Janice Friedman


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I was born in the Bronx on December 26, 1960 (yup, you can do the math) during what was supposed to have been the worst snow storm in ages. My father actually double parked and got a ticket each night for a couple of weeks before I was born to make sure that he could rush Mom to the delivery room when it was time. My folks were young when they got married- barely out of their teens. My Mom, originally Elaine Rosenberg, was and is a talented pianist. She was from Philadelphia. My Dad is extremely creative and into building things and making stained glass art. His name is Melvin Friedman and he was born and grew up in the Bronx. They are both hard working and smart.

My folks, lucky for me, loved and love Jazz. They brought me up listening to Errol Garner, Oscar Peterson, Marian McPartland, Bill Evans and Ahmad Jamal. I remember hanging out under the piano when my Mom was playing. I also remember the feeling of how much fun it was to hear Errol Garner play. I still feel that way about him.

I have a sister who's name is Barrie. And yes, that's her real name. She is older then me by a year and a half. We really are quite different (she's the lawyer and I'm the musician&. You know corporate versus bohemian). But we are both hard workers and we both like to laugh a lot. She is tall with straight hair and has 2 great kids named Zack and Jake. She has never really played any music. Me, well, you can see and hear for yourself what I do.

We grew up in a pretty, lily white town in New Jersey named Livingston.

Well, Mom had decided she wanted to play Jazz when I was about 5 years old. At that time my big hit was The Alley Cat played on the Hammond B3 organ. I could barely reach the pedals. I will never forget my Grandma on my Dad's side always asking me to play it over the phone. Well, I got past this wedding gig tune essential when I started taking lessons with my Mother's teacher. His name was John Gamba. You see, by this age I was already pretty cocky and had decided that I was a waaaaaaay better pianist then my mother and that she couldn't show me anything. She had decided that rather then taking any lip from me, she'd hand me off to her teacher. He taught me how to get chords theoretically right away. Well, I didn't totally understand how you got them, but I had them by ear by the next week. I also was able to transpose all these little songs into any key, basically by ear. But, I remember playing everything I was supposed to be reading by following the fingering numbers. (Oh come on. We've all done it.) Anyway, one day my teacher scratched out all the fingerings and I couldn't play a thing from the old John Thompson Teaching Little Fingers to Play&. (very humbling).

Meanwhile though, I was lucky enough to have all my Mom's fake books full of music hanging around and her albums of great piano players (my folks only liked pianists and guitarists and still kind of feel that way). I was into playing and singing the tunes. This, I've got to tell you has been a blessing. Knowing a lot of tunes has been a big asset in this music world. And, I know this sounds corny, but I really love making people happy by playing the song that they want to hear.

So onto kindergarten I went. At that time, in my school every class room had a piano. I remember telling Mrs. Lamb, the music teacher, that I wanted to play. I remember she kind of blew me off. But, I had my way soon. By 1st grade I was being called on to play for most everything in the whole school. Life was good. I was popular. I liked school and I liked sports and I was in demand to play piano for all sorts of things for school plays, chorus, after pledge of allegiance songs etc. Hey, by the way, I made history at my elementary school. I was the first woman president of the student council.

I can remember something kind of wild. I remember learning how to play a dominant 7th chord. I remember how much I loved the sound. I'm not sure how old I was then, but I couldn't have been 10 years yet.

I started studying classical music seriously in about the 5th grade. My teacher was an awful person- probably should have been put in jail. But, he did make me work hard. I remember feeling very proud of myself for practicing a half hour a day after that first lesson, but he insisted on my practicing a couple hours a day. So despite the horror of a person that he was, I loved music and I guess I loved the positive feedback I got. And, I really worked hard. I was awarded international rankings from the Music Education Council a couple years in a row. For this, I got to perform in Carnegie Recital Hall (which I always wanted to say was the big Carnegie Hall. Thank God, later on I got to play in the big Carnegie Hall quite a few times).

In Junior high school, I started also studying with Jazz pianist, Greg Nattic. My mother and I would go for lessons with him. He called us The Bananas. Amongst other things, I have Greg to thank for the fact that I can do left hand bass lines. I loved my lessons with him and since then he has come in to hear me play at concerts or in clubs. It's always been a surprise. And, to tell you the truth, he's probably one of the few people that I can feel nervous playing in front of. Isn't that funny?

