Meet the Musicians: Bryan Pezzone

Very few people can do what the "consummate cross-over pianist" Bryan Pezzone can do. Bryan Pezzone possesses one of those rare musical brains that can both sight read flawlessly and improvise brilliantly.

Often it is more usual for classical musicians to excel at reading music and for jazz and popular music players to function by ear. Both are equally exceptional skills but rare to be perfected by one musician. Bryan Pezzone is that musician. For any of you who have been to a Cal Phil concert where Bryan is soloing you may have witnessed, in awe, the "game" he and the Maestro play with the audience.

Dr. Vener will ask people in the crowd to call out titles of music from all genres and Bryan, on the spot, will masterfully weave these melodies together into a coherent piece.

So how did this all begin? "I had the perfect teachers," Bryan declares, honoring the importance of our educators, which can too often be overlooked in our society. Mr. Pezzone grew up in New Castle, Pennsylvania, on the "Blue Collar South Side", where he says he learned a certain kind of "salt of the earth" integrity and ethics, which he carries with him to this day. "Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't," he says with a touch of whimsy about life in tinsel town.

Indeed, Bryan Pezzone has contributed extensively to cinematic magic in Hollywood for decades. One just needs to look up his IMDB page to see the multitude of film scores he is actually screen credited on (not to mention all the movies that don't site the studio musicians).

It was a bittersweet beginning with the piano for Bryan Pezzone. When he was only a toddler, his mother fell ill with MS. His uncle David would take him to his grandfather's house and Bryan would just play away on the piano. "I remember being at that piano like it was now," he says. He would cry when he had to leave it. In elementary school, he would finish his work before everyone, so he could go to the piano at the back of the classroom. He started playing hymns for the neighborhood Bible Study House, when the piano teacher, Mrs. Welker, heard him and started to give him lessons.

Quickly, Bryan was regarded as the town's Wunderkind and was asked to play for variety shows and churches all over the New Castle area. Mrs. Welker sent Bryan to her teacher, Mrs. Stickle, who was very strict, and took Bryan to a whole different level of playing. Eventually she said she had nothing more to teach him and, while he was still in the 10th grade, she sent Bryan to Dr. Hopkins at the University. During this time Bryan was practicing eight hours a day, as well as playing in funk and rock and roll bands at parties.

He is grateful that his classical teachers never discouraged him from playing popular music. He went to Eastman for college and studied with "old school" professor Maria Luisa Faini, who made sure his wrists were loose, an important technique lesson he carries with him today. Interestingly, while in college Bryan enjoyed playing more with other musicians, than as a soloist, rehearsing with them, going to their lessons, learning from other faculty. So he dropped the piano major, not really needing it and switched to composition...so he could play more piano! (He still won the piano competition however.)

After undergrad, the thought of going to grad school gave him a "knot in his stomach" so he went out into the world, writing for experimental shows, for dance companies, working with jazz legends, and developing his own system of non-tonal improvisation. It all paid off, for when the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) needed a new faculty member to head up their keyboard department, Bryan Pezzone fit the bill to a T, sans DMA or Master's degree. He was the new guy out of nowhere, the "freakazoid" on piano.

Quickly, he was invited to sub for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, play on countless recordings from film scores to Hallmark shows, to Warner Brothers Cartoons and thousands of t.v. shows as well as landing the position of principal piano with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.

Mr. Pezzone was recommended to Maestro Victor Vener and the Cal Phil through a student and there was an instant connection. From playing as part of the orchestra, Bryan was then invited by Victor to play Rhapsody in Blue as a soloist as well. "The members of the Cal Phil are like a family," he says fondly of the organization. "It's a great orchestra that's not stuffy. Victor is an Impresario. He's fantastic. He's not just up there to be a conductor, but teaches music to the audience. It becomes very personal, educational and warm."

As a soloist, Bryan has performed with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Pasadena Pops, Santa Monica Symphony, San Antonio Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute Orchestra, United States International University Orchestra, U.C. Irvine Symphony Orchestra, Eastman Philharmonic and the Pacific Symphony.

He also is the pianist for Free Flight, and has initiated a performing series that he calls the “FREEDOM SERIES” which involves improvisations and verbal musings on life. "There's the way people say you are supposed to do things and then there is your gut." He says he has always relied on his instincts and that they have never let him down.

Bryan is a philosopher, who loves playing chess but is also a football fan harking back to his South Side roots. Bryan Pezzone is always evolving and shifting. He has since resigned from Cal Arts and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra but recently accepted a faculty position at Los Angeles College for a new piano program. After Cal Arts, he wasn't sure if he wanted another college position, but as this was something fresh, he accepted the offer. The College was looking for someone who could do everything. Everything.

That's Bryan Pezzone. Like the Cal Phil, when it comes to music, he does everything.

California Philharmonic