Jean-Michel Pilc: Room to improv

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Jean-Michel Pilc
Virtuosic pianist Jean-Michel Pilc finds success by following intuition

Mathematics and music are often seen as complementary fields, realms governed by beautifully confluent systems of logic. But for Jean-Michel Pilc--an aerospace engineer by training and jazz pianist by calling--music exists in a universe apart, where intuitive communion on the bandstand transcends the left-brain's dominion.

Self-taught and resistant to theory, Pilc has developed a coruscatingly melodic approach inspired by his formative musical exposure, listening to jazz records as a 7-year-old, memorizing solos and keeping time with his fingers.

“When I reached my 20s and saw so many people studying music in scientific and theoretical ways, it went so against my experience,” says Pilc, 49, who performs Wednesday at Scullers with bassist Francois Moutin and drummer Billy Drummond. “All my life music has been about oral tradition, tapping out rhythms and singing along with solos. People say my music is very sophisticated, but it feels very simple and deep for me.”

The Paris-born pianist graduated from France's leading telecommunications research university with a degree that led to a four-year stint with the French space agency Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales, or CNES, in the mid-1980s. But launching satellites couldn't compete with Pilc's passion for improvisation.


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