Tom Pierson

Thomas Claude Pierson Jr. was conceived in Ashland (Wisconsin), March 11, 1948. Both his parents, Thomas Claude Pierson Sr. (violinist) and Beth Polhemus Pierson Jr. were teachers. Tom Jr. studied piano. As a teenager, he longed to be a classical soloist. He played the first mvt Mozart K414 at the Houston Symphony when he was 13. Later, he played the 1st MVT of the Khachaturian Concerto Piano Concerto and Rachmaninoff Concerto #2 with the same orchestra. Sir John Barbirolli was impressed by Tom’s abilities to play the Khachaturian. Aside from his excellent command of the keyboard, I was especially pleased to discover something rarer: a very sensitive musicality and feeling of finer shades and expression. He should go further. Tom graduated from the Juilliard School in 1970 with a degree as a pianist. Sasha Gorodnitzki was his teacher for five years. Through Gorodnitzki Tom can trace his pedagogical heritage back to Beethoven (Gorodnitzki/Siloti/Liszt/Czerny/Beethoven). Tom was awarded Teaching Fellowships in Music History and Literature and Materials of Music at Juilliard. Tom performed piano recitals at several colleges and universities across the US during this period, mainly through his father’s professional connections. However, he realized that he wouldn’t be a soloist in classical music. Tom was plagued by stage fright and competed in competitions. These were necessary steps towards a career as a concert pianist. After studying with Dennis Russell Davies, he turned his attention to conducting and studied with Carl Bamberger. Tom conducted Leonard Bernstein’s Mass at The Metropolitan Opera House. He was also a guest conductor for the Houston Symphony, and he conducted Take This Bread’s premiere. However, these activities did not become a profession. Tom was 20 when he married and needed to earn a living. He became interested in all types of music and began working as a freelance musician in NY. He was a summer stock conductor (Mickey Rooney and Jane Powell), Broadway shows (Dude and Via Galactica and Cyrano), as well as orchestrating shows (Shelter and the revival of Where’s Charley), television (NBC, WNET), orchestrated music for other composers (Arthur B. Rubinstein and Howard Shore) and composed incidental music to 2 plays and a NET documentary. He was a rehearsal pianist for the New York City Ballet. He also arranged and edited music for Dave Brubeck, published by G. Schirmer. Tom’s passion for jazz was triggered by a few opportunities. When Kenton was sick, he travelled with the Stan Kenton orchestra as a pianist. For Chuck Israels’ National Jazz Ensemble (the very first jazz repertory ensemble), he composed Nefertiti Variations, based on Wayne Shorter. Francois Rabbath and Ornette were also joined by Tom at Carnegie Hall as pianists. Tom’s first band, Turning Point, was his most significant creative work. Tom began to compose while studying at Juilliard. It is interesting that the first compositions by this classically trained musician were jazz pieces. Turning Point was an electrified band. Blue Lou Marini and Tom Pierson were part of the band. Kenwood Dennard and Rick Cohen recorded Tom Pierson. After a movie about ballet, the name Turning Point was dropped. This album reached #1 on WEOS in Geneva, NY! (station playlist February 1987). Tom’s commercial activity peaked around the same time with his involvement in film score. He was the music director and vocal arranger of Milos Forman’s Hair. He orchestrated Gershwin’s Manhattan for Woody Allen. The Manhattan soundtrack album was recorded by the NY Philharmonic and was Billboard’s number one classical album for many weeks. Tom decided to quit Fame in order to work on a symphony, as he believed he could manage film scoring and concert composition. Another promising career was over. Tom also failed to find an agent. Tom already had a new band formed by the time his 1982 electric quintet album was published. The decline of jazz was starting to show and many big bands were playing dated music. Tom felt the right time was ripe for a modern big band. The possibility of writing parts for 16 players appealed also to Tom’s classical composer interest in harmony, counterpoint and composition. The music took two years to compose. The Tom Pierson Orchestra was formed May 14, 1982 at Pasquale’s Malibu with Ray Pizzi as the lead alto and Chester Thompson as the drummers. Tom continued to write classical music. He was able to compose and orchestrate films for his own enjoyment, which took away the need to study composition. He did not study jazz at