I started teaching when I was about 12 years old. I've always loved teaching and have continued to teach both privately and at Rutgers University where I've been on the faculty since 1993.

There are so many interesting things about teaching. It's very personal, one on one. My biggest criteria for taking on a student (and at this time I really get to be picky) is that we like each other and that the person really respects music. Teaching really helps you to gain clarity about things. For example, there's really only 3 ways to accompany or there's only 6 different kinds of fingering techniques. These things took me about 30 years to figure out& But who's counting? (Hey, take a peek at the teaching section of this website- when it's done- and I'll expound further). Also, I like to figure out what a person wants to do with music and help them to get right to it in a way that suits their learning style. My students are fellow pianists- just like me.

My first real "pro jobs" started in Jr. High School- playing solo piano at some private parties, backing up vocalists on demo recordings, and playing with a rock and roll dance band. I spent the summers throughout high school as the music director for a camp. Every opportunity brings something useful. I had to play for children's productions of Broadway shows and write out the music for all the events and put things in different keys and transcribe (figure stuff out) off of albums. All of these things have come in handy to be able to do. The best part of being the music director of a camp, besides having carte blanche to go on the boy's side, was that I was always surrounded by folks that wanted to sing pop tunes while I played. Playing piano has definitely helped my popularity.

I went to college at Indiana University. At that time it was one of the few schools that offered a Jazz degree. Also, although they deny it now, my folks wanted me in what they thought was a clean cut country type school with available boys in the business school. Basically, I disappointed them with musical boyfriend after musical boyfriend. But, anyway, they are pretty goshed darned happy now with the brilliant civilian that I married. (See top paragraph). Anyway, I worked hard and partied hard and graduated with honors- receiving a degree in Jazz Studies. I've made a lot of connections from school that I've kept to this day. Many of my co-scholars have made very big names for themselves.

The most important connection I made was with a genius pianist named Claude Sifferlen from Indianapolis. I remember the first time I heard him I had an identity crisis. You see, at school, the acceptable way to play Jazz was emulating (see the college influence coming back) the Bebop era or playing Avant Garde. Claude was neither of those. He was coming out of Coltrane, Bill Evans and stride piano players like Earl Hines. I was blown away by his playing and it took some time before I came up with my own style that, I would say, takes in a lot of different worlds.

So much of my attitude and many of my sayings are Claudism's. I learned a gazillion tunes from Claude. I would play a tune, and maybe make a mistake in the melody, and he would come in whistling the right melody. I followed him and the other Indianapolis musicians to their gigs. I had a little black book that I would write in- trying to figure out the tunes that those folks were playing. Then I would ask them on the break if I had gotten it close. Claude was so focused when he played, but totally relaxed. He did not take himself too seriously. He was completely non judgmental and supportive of players as long as they didn't stop in the middle of a tune. I hope and believe that he's influenced me in this way. He also had a drum set and used to invite folks over to play. He would feed them and have good coffee. It was a learning hang. When I moved to NY, the first thing I bought was a drum set. (Didn't have a bed even). To this day I still invite friends over to hang out and play and practice.

Throughout my time in Indiana, there were plenty of gigs both on piano and, because there was a shortage of bass players, also on the keyboard bass. I worked a lot.

After college, I moved to Brooklyn, NY. I worked pretty much right away around the tri-state area. One of the jobs I'm most remembered for was a steady thing in 1985 and 1986 at a little Jazz joint in Manhattan named Arthur's Tavern. It became a popular hang for the young Jazz players in NY. In 1988, I went on the road with the Woody Herman Orchestra. It was great to be on the road and kind of an honor for a woman- as it was and still is pretty unusual to get an opportunity like that. I stayed on the road for 6 months before moving to Edgewater, NJ. Two of my most memorable gigs in the late 80's were with a piano trio at the Sign of The Dove and a sax/piano/bass group at a Sheraton. There have been so many jobs since then that the place to get the list would be in my resume. I've also gotten to record a bunch and get lots of nice write ups and such.

Around 1995 I moved into Manhattan where I've lived ever since. I've traveled almost everywhere in the world playing piano. I still have lots of opportunities ahead of me. I consider myself a success as my bills are paid, I'm still passionate about music, I'm pretty well respected amongst my peers and I feel I can make a difference in this world to the better in a subtle, musical way. I'm kept incredibly busy doing solo and ensemble gigs, accompanying vocalists (and now being one myself), arranging for myself and others, doing copy work, composing and teaching.