Recent Eastman School of Music graduate Christopher Ziemba will be featured on the famed national series Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz this weekend. His visit and performance with the legendary 91-year-old pianist can be heard locally at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 28, on WXXI AM-1370.
Ziemba, a pianist, composer, and percussionist who received his Bachelor of Music degree in 2008, was tapped to join McPartland based on an excerpt of his senior recital which he submitted. He got a call-back last summer while working at the landmark Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Mich., and interrupted his student teaching at Greece’s Buckman Heights Elementary School last October to travel to New York City for the taping.
Ziemba spent three hours in studio, playing jazz standards as well as his own compositions and joining McPartland in some impromptu duets and free improvisation. The session was edited down to a one-hour broadcast; though Ziemba doesn’t know the final rundown, an advance podcast includes his playing of such works as “Dream Dancing” by Cole Porter and “Nobody Else but Me” by Jerome Kern.
Though sharing recording space with an internationally renowned jazz musician could have been intimidating, Ziemba soon felt at ease with McPartland. “You’d think it would be pretty nerve-racking, but as it happened, as soon as she walked in she was very disarming and I just felt completely at ease,” Ziemba said. “Every once in a while, at the back of my mind, I would think ‘what am I doing here,’ but it felt very comfortable working with her.”
A native of Williamsville, N.Y., Ziemba, 22, started studying piano at age 4. At age 7, he was on stage with the Buffalo Philharmonic for a performance of a composition he wrote and orchestrated for strings, a feat he repeated a short time later with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. His early training focused on classical music, but in his freshman year at Williamsville East High School he was put into the jazz band and eventually decided that was what he wanted to do. During his senior year, Ziemba traveled to Rochester on a weekly basis to perform with the Eastman Youth Jazz Orchestra in the Eastman Community Music School. He received a Rochester International Jazz Festival (RIJF)/Eastman School of Music scholarship and majored in music education and jazz studies at Eastman, where he studied jazz piano with Harold Danko.
While at Eastman, Ziemba played with the Eastman Percussion Ensemble, the New Jazz Ensemble, and the Eastman Jazz Ensemble. In February 2008, he was one of only 12 young musicians selected to attend a professional development workshop at Carnegie Hall with award-winning pianist and composer Fred Hersch, which culminated in a Young Artists Concert at the historic hall. As a member of the jazz piano trio Triple Threat, he performed in the John F. Kennedy Center’s prestigious Conservatory Project concert series in May 2008.
Ziemba currently plays at a variety of venues in the Rochester and Buffalo areas and is booked to perform at the Fat Cat Club in New York City on June 8. He also plans to pursue a Master’s of Music degree in performance.
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