Siskind Embraces ‘Housewarming’ Role

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Pianist Jeremy Siskind frequently performs in-house concerts with his trio, the Housewarming Project.

(Photo: Jennifer Taylor)

Pianist and educator Jeremy Siskind is both a homebody and a world traveler. During the past couple of years, the California native has put down roots in Los Angeles: “I moved primarily to be closer to a bigger jazz scene with a greater variety of players.”

Although he became a full-time faculty member at California’s Fullerton College in 2017, Siskind is frequently on the move, thanks to a busy schedule that involves clinics, residencies and concerts.

Siskind has traveled to Cyprus, Thailand, Lebanon and other locales through his work with Jazz Education Abroad, a non-profit organization whose mission is “to increase cultural, musical and educational awareness through the teaching of American Jazz to youth from different backgrounds and regions of the world.”

He’s also a frequent “house” guest. Siskind leads the Housewarming Project, a chamber-jazz trio featuring two New York-based artists: vocalist Nancy Harms and saxophonist/clarinetist Lucas Pino. Additionally, he’s become a strong advocate of the house-concert movement, wherein artists perform in private homes.

From 2012 to 2017, Siskind was an assistant professor of music at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo (and piano department chairman from 2014 to 2017).

A graduate of Columbia University and the Eastman School of Music, Siskind has collaborated with, among many others, Ted Poor, Chris Lightcap, Justin Kauflin, Julia Bullock, Kurt Elling, Jo Lawry and Bill Cunliffe.

Music educators know Siskind through his many publications with Hal Leonard. This year he will self-publish the book Nine Perpetual Motion Etudes.

His recent releases include Impressions Of Debussy (Centaur) with reedist Andrew Rathbun and pianist Lori Sims, and a five-song EP by the Housewarming Project titled at_Home/at_Play.

Siskind’s upcoming performances include shows on July 17 at Martini’s Above Fourth in San Diego, July 19–20 at Sensus in Long Beach, California, Aug. 5 at Allen Herther Music in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Aug. 8 at Music & Arts Corona in Corona, California.

Below are edited excerpts from a recent interview.

In addition to teaching, you’re a prolific writer in the field of jazz education.

As the author of 13 publications for Hal Leonard, I’m composing for piano students. These books are mostly repertoire books but I also have two instructional books—Jazz Band Pianist and First Lessons in Piano Improv. My goal with the repertoire books is to write educational pieces that connect strongly with jazz history and the jazz tradition, in contrast with “jazzy” pieces written for students by piano teachers with no jazz background.

I also do a lot of teacher training—pedagogy—in the piano teacher community around improvisation and composition. At Fullerton, I’m teaching community college-level students, and I teach private classical and jazz piano lessons, as well as courses in songwriting, jazz improvisation and jazz piano.

With Jazz Education Abroad, I teach all ages in primarily one-week “camps” with around 75 students. The organization is run by Dr. Gene Aitken, former head of the University of Northern Colorado jazz program.

How would you compare teaching at the community college level with your work at Western Michigan University?

I’ve discovered that both for the students and the teachers, a community college offers a viable alternative for musicians of an artistic temperament. At WMU, my schedule was overflowing with guest artists, recruitment activities, grant-writing, conference-hopping, community outreach and recital attendance. [But] at Fullerton, my focus is squarely on my teaching, and I have much more schedule flexibility to practice and compose.

The students have the opportunity to take a wide variety of classes and learn new skills without worrying about specific programs of study or going into debt to study music. I’m a firm believer that the community college will be a centerpiece of music education going forward.

Can you talk a little bit about the Housewarming Project and the in-home concert movement?

The Housewarming Project is a chamber-jazz trio modeled after Norma Winstone’s great trios. My group—with Nancy Harms and Lucas Pino—has released three projects, including Finger-Songwriter and Housewarming.

The music is very intimate, and we decided early on that pursuing in-home concerts was both the most practical and most appropriate venue for the music. So far we’ve done about 150 in-home concerts in 25 different states. I’ve also made presentations regarding in-home concerts at the JEN [Jazz Education Network] conference, the Chamber Music America conference and the MTNA [Music Teachers National Association] conference. And I’ve written an article, “The Art of the In-Home Concert,” in The Piano Teacher magazine.

Our concerts are usually between 20 and 30 audience members. They’re donation-based, and primarily acoustic. We especially value bringing this music to audiences who might not generally choose to go to a concert. We frequently hear comments that audience members didn’t know they liked jazz, but now they think they do. DB