Pianist Jenny Lin had a few minutes to discuss her new CD Get Happy, an album of theatrical show tunes arranged very superbly for solo piano by some of the greatest soloists of piano today such as Christopher O’Riley, Marc-André Hamelin, Greg Anderson and the late Alexis Weissenberg just to name a few (EDITOR’S NOTE: Jenny played the pieces just as superbly).
Jenny also has a couple of shows coming up in NYC on Tuesday, Nov. 27th at Le Poisson Rouge at 7:30 PM (Doors open 6:30; This one being the CD release party for Get Happy) and Thursday the 29th at Greenwich House Music at 8 PM; a show titled unCAGEd: FOR MERCE (A duet show with Lois Svard)
CM: I really enjoy listening to the new CD Get Happy! I’m a fan of arrangements transcribed for piano (solo, piano-duo, 2-piano, etc), and the people that worked up these arrangements are people I really like as well. Are the pieces mostly arranged for you and this project?
Jenny: The Greg Anderson piece, the Hamelin–those were written for me. The “Eliza in Ascot” by Stefan Malzew–that was also written for the project. Uri Caine also wrote one of “Honeysuckle Rose” that didn’t make it onto the CD, and that’s a bonus download on iTunes. The other arrangements all existed already.
CM: Were you always interested in show tunes before you made this album? It’s different from your other CDs, but the music stays true to classical piano, the virtuosic style is still there.
Jenny: I’ve always been a fan of Broadway tunes just listening to them growing up, but I wasn’t really focused on them. The whole point of the project was more about the arrangers rather than the show tunes themselves, and I’ve always admired all these pianists that can compose and arrange things, and still carry busy careers. I’ve attempted to write a few myself, but it was too difficult, so, the idea was to really pay tribute to people like these guys (Hamelin, O’Riley, Greg Anderson, Stephen Hough, Stephen Prutsman, Earl Wild, etc.)–All these guys are pretty much in the tradition of Liszt and Busoni–great pianist/composers that also arranged.
I grew up in Austria, and I think that was my earliest contact with musicals–You’d turn on the TV, and The Sound of Music was on, always! And then when I moved to New York, on Broadway they were prominent. I always loved musicals–Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire films, all of those. So, when I found a Stephen Hough arrangement, I said “You know, maybe there’s a project behind it”, and the more I researched, the more I found. There were a lot of Gershwin arrangements, but not as many as the others…
CM: Rogers & Hammerstein, Lerner & Loewe, etc–those guys?
Jenny: Right, and then I found things like Alexis Weissenberg, which was the total shock, so, why not approach Marc-André Hamelin and my other colleagues to see what they have? In the case of Chris O’Riley and Stephen Prutsman, they already had these pieces on their hard drives, it was perfect! And Hamelin was so gracious and so generous–he wrote something right away, which is the opposite of what I expected from him! [laughs]
CM: It doesn’t surprise me that O’Riley was involved as well–He does a wonderful rendition of Porter’s “You’re The Top” on From The Top (PBS version). It’s great that people like Chris, Greg Anderson and the rest of these guys continue the tradition of the transcription art form perfected by Liszt and Busoni, and they keep it from sounding like it could become a pop-crossover thing.
Jenny: That was my purpose! I wanted a serious album. I wanted something that could continue a classical tradition, I didn’t want to be misunderstood–It wasn’t a crossing-over. I was really trying to combine the 2 genres–classical and musical theater–and pay tribute to these guys, the arrangers. I find it absolutely amazing that they arrange as well as compose and/or perform. The range of styles in these arrangements is vast. You hear from as simple as a Bach chord to a jazz chord. That proves to you that the knowledge of these pianists is so great. Even people like Gershwin–he probably knew the classical repertoire so well, so in many ways these are all musicians from the same tradition.
People ask me “Why didn’t you ask composers to do the arrangements?”, and I said I wanted all the arrangers to be pianists, and there’s quite a difference between arrangements by pianists vs arrangements by composers. With pianists, you solve nearly all the technical issues–Everything fits comfortably in the hand.