Dan Tepfer gains perspective on his two favorite endeavors by trying things backward.The New York-based jazz piano player shares the positive aspects of that inverse fusion – his artistic talent and fascination with astrophysics – today in Stockton.”I don’t know if it helps directly,” said Tepfer, who’ll emphasize his musical, rather than astrophysical, riffs with members of the Brubeck Institute Jazz Quintet. “But the thing it does – at the very least – is it asks questions.
Dan Tepfer w/ Brubeck Institute Jazz Quintet
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Take 5 Jazz at the Brew, 157 W. Adams St., Stockton
Tickets: $10; $5 students
Information: (209) 464-2739
“Like, I practice playing piano with my hands reversed. It almost makes it feel like brain science. It makes your brain feel so different.” Tepfer, who grew up in Paris and earned a degree in astrophysics at Scotland’s University of Edinburgh, mentors and performs with University of the Pacific students at Take 5 Jazz at the Brew in Stockton. “It’s different every time,” Tepfer said from Brooklyn, N.Y. “But the Brubeck Institute is special. To sit and work with students who are so experienced and really impressive.” Tepfer knows. He and reed player Ben Wendel – they tour and record as a duo – interacted with 2013 Brubeck Institute students in March. Jalon D’Mere Archie (percussion), Max Boiko (trumpet), Scott Britt (guitar), Sarah Kuo (bass) and Joel M. Ross (vibraphone) are new. “Very often, we kind of focus on the basics,” Tepfer said. “We make sure they realize their own importance and how important making some solid growth is. I also try to tell them something about what it’s like to be a musician. “We really get to dig deep and get into more technical things and the more specific, subtle aspects of creating.” Tepfer, who tours with his Dan Tepfer Trio and Chicago saxophonist Lee Konitz, has been doing that most of his life. His now-retired mom, Becky, sang in the Paris Opera Chorus for 25 years. Maternal grandfather Chuck Ruff was a jazz pianist. Tepfer began banging on the family piano at age 4. Still, he was fascinated by that astrophysics thing and the mysteries of science. “I don’t feel I made a real effort at astrophysical study,” he said, though his curiosity and inquisitiveness never have waned. “While I spent more time on music than on astrophysics, I’ve always been fascinated by our brief moment of time in this elegant universe. “I thought I might actually be a scientist, but as much as the idea was fascinating, I actually prefer a working musician’s lifestyle. Music’s what I love.” Knowing music involves both sides of the brain – and what scientific research shows as a uniquely-shaped cortex – he said the “structure of music sometimes requires quasi-mathematical ideas as you construct it. But your emotions have to be engaged as much as possible. “I don’t know if it helps directly, but the thing it does – at the very least – is it asks questions.” So, he seeks answers by inverting his hands. He’s trying another experiment this summer in Le Havre, France. He’ll work with students and teachers in July, then return in August and perform their collaboration: “I always enjoy that. It’s a good way of connecting with people.” Of course, he’ll be right at home. An only child, Tepfer was born in Paris to parents – Becky, the singer, and David, a biologist – who’d emigrated from Eugene, Ore. “I hardly remember a time when music wasn’t central in my life,” Tepfer said. “My mom sang her lungs out every night. I was always really attracted” to piano. “I started kind of alone” at 4, “improvising riffs” on “Jingle Bells.” He learned a classical style in public schools and at Paris Conservatoire-Paul Dukas twice a week. While there’s a “huge appreciation for jazz” in France, it wasn’t taught in school when Tepfer was there, though he did teach himself.Between ages 6 and 12, he heard Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire” and the similarly rollicking boogie-woogie style unleashed by James P. Johnson (1894-1955). Recordings by Thelonious Monk (1917-82), Keith Jarrett, 68, and Ahmad Jamal, 83, played major roles in his jazz absorption: “I kind of wore those out,” especially Jamal’s “The Awakening” (from 1970). He continued expanding and experimenting while studying astrophysics in Scotland. He moved to New York in 1983, developing affiliations with Konitz, Wendel and his own trio. He also records and sits in with other musicians. He’s won a variety of competitions and, as U.S. State Department cultural envoy, has traveled to Azerbaijan, Georgia and the Czech Republic. In 2010, he composed a concerto (“The View from Orohena”) for the Prague Castle Guard Orchestra that was premiered at Prague Castle. He’s now working on an album of Cuban and Santeria music and an eighth recording with his trio. He recently finished the five-month task of recording an independent film score (“Movement and Location”). It’s not an astrophysical principle, but a career in jazz can compute: “A big part of it doesn’t make sense. It takes a leap of faith in today’s crazy world. Yes it’s crazy. But it does make sense.”
Contact Tony Sauro at (209) 546-8267 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tsaurorecord.