Edward Simon Solo Piano Concert – Celebrating the release of his newest recording “Solo Live”

Venezuelan-born Edward Simon, will play a solo piano concert at THE 222 in Healdsburg on Saturday, December 4, celebrating the recent release of his newest recording “Solo Live” on Ridgeway Records. Recorded at Oakland’s Piedmont Piano Company on his 50th birthday in 2019, Solo Live is Simon’s first unaccompanied recording. Unedited, it’s a ravishing portrait of one of jazz’s most eloquent improvisers investigating a setting that’s become one of his primary outlets during the pandemic. Long leery of performing alone, a situation that leaves a pianist “really exposed,” he described the Piedmont Piano date as “a leap of faith.”  This is his 15th album as a leader and his first unaccompanied recording.

Simon has been at the center of the jazz scene for the past quarter century, helping shape the music’s evolution through a series of seminal ensembles and recordings. Now acclaimed as a pianist, composer, arranger, educator and bandleader, he provided a jolt of inspiration as a young sideman in bands led by Bobby Watson, Greg Osby and Terence Blanchard. As a leader, he’s recorded a series of groundbreaking albums featuring renowned peers similarly devoted to merging kindred currents in jazz and Latin American music. But he’s never made an album like Solo Live, which was just released on Ridgeway Records on October 15, 2021.

Simon is best known for all-star collaborations such as the collective trio Steel House with bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade. Holding down the piano chair since 2010, he’s the longest- serving current member of the SFJAZZ Collective. In 2020, Ridgeway Records released 25 Years, a two-disc anthology drawn from 13 earlier albums focusing mostly on his original compositions and arrangements designed for players such as tenor saxophonists Mark Turner and David Sanchez, altoists Miguel Zenón and David Binney, bassists Ben Street, John Patitucci and Joe Martin, and vocalist Luciana Souza and Gretchen Parlato.

A master himself, Simon has played an essential role in expanding jazz’s frontiers in recent decades. At this point he’s spent far more of his life in the United States than his homeland, but Venezuela still provides the life-sustaining marrow of his music. Born July 27, 1969 in the oil port of Punta Cardón, he grew up in a household filled with music. His father hailed from Curaçao in the Dutch West Indies, and he instilled a love of music in his sons, percussionist Marlon Simon, trumpeter Michael Simon and Edward.

The brothers performed music for dancing at local fiestas and events, tapping into an array of rhythms from Venezuela and beyond. “My older brother played timbales at the time, and we had our band, playing private parties and anniversaries,” he says. In a way that strong connection with the dance floor and dancers left a great imprint on me. To this day, a groove is an important element in my music.”

Simon was serious enough about the piano that at the age of 15 he left Venezuela and moved by himself to Pennsylvania to enroll at the Philadelphia Performing Arts School, a now-defunct private academy. He continued his classical studies, but he also discovered jazz, and eventually connected with Philly masters like bassist Charles Fambrough and guitarist Kevin Eubanks, who encouraged him to move to New York. Landing in Manhattan in 1988 at the age of 19 he quickly established himself as a vital new voice. A five-year stint with the great altoist Bobby Watson followed a nine-year run with trumpeter Terence Blanchard firmly established Simon as one of his generation’s leading accompanists.

While many of his early albums were released on European labels with little North American distribution, his three projects for Sunnyside have earned widespread acclaim. On 2013’s Live in New York at Jazz Standard his mastery of the trio format was front and center as he stretched out with Brian Blade and John Patitucci. He followed up with his most ambitious project, 2014’s Venezuelan Suite, a groundbreaking synthesis of post-bop and traditional Venezuelan forms and rhythms for his 10-piece Ensemble Venezuela. And on 2016’s Latin American Songbook he interpreted songs drawn from all across Latin America with Adam Cruz and Joe Martin.

In many ways, Simon is just getting started. Like with 25 Years, an anthology that refocused attention on the sweeping breadth of his work, Solo Live reflects Simon’s recently forged role as associate artistic director of the Bay Area nonprofit Ridgeway Arts, an arts organization, label and presenter founded and run by Jeff Denson, the bassist, composer and dean of instruction at the California Jazz Conservatory. Simon has some beautiful surprises in store.