One of the finest pianists of his generation, having recorded thirteen albums as a leader, Joey Calderazzo has traveled the road from child prodigy to in-demand session musician to elite member of the finest ensembles in jazz. He's accompanied the music's geniuses, from Michael Brecker and Branford Marsalis to Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland. Throughout his journey, Calderazzo has boldly explored his own psyche and his place in the world, as a composer, improvisor, band member and leader.
Calderazzo's long running trio, which recently recorded Live From The Cotton Club Tokyo, Volume I, is his place of relaxation and exploration, where improvisation is key, freedom is the norm and swing is absolute. Joined by bassist Orlando Le Fleming and drummer Donald Edwards, Calderazzo examines original material and choice cover renditions in a live performance inspired by his prodigiously broad approach to jazz.
Early in his career, after groundbreaking records with saxophone legend Michael Brecker and solo recordings on Blue Note Records, Calderazzo experienced an epiphany that changed his piano playing and compositional direction.
"In 1997 I made a shift," Calderazzo recalls. "I found another dimension to my playing. I can't say why and I don't care to figure it out. You sit at the piano six, seven hundred hours a year, something's going to happen. And I'm always restless. I think, 'Why am I playing that again?'
"It was right around the time I recorded Tales From The Hudson with Michael Brecker," he continues. "Then [pianist] Kenny Kirkland died and I ended up in Branford's band (where he remains). I found a looser time feel, different kinds of rhythms and a more lyrical side to my playing. It was less of that McCoy Tyner-driven sound. My touch got better. My piano sound got better and it continued to get better. I started paying more attention to the sound of the piano."
Calderazzo, originally a classical pianist who turned down a scholarship to Berklee College of Music and dropped out of Manhattan School of Music, dove headfirst into the history of jazz piano and its heroes.
"I studied Art Tatum, Chick Corea, Jelly Roll Morton, Herbie Hancock, Brad Mehldau and Glenn Gould and Brahms. A whole bunch of different things. Then I recorded Haiku  and Amanecer  and began studying more solo piano. I wasn't a hundred percent certain exactly what I wanted to do playing solo piano. I sifted through it all and figured out what was realistically going to work for me."
Calderazzo's breadth and depth as a pianist is astounding. A single solo, either with his trio or Branford Marsalis' Quartet, can allude to myriad generations of jazz piano giants, filtered through his keen, hard-swinging lens and joyous touch.
"Back when I was coming up, I wasn't able to play so freely and draw on different eras because I didn't think it was acceptable," Calderazzo reflects. "I was too cool to do that because 'I'm hip' and 'I got to be me.' So what does that mean? I can't play a medium tempo jazz tune and swing a couple of courses and have some fun and get out?"
With experience comes knowledge, with patience, wisdom. Calderazzo embodies swinging blues and post-bop, traditional jazz and boundary-exploring improvisation.
"Now fast forward with Branford," Calderazzo says. "We'll go out and play an Ellington tune, and I look at it differently. I don't look at concerts and records as this end-all musical statement. It's like, we played all kinds of crazy shit, our language, then we played some swing. But in the lightest, most fun moments or when we play a slow thing or a couple standards I really love playing, like 'I've Never Been in Love Before,' we might swing it or play it real fast."
Calderazzo's perennial trio has recorded multiple albums, including 1993's The Traveler (with John Patitucci and Jay Anderson (bass); Peter Erskine and Jeff Hirshfield (drums)), 1997s Simply Music (Sylvain Gagnon, bass; Jeff "Tain" Watts, drums); 1999's Joey Calderazzo (John Patitucci, bass; Jeff "Tain" Watts, drums); 2011's Live (Orlando le Fleming, bass; Donald Edwards, drums); and 2015's Going Home (Orlando le Fleming, bass; Adam Cruz, drums). Live from The Cotton Club Tokyo, Volume 1, extends Calderazzo's relaxed persona and focused musicality.
"I play 'I've Never Been In Love Before' in my trio with a slower, more deliberate swing feel," he says. "When you play a standard like that faster it allows you to play outside stylistically and with modern lines. When you play it slower, the same lines don't sound good at that tempo. So with my trio I just let it go and have fun. People tap their feet and dig it. As I've gotten older the musical statement that I'm trying to make is 'I can play a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I got my own thing. I steal other stuff and have some fun. I hope you enjoy it. Good night.'"