Originally hailed as one of the bright young lions on the straight-ahead jazz scene of the 1990s, virtuoso pianist Jacky Terrasson developed into a sophisticated performer with eclectic stylistic taste. Beginning with his self-titled 1995 debut for Blue Note Records, Terrasson drew high praise from all corners of the jazz world. His feathery keyboard touch is coupled with a lot of power and passion, and a complete understanding of the blues and improvisation, and Terrasson is also a gifted arranger, putting his own personal stamp on well-known tunes. He's been one of the jazz world's most talked-about piano player/composers since he captured everyone's attention when he won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition in 1993.
Born in Berlin to a French mother and an American father, Terrasson's distinctive piano style reflects his old and new influences. In his youth, he spent years studying and listening to recordings by Bud Powell, Bill Evans, and Thelonious Monk. He began playing piano at age five, and his parents were always playing classical music on the stereo. At age 11, he began listening intently to the Billie Holiday and Miles Davis records that belonged to his mother, and at that point he was hooked on playing jazz piano. He studied jazz at the Berklee College of Music in Boston with many other new traditionalists as classmates, including people like Danilo Perez. After graduation, he spent a year jamming at clubs in Chicago and New York before hooking up with ensembles led by his mentors, including Arthur Taylor and Betty Carter. The vocalist told him she needed a pianist to begin a tour the next day, and he accepted, spending nearly a year on the road with her.
Among many other sessions, Terrasson performed on Jimmy Scott's 1996 release, Heaven, for Warner Bros. He also did arranging for that record. Terrasson continued to perform around the world as leader of his own trio, and has made several European and Japanese tours. He's one of the most sought-after sidemen in jazz, constantly in demand for touring jazz bands and recording dates. On his 1996 sophomore effort, Reach, he was ably backed by the same musicians who accompanied him on his debut: bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Leon Parker. Rendezvous followed in 1997, and a year later he returned with Alive.
Released in 1999, What It Is emphasized Terrasson's compositional skills as well as his technique. A Paris, an homage to Terrasson's hometown, followed two years later. In 2002 he delivered Smile, a companion piece of sorts to A Paris. He then moved away from ensemble work with his 2007 solo piano album Mirror. Terrasson released the lively trio album Push in 2010, and he returned in 2012 with the eclectic album Gouache, featuring a handful of guest artists including clarinetist Michel Portal, trumpeter/flügelhornist Stephane Belmondo, vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant (winner of the 2010 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition), and others.
In 2015, Terrasson made his Impulse! Records debut with Take This, which featured a collaboration with vocalist/beatboxer Sly Johnson, among others. The following year, Terrasson paired with trumpeter/flügelhornist Belmondo for the duo album Mother. Dedicated to the pianist's mother, who passed away just after he finished the recording, the album featured a set of ballads and ruminative compositions including covers of songs by Charlie Haden, Dave Brubeck, Stevie Wonder, and others. ~ Richard Skelly