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Composer and pianist Jack Perla survived youth in Staten Island, New York with help from his parents’ Fisher Auto-Changing Phonograph. It put Sergio Mendes, Beniamino Gigli, Miles, Rachmaninoff, Erroll Garner, Heifetz, Stan Getz, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tchaikovsky together in a pre-iTunes playlist that opened the mind of a kid already attuned to the musical explorations of the 60s & 70s. Starting lessons around nine, Jack took over the family Hammond and began deciphering rhythms and chords from the rock and pop records in the family stack. He switched to the piano and began writing melodies in a Square Deal notebook, intrigued by the soaring classical discs with just one track on a side. He added rock and roll to the pile – staples like Zeppelin, Beatles, The Who, ephemera like Gentle Giant and King Crimson. He formed a prog cover band, studied theory with composer Roland Trogan, and kept thinking about those classical pieces unfolding across a full side.
After high school Jack moved to Brooklyn and attended NYU and the Manhattan School of Music, studying with John Corigliano and Ludmila Ulehla. He formed Music Without Walls with violinist Mark Feldman, saxophonist Marty Ehrlich, cellist Erik Friedlander, percussionist Kory Grossman and bassist John Goldsby. Jack wanted the pocket and feel of a jazz group playing his “classical” compositions. He got more – his musicians were terrific improvisers and brought their tradecraft to the themes, harmonies and cycles in his music, blurring the “uptown/downtown” divide that typified mid-eighties/nineties new music. Jack led the group through several seasons of New York area concerts before moving to New Haven for a DMA in composition at the Yale School of Music, where he studied with Jacob Druckman, Martin Bresnick and Lukas Foss.
After New Haven Jack moved to Oakland, CA, continuing to hone his reputation for cross-fertilizing jazz and classical music. He taught improvisation, piano and composition for the Young Musicians Program at UC Berkeley, and worked extensively with Michael Morgan and the Oakland Symphony, visiting public schools throughout Alameda county to talk with kids about classical music and jazz, symphonic and improvised music. He released his first jazz recording, “Swimming Lessons for the Dead,” which included “Roman Candles,” winner of the Thelonious Monk Institute’s Jazz Composers Award. Jack has performed at the Texaco New York Jazz Festival, Knitting Factory, Tampere Jazz Festival, Big Sur, Monterey and Pacifica Jazz Festivals, in Japan & India, and at the Millennium Festival in London. He’s played and recorded with George Brooks and Zakir Hussain, jazz-bassoon virtuoso Paul Hanson, guitarist Andre Bush, and Afro-pop bandleader Ken Okulolu. His third jazz recording, “Enormous Changes”, was released in 2015 on Origin Records and includes “Swimming Upstream”, winner of a John Lennon Songwriter’s Award.
Jack’s operas include “Shalimar & Boonyi,” libretto by Rajiv Joseph, (Opera Theater of St. Louis, 2016), “An American Dream,” libretto by Jessica Murphy Moo (Seattle Opera, 2015), “Jonah & the Whale,” libretto by Velina Hasu-Houston (Los Angeles Opera, 2014), “Love/Hate”, libretto by Rob Bailis (ODC Theatre & The San Francisco Opera Center, 2012), “Courtside,” libretto by Eugenie Chan and “River of Light,” libretto by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (Houston Grand Opera, 2010, 2011). Since its premier at Seattle Opera, “An American Dream” has been produced by Opera Maine, Anchorage Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Virginia Opera, and in 2022 heads into productions at Kentucky Opera, Opera Santa Barbara, Opera Idaho and The New England Conservatory of Music.
Jack has been commissioned by the Los Angeles Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Houston Grand Opera, Seattle Opera, The Paul Dresher Ensemble, TwoSense, MATA, The Oakland Symphony and The San Francisco Symphony. He’s the recipient of awards and fellowships from the Thelonious Monk Institute, American Composers Forum, New Music USA, Barlow Endowment for Music Composition, Argosy Foundation, James Irvine Foundation, Paul Mellon Foundation, Civic Orchestra of Chicago, Yaddo, Opera Fusion (Cincinnati Opera), Opera America, the MacDowell Colony and American Opera Projects. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, child, and four-legged devoted fan, and remains active composing, performing and recording jazz, chamber and symphonic music. He’s currently working on a film/performance piece with Kronos Quartet, film-maker Jeff Goodby and counter-tenor Anthony Roth Costanzo.