Brooklyn jazz pianist Schlegelmilch draws on Keene’s roots | Local News



In Brooklyn, NY, JP Schlegelmilch’s home is the same upright piano he first learned to play when he was growing up in Keene.

He still uses it for practice, but a long time ago he switched to rehearsing on a grand piano in a nearby studio while practicing his profession as a jazz performer in nightclubs and bistros around the city. Big Apple.

Schlegelmilch will bring his talent north to Keene this Wednesday when he performs solo on the Nova Arts stage at Brewbakers Café. He will be the opening act for the Orrin Evans Trio, a jazz group led by Grammy-nominated pianist Orrin Evans.

“I am very happy to play in my beloved hometown, a wonderful opportunity in a great hall,” said the 42-year-old.

Since moving to Brooklyn in 2006, he has performed with his own groups and some of New York’s best-known improvisational jazz musicians. His latest group, Visitors – a trio with him on electric organ, Jim Black on drums and Jonathan Goldberger on guitar – released their debut album “Visitors” on Skirl Records, and it was included in “Best Jazz” Albums of 2018 ”by Rolling Stone.

Son of John and Connie Schlegelmilch of Keene – his father the former medical director of Cheshire Medical Center and his mother a former social worker there – JP showed an early interest in the music his parents nurtured.

“There was always a lot of music in the house, popular songs but also classical songs. In fact, there was a Tchaikovsky LP that I always asked for, ”he says. “There was love and appreciation for music in our house.”

Music was also part of the family, his mother says, along with her late father, Edward Giesa, an avid pianist, and John’s late mother, Rose, a talented singer. By the way, says JP Schlegelmilch, his grandmother was the only person to call him by his first name, John Paul.

At the age of six, Connie took her son for piano lessons from Chonghyo Shin, who then taught at Keene State College and is now a classical piano teacher at Amherst College in Massachusetts.

“It was so important for me to take these lessons. She was a wonderful teacher, ”says JP Schlegelmilch.

Music has become the boy’s passion.

“I knew this was what I wanted to do; it was part of my identity from an early age.

Regular workouts became a routine, never a chore, he says, and he began to expand his interest beyond classical music to rock and jazz.

At Keene Middle School, he joined the group, led by James DePalo, who had a reputation for encouraging and motivating young people. Among the iconic annual events orchestrated by DePalo were performances titled “Hot Jazz in January”.

“Jim DePalo was a real inspiration to me,” said Schlegelmilch. “I had so much fun; he made it so fun. DePalo retired in 2010 after leading the school group for 33 years.

At Keene High, Schlegelmilch performed in his Jazz Band, on piano and saxophone, and he also formed his own jazz group. His circle of friends expanded to include other musicians in Keene and elsewhere in the Monadnock area, including Eric Gagné of Rindge, who had formed another jazz group.

Incidentally, it was Gagné, now a resident of Peterborough and director of programming for Nova Arts, who booked Schlegelmilch for Keene’s concert. The event is sponsored by Greenwald Realty Associates, with proceeds going to the Keene Housing Kids Collaborative and the Keene Family YMCA.

“Our bands played together,” says Gagné. “JP influenced people in 1994, and he’s so much richer and more nuanced now. He digs a little deeper, and he’s just very interested in hearing new sounds and learning new things.

Also in high school, Schlegelmilch was influenced by the late Scott Mullett, a 1976 Keene High graduate who performed with many music stars and the Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller and Woody Herman orchestras. Mullett, in addition to performing with his namesake jazz trio, conducted the Keene Jazz Orchestra, made up of a mix of high school and college students as well as professional and amateur musicians.

“He was awesome, one of the first real jazz musicians I hung out with,” says Schlegelmilch. “A lovely guy, very encouraging to me and my friends.”

After high school, Schlegelmilch attended Berklee College of Music in Boston for two years, then transferred to Purchase College-SUNY in Westchester County, NY, so he could be close enough to New York City to visit clubs. jazz.

“The show was one of the things that attracted me to New York City, to the jazz scene,” he says.

After graduation he moved to Brooklyn in search of work, trying to make a name for himself and connecting with other musicians and bands he could play in.

“The first step in New York is to go to clubs to make connections,” he explains, but it was a tough climb, competing with dozens of other budding musicians. He discovered that the New York jazz scene is a tight network where it all depends on who you know.

“One club that I loved – Barbes in Brooklyn – I emailed them every week for a year to get a gig, but to no avail,” he says. “Finally one evening a friend introduced me to the owner, and now I play it frequently. For me, Barbes is in the pantheon of jazz clubs.

Schlegelmilch also plays organ in Matt Bauder’s band Hearing Things, which specializes in “a sort of Middle Eastern flavored surf-rock with old-fashioned R&B horns and striptease-worthy themes,” according to Chicago Reader critic Peter Margasak. His other projects include a quartet with piano, cello, violin and percussion, inspired by famous jazz composer Lou Harrison.

He also learned that the world of jazz in New York City is largely nocturnal.

“The clubs stay open very late and sometimes the jam sessions don’t start until midnight,” he says. “At Smalls, a popular West Village spot, jam sessions start at one or two in the morning.”

In addition to performing, Schlegelmilch educates the students, maintaining a constant enrollment of around 15 students aged four to four.

Everything was going wonderfully in his career until the spring of 2020, when COVID put a quick end to the live performances. It was a difficult time for him, for everyone in the company, he says, but with two good things: it allowed him to spend more time with his young son, Zubin, and to practice more in the gym. piano.

“I changed my routine and the way I train. I played classical music, songs that I loved – comforting sounds during the painful days of the pandemic. It helped my mental health, ”he says. He and his wife Lisa Khandhar, a lawyer in the Office of Civil Rights at the US Department of Education, and their son temporarily moved to his parents’ home in Keene for four months during the worst stages of the pandemic. There, JP conducted his lessons virtually.

“We were here long enough to see the seasons change,” he says of his time in Keene, as well as frequent hikes on Mount Monadnock, which had been a passion for him while growing up.

The Nova Arts concert will be his first chance to perform in front of an audience since the start of the pandemic, and he admits to being a little nervous. “I had butterflies when I started, but now I’m going to see if I get them because it’s been so long. You just learn to process adrenaline.

Initial nervousness or not, Schlegelmilch says he can easily get lost in his music.

“When I’m in the zone it’s just feeling, watching my hands work on their own. I let myself be carried away by the music and sometimes I try to pretend that the audience is not there, that I am playing alone, ”he says.

“Sometimes you’re in the zone, but sometimes you’re struggling. This happens by performing. I repeat a quote here, some nights you don’t have 100 percent to give, but you give 100 percent of what you have.


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