The Doctor Is In (and Out)


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Denny Zeitlin plays Piedmont Piano.

Courtesy danny Zeitlin

Denny Zeitlin’s solo recitals at Piedmont Piano have turned into one of winter’s most anticipated jazz events. A major creative force since the mid-1960s, when legendary producer John Hammond signed him to Columbia Records, the pianist/composer introduced himself with a series of classic trio sessions that included bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Jerry Granelli.

His early interest in synthesizers and electronic keyboards crested with his gripping soundtrack for Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Despite several offers, Zeitlin didn’t take on any more film work, as he already had a full-time job as a professor of clinical psychiatry at UC San Francisco. He has spoken widely about how the therapeutic process and jazz interrelate as forums for revelatory dialogue, but for his Dec. 8 performance at Piedmont Piano, he’ll be in conversation with himself. Well, himself and Billy Strayhorn, the supremely sophisticated composer who has emerged from Duke Ellington’s expansive shadow in recent decades.

Zeitlin started the Piedmont series in 2014 when he played a concert dedicated to early compositions by Wayne Shorter, a set documented on the acclaimed album Early Wayne (Sunnyside). In 2015, he explored the music of Thelonious Monk, and last year he delved into tunes associated with Miles Davis. Hale and hearty at 79, Zeitlin has lost none of his experimental zest. His latest album, Expedition (Sunnyside), continues his duo electro-acoustic improvisational sojourns with drummer/percussionist George Marsh. But he’s at his most unfettered alone at the piano, investigating compositions by jazz’s greatest spirits.

Denny Zeitlin, 8 p.m., Fri., Dec. 8, Piedmont Piano, 1728 San Pablo Ave., Oakland, $25, 510-547-8188, PiedmontPiano.com. 

This article was published in the December issue of our sister publication, The Monthly.

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