The Corona Blues

The coronavirus has disrupted the lives of musicians all over the world, bringing performances, rehearsals, and recording to a complete halt. Michigan has been hit hard, and the worst outbreak is in Detroit and surrounding areas, endangering the lives of many of our jazz musicians. With deep concern for the people we love and admire we reached out to three major jazz players of different generations, to learn how they were coping with the pandemic. LB spoke with Vincent Chandler and George Davidson, while PM conducted a conversation with Michael Malis.

Michael Malis

Acoustic and electric pianist, composer and educator Michael Malis is a man of astounding energy whose career has grown substantially in various directions in the last few years. As a pianist, he has become well established in the SEMJA area, both as a versatile sideman who can adapt to any style of music and as a leader directing several groups as vehicles for his own compositional explorations. Just over the last year he introduced new cross artistic collaborations with poets, theatre folks and with the Detroit Chamber Winds and Strings and has released new recordings of his own works. The lockdown caught him at a time when the arc of his performances was bending strongly upward and seemingly threatened to have dire consequences for his artistic progress and financial wellbeing. But as cruel as these times are, the resourceful Malis has managed to make the best of a bad situation.

Like all of his fellow musicians, he has been deprived of performance possibilities, which can be devastating, not only financially but also spiritually. By chance, this caught him at a time when he had already curtailed some of his sideman gigs and had moved the focus of his activity to composition and teaching, which he has been able to continue during this home bound time. In conversation Malis revealed how this new reality prompted him to make the best of the situation and to ponder his own artistic goals, to explore self-awareness and reflection and to think more about his growing explorations of multimedia and cross artistic aspects of his art. He has also had the opportunity to work through, catalog, and order his compositional manuscripts and archival recordings, allowing his to rethink future plans but also to document some of his finished work publicly and to write new works. One result has been the release of two new solo albums that were already recorded but never released, Three Pieces for Piano (reviewed in this issue) and Marginalia: Rhodes Solos 2016. Both of these demonstrate the seamless unity of his pianism and his compositional imagination as well as obliterate any putative conventional divides between “jazz” and “contemporary classical music.” For those who know him as strongly collaborative artists, these recordings evidence a new side of his work. Thus Malis, while forced to suppress many sides of his inventiveness, has taken advantage of his own versatility to explore those aspects that can take advantage of solitude.