like these are why the Chatterbox will always have a wonderful place in my heart as my favorite venue.

b and w

Biggest musical influence?

I can’t single out my greatest musical influence very easily, so I’ll offer a few of the most significant ones.  I’ll begin with jazz musicians, since this is, after all, a jazz competition. To start: Thelonious Monk, for being a true, uncompromising original who grabs my attention from his first note; early Keith Jarrett, for his beautiful tone and phrasing, daring freedom, and unique aesthetic; Herbie Hancock, whose playing with Miles in the 1960’s made me want to be a jazz musician; and Abdullah Ibrahim, who plays only from the heart. Perhaps it goes without saying, because he’s so ubiquitous, but Miles Davis is one of the greatest musical influences on me: Miles Davis’ recordings put you into a mood, instantly — there’s this indescribable poetry in his music, and as cliche as it is, I know no other way to describe it than “magic.” He would not record a tune or play anything unless it had that “magic,” and in that sense he seems to me to be the perfect artist. Also, from the first time I heard him in high school, I’ve always loved Ornette Coleman — from the first moment I heard it, there was some quality that I could instantly relate to, even as someone who wasn’t really a jazz listener at the time. The first time I heard a tape of “The Shape of Jazz to Come” that my teacher let me borrow, I thought: “This is it.”


Outside of jazz: Bach, Schumann, Brahms, Takemitsu, Ravel, Francois Couperin, Stravinsky, Bartok, Morton Feldman, Nobukazu Takemura, Tim Hecker, Christian Fennesz, The Books, My Bloody Valentine, Deerhoof, the Beatles, Tortoise, Gastr del Sol, David Grubbs, Jim O’Rourke, Hella, and too many others to name!

What is an ordinary day like for you?

An ordinary day usually begins with piano practice and listening to music, and maybe if I’m lucky, a little composition. Around 3 o’clock is when the piano teaching usually begins, and then when the evening rolls around, there may (hopefully) be a gig or performance.


What type of music do you listen to?

I listen to everything. I love listening to classical music, jazz, electronic music, rock, experimental music…pretty much everything. I like to have a lot of variety in my listening, and I collect LPs voraciously. I usually go to record stores and buy anything that looks interesting, or get everything that certain trusted friends tell me to get. Jazz makes up less of my listening than most other styles of music — I like to get fresh ideas for the piano from other places.


Favorite restaurant(s)? 

I’ve just barely moved to New York so I haven’t been to enough restaurants in the city to name that many here, but I can certainly name my old haunts from Indianapolis! I love Sichuan, a Chinese restaurant in Carmel (ask for the Chinese menu!), Spice Nation, a great Indian restaurant, Yats (get the gumbo!), and Thai Taste, an awesome place that will actually make the food as spicy as you want.



Favorite movie(s)?

My favorite movie of all time is Stalker, a Russian movie by Andrei Tarkovsky; it’s brilliant and philosophical, chock full of allusions and imagery that reward additional watching, and it may be the most beautiful movie ever shot. You could freeze the screen at any point and it would be one of the most beautiful photographs ever taken. I will never tire of watching it. I also love Kurosawa’s Ran — it has an amazing soundtrack by Toru Takemitsu, as well. I also love The Seventh Seal, Vertigo, Duck Soup, Brazil, and Woody Allen’s What’s Up Tiger Lily.


Favorite TV show(s)?

My favorite TV shows of all time are Mystery Science Theater 3000, and The Wire. Nothing could possible dethrone those for me.


Favorite color?

My favorite color is green. I’m from the “evergreen state,” come on.


Favorite season?

My favorite season is Fall; great things always seem to happen to me in the fall. It’s always a time of new beginnings, and the cool air has an electricity that makes me feel inspired and energized.


Favorite vacation destination?

My favorite vacation destination is back home in Vancouver, WA. I miss my family terribly and love seeing them. Other than that, I don’t take too many vacations. Germany would be nice!


Interesting facts about yourself?

Despite the fact that I am a dog person, I am the pianist in all of internet feline sensation Lil BUB’s Big Show and her Animal Planet special.


Zach Lapidus will play the fourth concert of the American Pianists Association‘s 2014 – 2015 Jazz Fellowship Awards presented by REI Real Estate Services on Saturday, January 24 at 8 PM at The Jazz Kitchen. This concert is sponsored by Frost Brown ToddZach Lapidus Piano

And, Kris Bowers will play the final Premiere Series concert on Saturday, February 28. This concert is sponsored by The National Bank of the piano with polka dot socks

The competition doesn’t stop in February!

All 5 Finalists will return to Indianapolis to perform at The Jazz Kitchen for the Semi-Finals on Friday, March 27, 2015 and at Hilbert Circle Theatre for the Finals presented by Ice Miller on Saturday, March 28, 2015.


TICKETS: 317.940.9945 |


Author: americanpianistsassociation

The mission of the American Pianists Association is to discover, promote and advance the careers of young, American jazz and classical pianists.

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