This concert is dedicated to Peter Haidu, my father, who passed away on February 7, 2017 just a few days before my latest CD, Infinite Distances was about to be released. After cancelling my CD release events, I decided to remake my Birdland CD release concert as a tribute to my dad who introduced me to jazz.Jazz was something that my father, Peter Haidu, first shared with me. Over the course of my life, he played me the music of Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman, Ben Webster, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, and so many others. From a young age until just last year, we attended concerts together in different cities by Herbie Hancock, Geri Allen, B.B. King, Houston Person, Horace Tapscott and so many more. As my own performing career developed, he traveled across states, countries and continents to hear me. In this and in so many ways he had a huge impact on my life.
My father and his mother Henia moved to New York City after a difficult escape from Nazi-occupied France. My grandfather fought and died in World War II as a prisoner of war after having joined the French Foreign Legion. These events shaped my father’s professional and political life. As an adult he became immersed in the civil rights movement and joined the student occupation of Columbia University’s campus in 1968. Later as a professor of medieval French literature he wrote and lectured frequently on fascism, Jewish identity, oppression, and revolution, often through the lens of the current political landscape. He was extremely upset about the current administration.
Though my parents had split up when I was very young, when I was 15, I lived with my father in Los Angeles for a year during a time when he was a professor at UCLA. My interest in the guitar had taken hold and my dad was very supportive but he sensed that piano was more important to me. We tried out some teachers and though it was quite far from our home, my dad found a community music school where I was able to study with New Orleans saxophonist Harold Battiste (cousin of clarinetist Alvin Batiste) who had moved to Los Angeles to write for film and TV (and was musical director for Sonny & Cher). We traveled twice a week to lessons and classes with Mr. Battiste, who pushed me towards jazz piano, inviting me to jam sessions (though I wasn’t ready to hang at the time) and introducing me to the likes of Eric Reed, Billy Childs, Nedra Wheeler and Wynton Marsalis.
At the time I was obsessed with blues guitar players. I remember one night in L.A. when my dad took me to hear a concert featuring Buddy Guy and Albert Collins. Hearing them live made a huge impression: the music was so raw and powerful. I was young and it was late on a school night and there was reefer everywhere but my dad and I were focused on the music which was like nothing I’d ever heard before. I’ll never forget the efforts he made to expose me to the music I loved.
Another important concert I remember attending with him from my time in L.A. was hearing Gene Harris and Ray Brown and Jeff Hamilton playing trio. This band was one of the hardest swinging groups in the world, they also connected my love of blues to my growing interest in jazz piano. After we returned home late in the evening, I sat down at the piano and started playing, inspired by what I’d heard that night. We lived in an apartment, where there were neighbors on all sides and it didn’t take long before one of them started yelling some choice words about my performance at the late hour. I remember watching the anger bubbling over in my dad who walked over to the window and yelled “F*** YOU!!!!!” at the top of his lungs, then ordered me to get back to the piano and start playing again. By then I was feeling less inspired so I declined at which point my dad opened every window in the apartment and began blasting the most far-out, avant-garde record in his collection, unrecognizable to me and our neighbors as music, as loud as the stereo could go. It was awful but even as I was hiding out in my room waiting for it to end, I knew my dad was standing up for me and for the music, letting the neighbors know not to even think about complaining about my piano, which they never did again.
As my interest turned more specifically to jazz piano, I heard more of that around the house from my father’s record collection. One recording he kept playing for me was Keith Jarrett’s The Koln Concert. It didn’t make an impression on me right away, at the time I told my dad it just sounded like new age piano. But eight years ago, after living in Paris for a time, my dad moved to Brooklyn and we again began to attend concerts together. He took me to hear a Keith Jarrett solo concert at Carnegie Hall and we were spellbound. After that I started buying tickets for us to hear Keith whenever he was in the area. I was also glad that my dad was nearby after many years of us living far apart. He got to be nearby when my daughter Tessa was born seven years ago and he took great pleasure in watching her grow up.
Last December he called me to tell me he had tickets for us to hear Keith in February at Carnegie Hall and told me he didn’t know if he’d be around for the concert. His health was quickly deteriorating. He sadly passed away one week before the show. I’ll never forget those concerts with my dad. He was my entryway into this music. I believe his mother had a long-term boyfriend who first played jazz records for him when he was a teenager. It wasn’t just jazz. He would also play me lots of classical music over the years: most mornings he woke me up to Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier; and he took me to any rock concerts I wanted to hear; he also played me world music, percussion music, computer-generated music, much more then I could possible name or recall.
My dad taught me a great deal by example: he gave himself to his work every day of his life, teaching and writing with great intensity until this past December when he took ill. But everything about him was intense: his relationships, his emotions, his politics, his intellect and his love for music and art.
Last September I dedicated my third CD to my father. I suspected that it would be the last of my recordings that he would get to hear. I called it Infinite Distances. This was based on a quotation by German writer Rainer Maria Rilke that Branford Marsalis had once recounted to me when I was interviewing him for my Masters thesis. “Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.” This title and the idea behind the quote applies to a lot of relationships in our lives. I wasn’t necessarily thinking about my dad when I named the album, but it does have a certain fitting quality. I like the idea that even though we lived far apart for long stretches during my life and even though we were much closer over the past eight years, I always felt incredibly close to him – in large part through our bond in music.
I never imagined I would lose my dad the very week my CD was to be released. As much as I knew that he had wanted me to go on and play I couldn’t perform during the days after he died. My Birdland concert will now be on April 16. I can’t think of a more fitting way to remember him than by playing my music in such a storied club as Birdland, which has been filled with the history of this music. Each and every concert I played he looked forward to with great relish.
Please join me on April 16 at Birdland for Infinite Distances: A Memorial Concert for Peter Haidu.