Dan Tepfer: I’ve been making music for as long as I can remember — it’s always been my primary mode of expression. I grew up studying classical piano and obsessively improvising jazz at home. For most of my creative life, I’ve navigated the divide between these two worlds, though at this point my deepest roots lie in jazz and improvisation. I’ve been lucky to get to make music with some of the very best musicians in the jazz community, from Lee Konitz to Pharoah Sanders via Mark Turner and Paul Motian.The truth, however, is that style has never felt all that important to me. I grew up bilingual, raised in France by an American family, which may explain why I’ve always been much more attached to content than to form, more concerned with what’s being said than the language in which it’s being expressed. As a result, I’ve grown increasingly drawn to exploring different means of expression for my music in order to further isolate the message from the medium. A sports analogy: if you always play tennis against the same person, you only get better at playing against that person. If you always play with different people, you get better at tennis. What I’m trying to do is clarify my message, independently of style. To get right at the music itself.
One of his generation’s extraordinary talents, Dan Tepfer has earned an international reputation as a pianist-composer of wide-ranging ambition, individuality and drive — one “who refuses to set himself limits” (France’s Télérama). The New York City-based Tepfer, born in 1982 in Paris to American parents, has performed around the world with some of the leading lights in jazz and classical music; he has also crafted a discography striking for its breadth and depth, encompassing probing solo improvisation and intimate duets, as well as trio albums rich in their rhythmic verve, melodic allure and the leader’s keen-eared taste in songs no matter the genre.
Tepfer earned global acclaim for his 2011 Sunnyside album Goldberg Variations / Variations, a disc that sees him performing J.S. Bach’s masterpiece as well as improvising upon it — to “elegant, thoughtful and thrilling” effect (New York magazine). Tepfer’s newest album, Natural Machines, stands as one of his most ingeniously forward-minded yet; available now as a video album on YouTube and as an audio-only CD/download/stream via Sunnyside, this solo project five years in the making finds him exploring in real time the intersection between science and art, between coding and improvisation, between digital algorithms and the rhythms of the heart.
Tepfer has also composed for various ensembles beyond jazz. His piano quintet Solar Spiral was premiered in 2016 at Chicago’s Ravinia Festival, with Tepfer performing alongside the Avalon String Quartet. Tepfer has received commissions from the Prague Castle Guard Orchestra for two works: the suite Algorithmic Transform (2015) and a concerto for symphonic wind band and improvising piano, The View from Orohena (2010). In summer 2019, Tepfer unveiled his jazz-trio arrangement of Stravinsky’s Baroque-channeling Pulcinella.
Tepfer’s honors have included the first prize and audience prize at the 2006 Montreux Jazz Festival Solo Piano Competition, first prize at the 2006 East Coast Jazz Festival Competition, and first prize at the 2007 competition of the American Pianists Association. He was voted a Best New Artist in JazzTimes (2010) and a Rising Star in DownBeat (2011). Tepfer garnered the Charles Ives Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2014; a MacDowell Fellowship, with a residency at the MacDowell Colony in 2016; and a three-year creative grant from the French Foundation BNP-Paribas in 2018.
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