university, but instead learned by doing the old-fashioned way. Antiphony (1983) and Piano Concerto (1983) were extended classical forms that combined with jazz soloing’s featured improvisatory phrases. Tom organized his big band in NYC in 1985. The Tom Pierson Orchestra performed over 90 shows, including Monday nights at 7th Avenue South, The Jazz Center of NY, as well as Thursday nights at Northern Lights Harlem. The Pierson Orchestra’s membership reads like a Who’s Who list of jazz instrumentalists. It includes, at times, Tom Harrell and Wallace Roney, Lew Soloff. John Stubblefield and Blue Lou Marini. Ray Anderson, Ray Robinson, Ray Owens, Robin Eubanks. Ray Anderson, Ray Knepper, Garnett Brown. Fred Wesley. Frank Turre. Frank Lacey. Alex Blake, Ira Coleman. Lonny Plaxico. Chester Thompson. Kenwood Dennard, Jeff Watts. These musicians were subsidized almost entirely to make their participation all the more impressive. The 1989 album Planet of Tears was recorded by the Pierson Orchestra. It was later released by the Japanese label Auteur. The Smithsonian Institute selected Planet’s title track for their 5CD historical retrospective Big Band Renaissance. This collection features Duke Ellington and Count Basie, Gil Evans and many other greats of orchestral jazz as well as the Tom Pierson Orchestre. Shukan Asahi (the Japanese equivalent to Time Magazine) selected Planet as one of the best CDs for the year. Tom was finally free from commercial music. He was anti-violence and refused to work with any entertainment that featured homicide. Tom declined an offer to lead the Broadway musical Cats. He looked at the show and saw that one of his cats had been killed as part of the story. He was so poor that he applied for food stamps and received them. But he was now able to focus on his creative work. Tom fled the violence in the USA and became a victim seven times. He moved to Tokyo to escape this crime. He organized The Pierson Orchestra’s third geographic manifestation, performing at club Someday in Tokyo as well as other venues. At the beginning 1999, he returned to New York to record another CD with The Hidden Goddess, his NY band. He released a video of his Japanese band later that year. It’s interesting to see how different interpretations of the same song can be compared. He recorded as a pianist and performed standards, something he wouldn’t have done when he was younger. Tom’s latest project was a departure. Turkey Boy is a romantic comedy combining music and film. Tom wrote and directed it. Turkey Boy’s story is incomplete without a rock band. Tom was able to write music for the electric guitar, which he had always loved. He also wrote the music and lyrics to the songs. Turkey Boy was released on September 9, 2009. Tom is currently composing an opera and mastering a solo 3CD piano set. He also prepares a multiCD set with his classical works. To pay the bills. His music can be heard across many countries including Argentina, Australia and Belgium, Brazil. Chile, Czechoslovakia. Denmark. Finland. France. Germany. Greece. Hungary. Israel. Italy. Japan. The Netherlands. Poland. Portugal. Spain. Sweden. Switzerland. His music has been featured on Auteur and CBS, Channel Crossings as well as 8bells, Inner City and Adamo. His radio programs have been broadcast on NPR and WKCR and WPKN and KCRW, KCED and FM Tokyo. Jazznin’s bilingual jazz magazine, Oct/Nov 2004, featured him on the cover. Tom was also featured in David Wallechinsky’s book Midterm Report: The Class of ’65. Tom’s works were performed at The International Organ Festival, Bonn, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and the Music Center in Los Angeles. As a jazz musician he has appeared at venues on both coasts and in Japan, including The Blue Note, The Village Gate, Pasquale’s in Malibu, 7th Avenue South, Central Park’s Summer Stage, J’s, Mikell’s, Northern Lights in Harlem, The Chelsea Westside Theater, Zanzibar, Visiones, Circle-In-The-Square, Beowulf, The West Bank Cafe, the NY Jazz Museum, Neither/Nor, Blue Hawaii, Environ, The Jazz Center of NY, At My Place, The Blue Lagune Saloon, Kenny’s Castaway, the CMJ Music Marathon, Jazz West, The California Institute of the Arts, the Acme, Cafe Rakel, the Sun Mountain Cafe, the Speakeasy, The University of NY at Buffalo, Blues Alley Japan, Body and Soul, Coltrane, Alfie, Shinjuku J, the Yokohama Jazz Promenade, Sometime Kichijoji, the Shinjuku Pit Inn, Blueberry Hill, Liberu, Acoustic House Jam, Lady Jane, Art Hills, TUC, GH Nine, and others. from

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