Ned Wharton/NPR News
Bassist Jay Anderson, pianist Lynne Arriale, and drummer Steve Davis in NPR's Studio 4A.
The music of jazz pianist Lynne Arriale has emerged as a staple of late-night FM radio over the past decade, earning her the title "poetess of the post-midnight ballad."
That decade began with her first place finish at the 1993 International Great American Jazz Piano Competition; she was immediately signed to DMP Records and in March 2003, she released her eighth CD, Arise, for Motema Music.
NPR's Liane Hansen recently invited Arriale to visit Studio 4A with the other members of her trio, drummer Steve Davis and bassist Jay Anderson, to perform and discuss her work.
Born in Milwaukee, Arriale was adopted as an infant. Being raised in a non-musical household didn't stop Arriale from starting to improvise at age 3 or 4 on her plastic toy piano or playing pop tunes she heard on the radio by ear. She developed into a talented classical musician, graduating from the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music with a master’s degree in classical composition.
But improvisation kept calling, and she switched to jazz. Her career has taken her around the world, and since 1997 she has nurtured an intimate musical relationship with Anderson and Davis, recording her last five CDs with them.
"We all love to play… there is a love for melody, a love for diversity... and everyone in the group agrees that we want to express the widest range of human emotions in our music," says Arriale.
The trio's repertoire combines original Arriale tunes with carefully selected –- and diverse –- cover songs. In 4A, the group opened with "American Woman," the chart-topping 1970 pop song by The Guess Who. Like other choices she has made to interpret popular music, Arriale has extra work finding ways to include the power of lyrics and "message," since her music is purely instrumental.
Profoundly affected by the events of Sept. 11, Arriale found herself literally bombarded by original and familiar melodies. For the title track from Arise, Arriale "wanted to write a song that felt like the best of America... and the incredible heroism that we saw and to really convey a feeling of uplift and hope."
A side note: a few years after her switch to jazz, Arriale got the chance to reunite with her mother, and learned the woman had been a professional jazz singer in her youth.
The Lynne Arriale Trio has just finished recording a new album set for release in the fall of 2004. A European tour begins next spring.