Studio Visit appears first in print, in Sunday editions of The News-Gazette. Here, Melissa Merli visits with pianist Dan Pierson.
Q: I heard you've finished your bachelor's degree in piano performance and are moving to Chicago. What will you do up there?
A: I plan to play and teach as much as possible. I've had private students since I was in eighth grade.
Q: Do you have any gigs lined up?
A: Right now, I have a regular church gig lined up with a bass player in my trio. What I'm attempting to do up there is to book as many gigs as I can with my trio, with Charlie Kirchen on bass and Matt Carroll on drums.
Q: Was your degree in jazz piano performance?
A: Yes, but half of the time I was enrolled in classical studies with Rochelle Sennet and William Heiles. I've been into classical since I was 7.
Q: How did you get started?
A: I guess what got me into the piano was my grandmother, who was a pianist and had a baby grand in her apartment. When I was young, I used to go over there and play around on the piano. I was 7 when I started taking lessons from her. Eventually, I started taking lessons with our grade school music teacher, who was a cocktail pianist in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He taught me how to play pop and rock tunes off of lead sheets and records. When I moved to Chicago, I got more into jazz specifically. Basically, what happened was my mom always made sure I had an inspirational teacher. That made a huge impact on my life; I always had access to someone who would rock my world once a week.
Q: What did you think of your teachers here at the University of Illinois?
A: I thought every single one of them was phenomenal. I had a lot of time with each one. I felt every faculty member had something to offer.
Q: Did you study with Chip Stephens?
A: Yes, all four years. He was my private instructor.
Q: Do you feel you've developed your own style?
A: I feel I'm on my way to developing my own style. It's hard to say what it is because I'm still young. I feel like a major part of that process is the study of the history of the music.
Q: What's your ultimate goal?
A: To have a piano trio and tour with it and make my living that way, and to have a teaching studio. I've always loved to teach.
Q: You also compose.
A: I've been writing music since high school. I have a notebook of ideas. The process of taking ideas out of the notebooks and putting them on stage is a recent development.
Q: What do you think of the local jazz scene?
A: It's an interesting scene because, obviously, a lot of young players come here for school and they make the scene. That's not to dismiss all the great players who live in Champaign-Urbana. The ones who immediately come to mind are (trumpeter) Jeff Helgesen and (pianist) Donnie Heitler. And all the faculty here.
Q: Donnie Heitler once told me that I had to hear you.
A: That's quite a compliment. I've had the opportunity to hang with Donnie and hear him a lot, and he's been a significant influence on me.
Q: What are some of the other highlights of your college career here?
A: One of the biggest things was touring China with Yang Ying. She's a world-class erhu player. I went with an ensemble she put together of local professionals here. We were in China for 10 days; we played in Beijing at the Ninegates Jazz Festival and in Zhengzhou.
Q: Do you have any gigs coming up around here?
A: There are a few in the works. The ones that are confirmed are a jazz trio at Buvons on June 21 and with the UI Jazz Trombone Ensemble on June 28 here at The Iron Post. I'll also be playing here with Kevin Hart on June 27, at 7:30 p.m.