ADVANCING the mission | meet Bob & Toni Bader

talking about the American Pianists Awards, NYC jazz clubs and Lady Gaga with APA board member Bob Bader and his wife Toni


Emmet Cohen had a quandary:

his first performance in one of the world’s largest jazz piano competitions was coming up alongside Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in Judaism. Alerted to this conflict by his mother, he asked the organizers of American Pianists Awards for assistance.

Toni Bader’s friend was working for the American Pianists Association at the time and Toni recalls what happened next: “my girlfriend said Emmet had called and said he needed to go to Yom Kippur service. As my friend was telling me the story, I said send him to us and we will take him.”

With that (and no prior knowledge of the organization), Toni and her husband Bob had committed to becoming a host family for Emmet and welcomed him to their home for the 2011 American Pianists Awards. Having hosted exchange students in the past, the Baders were well prepared for their role. “We said we would be his host parents so we had him come with us to services and we got everything done for him, which now means every time Emmet comes to town he stays with us.”

“I think like a lot of host families we have kind of adopted Emmet,” explains Bob. “We have gotten to know his family, we have seen him play in New York, and we’ve been up to Chicago to see him play.”

Toni agrees: “He is ours!”

Here they describe hosting Emmet:

Echoing Emmet’s nightime practice routine, in the April profile on Steve and Connie Lyman the couple shared a story about the jazz pianist they were hosting (Jeremy Siskind) playing a Cole Porter lullaby as they drifted off to sleep. The American Pianists Association holds alternating competitions for jazz and classical pianists. The goal with each is to discover, promote and advance the careers of young American musicians. Bedtime, however, appears to be a particular difference between the two genres:

Bob and Toni discuss more about their involvement with the Awards:

The artistic growth that Toni witnessed in Emmet Cohen is a hallmark of the American Pianists Awards. The unique and innovative competitions span 13 months and provide a platform to deeply engage musical artists in a variety of creative formats and settings.

The competition also allows finalists to get to know each other and appreciate the talents of their fellow musicians. Says Bob, “It’s neat to see the kids hang out together. All of them that have come through the competition, whether they are a jazz musician or classical pianist, have been great young people. As Toni said they are smart and incredibly hard working; they are all working on their careers; they are all studying; they are all improving their skills, and they are just nice wholesome people to be around.”

Toni also appreciates the camaraderie: “the first time through, four of the finalists kind of hung out together. They were over at a board member’s house that had two grand pianos in the living room so they were playing duets and quartets and jumping in and out of the pianos with each other and it was just great!”

Here the Baders recall another memorable moment:

In the previous clip Bob and Toni reference seeing former American Pianists Awards winners Sean Chen and Dan Tepfer perform together in New York–a place Bob says they visit quite often:

“Even though I don’t play an instrument I’m a really good listener and like all kinds of music. We have been symphony subscribers and supporters, and we have been jazz aficionados. We spend a lot of time in New York and one of the things we there is attend music events. We go to jazz clubs and musicals on Broadway. We have gone to see some of the classical winners that play in New York.”

What are some of their favorite jazz clubs in the city?

“We’ve been going to the Blue Note for years. Emmet plays at Smoke [Jazz and Supper Club] quite often. SubCulture which is below another club—that’s where we saw Sean and Dan Tepfer perform. Our apartment is not far from Dizzy’s Club so we are within walking distance.”

In Indianapolis, they frequent the Jazz Kitchen. Shares Bob, “We love the Jazz Kitchen—it’s a great venue!”

Given their frequent outings, music is obviously important to the Baders. Here they discuss the ways music affects our lives:

After hosting an American Pianists Awards finalist and clearly understanding the power of music, the Baders extended their involvement. Bob recalls, “After that first finals, APA President Joel Harrison asked me to join the board. My response was what? I have no musical ability.”

Toni agrees, “I play the piano, and Bob plays the radio!”

Nonetheless, there was a need. “Joel said they needed people with business experience to help build the organization.  And we’ve been involved ever since. In the half dozen years we have been involved with the American Pianists Association we have seen tremendous growth in the organization.”

Bob says they have greatly enjoyed their involvement the way:

“One of the results is not only being able to listen to good music but it’s getting to know these young people and building friendships with them. We like being involved in the process of helping them. Plus we have really become good friends with several of the board members and have gone out with them socially to events outside of APA functions. There are a lot of very nice, really neat people on the board.”

In the following clip, the Baders share more on why others should get involved with the American Pianists Association:

As part of each American Pianists Awards competition, every finalist completes a residency with an Indianapolis-area high school orchestra or jazz band. Concerto Curriculum brings the beauty of world-class music to new audiences and non-traditional venues, provides pedagogical growth for developing artists, and inspires new generations of young musicians.

Through hosting Emmet Cohen, Bob has seen the Concerto Curriculum in action and believes it works in part “because it is easier for [the finalists] to relate to the high school kids because they are closer in age.” Bob and Toni share more about the impact of these high school residencies:

One high school student summed up the residency: “I just need to tell you how AWESOME that concert was and THANK YOU for giving us the opportunity to experience it. Our jazz band sounded AMAZING!” (The Concerto Curriculum schools for the 2017 American Pianists Awards were recently announced.)

Clearly, the Baders have a high degree of affection for both Emmet Cohen and the American Pianists Association and have loved investing their passion, time and resources helping both the artist and organization grow. Wrapping up, we asked whether they had spoken with Emmet recently.

Says Bob, “Yes, a couple of weeks ago. He has a gig at the Jazz Kitchen on October 22 so we will be there for that. And then we will see him in New York in a couple of weeks.”

Revisiting a theme from earlier, Toni then shares her plan for enjoying jazz in the city: “we’ll get a nap and go to one of his later performances!”


Join Bob and Toni and follow the careers of more young, American world-class pianists by signing up for our newsletter or attending an upcoming event.




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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