Ten Minutes with Pete Malinverni
A Jazz Musician
photo // sally Semonite green
Pete Malinverni, a Pound Ridge resident for more than 20 years, is a jazz pianist and composer you may have seen playing local events, with his ever-present grin and mop of unruly hair. Head of jazz studies at SUNY Purchase, director of music at Pound Ridge Community Church, and conductor at the Westchester Reform Temple, he keeps our community filled with his own style of beautiful, spiritually infused music, with a wickedly wonderful sense of humor and compassion thrown in for good measure.
I just released a trio CD, Heaven, am performing quite a bit, and I’m working on a few composition projects, including a song cycle based on the poems of James Weldon Johnson, following a piece I wrote last year on his “The Creation.” I’m also always working on being a better teacher; finding ways to understand and then share more clearly the path to playing and writing music freely.
Has music always been your passion?
I started classical piano lessons at age six and never really looked back. Over time, I realized how long I’d been at it and that I couldn’t live without it. That’s when I knew I was a musician—a servant of music and of people.
Who has inspired you?
My parents, first. My dad worked construction. They were determined that I’d do something else for a living. Then, musicians such as Thelonious Monk, JS Bach, and teachers, including the great Anthony Newman.
Your work is largely influenced by spirituality, how did that come about?
I played in church as a kid, and was minister of music at the predominately African-American Devoe St. Baptist Church in Brooklyn for 18 years. With my current work at the Community Church and the Reform Temple, these wonderful experiences that have taught me to play, without fear, from my own most honest place and directly to the hearts of listeners. We all need that kind of overt communication of real, human stuff, I think. But, mostly, life has made me more spiritual. We’re thrown some pretty tough curveballs, and the way to hit those is to wait, consider, and then make contact, with conviction.
Where else can we catch you playing?
Every Wednesday night at Mezzrow in Greenwich Village and on September 14 at the White Plains Jazz Fest.
Tell us about Heaven.
Heaven is my 15th recording as a leader and represents my belief that, after all is said and done, heaven is right here, right now, if we care to look. It includes music of a spiritual bent, from Curtis Mayfield to Duke Ellington to Hungarian-Jewish martyr Hannah Senesh to American spirituals and something of my own, as well. The recording features bassist Ben Allison, drummer Akira Tana, and cameos by Karrin Allyson, Jon Faddis, and Steve Wilson.
What do you love most about Pound Ridge?
I moved here in 1995 to raise a family and afford my son, Peter Luca, the public education available, and to let him grow up in a bucolic yet culturally rich environment. That’s still what I love about it, as well as the wonderful and interesting people. There’s something about the fresh air in Pound Ridge that makes strong friendships possible. —Sally Semonite Green