by Panos Charitos. Published: 14 August 2014

Al Blater is a well-known jazz pianist who recently performed with the ALICE Cosmic Piano at the Montreux International Jazz Festival. Born and raised in Chicago, he was an aspiring musician at the age of four and gave his first live public performance at the age of five on a local TV programme. He is a “Professeur de Jazz” at the International School of Geneva, performing often solo or with the Al Blatter Trio while he is preparing to record his new CD album.

Did you start your career as a jazz-piano player?

I actually started music lessons on accordion at the age of 6! As I got older, I gradually started “banging around” on my sister’s piano before beginning formal classical piano lessons. And though I was interested in jazz, I played rock in several bands before I got into actually playing jazz music. After I arrived at University, I studied music composition and continued my classical piano development. All during this time, I was learning jazz from recordings and developing my conceptions of jazz harmony, improvisation and rhythm. It’s still a never-ending process!

How did your collaboration with ALICE start? Was it the first time that you worked with a CERN experiment?

I’ve known Steve Goldfarb for several years since beginning playing softball with the CERN LEPTONS team in 2001 when Steve was Team/League President. We became “musical friends” as time went on, especially as he’s most interested in Chicago Blues. As I’m originally from Chicago, we’d occasionally “talk music” and gradually became “fans” of each other’s bands. So I’ve been connected with CERN since then. But being involved with ALICE was my first time working directly with a CERN project. And it was a great project to be involved with!

Were there any difficulties? Did you have to adapt your style?

As I live in Lausanne, the biggest difficulty was coming to Geneva/CERN to practice with the Cosmic Piano! Musically it was a great challenge. But once I developed some ideas and concepts by practicing with the Cosmic Piano, it all came together pretty quickly. And luckily, the ALICE Mexican team were kind enough to set up the Cosmic Piano in my home several days before the performance, so I had ample time to develop my ideas.

Was it your first time at the Montreux Jazz Festival?

I’ve played the Montreux Festival many times since moving here from Chicago in 1993. I’ve performed with my jazz trio several times as well as my rock band on the Blues Boat. I’ve also played piano/keyboards with other people’s ensembles, most notably directing Phil Collins’ Little Dreams Ensemble last summer.



How was your collaboration with the ALICE team that constructed the Cosmic Piano?

As it’s their invention, I’m sure they can tell you more about it than I can! However, working with Arturo, Abraham, Luis, Despina and Marco was a great pleasure! They were most cooperative and, as I said earlier, they took the time to bring the Cosmic Piano to my home several days before the concert so I could spend more quality time familiarizing myself and practicing with it. They were very open with their ideas and seemed quite pleased with my conceptions. Overall, it was a wonderful team effort!

What are your plans for the future? Are you inspired to continue working in "the music of physics"?

My future plans are always about trying to further develop my musical conceptions while continuing trying to “survive” as a professional musician! I have a teaching position at the International School of Geneva as a “Professeur de Jazz”. I teach private jazz piano lessons as well as directing several ensembles at the school. I also have a regular engagement resuming in mid-September at a lovely restaurant in Geneva, La Broche (http://www.restaurantlabroche.ch/), where I play solo jazz piano every Wednesday evening. In the meantime, I lead a “Soirée Band” for private functions (private parties/weddings/etc.) as well as directing my trio for jazz concerts. Further info can be found at http://www.alblatter.com/. And of course I hope to continue my collaboration with “The Music of Physics”. There has been some discussion about further concerts and  I’ll hopefully continue to be involved. Whatever happens, it’s been a great experience and I’ll look forward to our next event!

Do you think that there is a link between physics and music?

Well, not being a scientist, I don’t have any worthwhile technical comments! But I will say that playing with the Cosmic Piano—and it’s ability to connect with the musical universe—allowed me a very unique experience. To know that you’re playing with sounds that have been “floating” through the Universe for hundreds/thousands of light years is a pretty awesome concept and I certainly appreciated the opportunity! SPACE IS THE PLACE!!