Born on November 27, 1965, in Berlin, Germany. Education: Attended Lycée Lamartine performing arts school, Paris; studied at Berklee College of Music, Boston, MA. Addresses: Management--Christoph Deghelt, 44 Route d'Issac, 30 160 Salaunes, France, e-mail:

While Jacky Terrasson first drew widespread attention---and a label bidding war---after winning the Thelonious Monk International Piano Competition in 1993, his professional career preceded that watershed moment by almost a decade. Terrasson, who wa s born in Berlin to a French father and an American mother, was raised in Paris and began studying classical piano at the age of five. Influenced by his mother's extensive jazz record collection, he began studying jazz piano at the age of 13, and tw o years later enrolled at the Lycée Lamartine, a performing arts school in Paris. There he met Stephane Paudras, the son of noted jazz patron Francis Paudras. The elder Paudras, a close associate of jazz pianist Bud Powell in that musician's later years, took an interest in Terrasson and introduced him to the music of Powell and other American greats, as well as to the local jazz scene. Terrasson has credited this informal education with profoundly influencing his style. "Listening to t hose Bud Powell records as well as Bill Evans and Thelonious Monk---that was all I needed to know as a pianist," he told the Washington Post. "I didn't listen to anything except those three guys for almost five years." (Terrasson would later land a small role in the film 'Round Midnight, the story of Paudras and Powell's friendship).

When Terrasson turned 18, Paudras encouraged him to move to the United States and attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. Terrasson remained at the school for two semesters, studying with pianists Ray Santisi and Danilo Pér ez, saxophonist Javon Jackson, and guitarist Mark Whitfield, and gigging (on a B-3 organ) regularly at Wally's, a local club. He then left to pursue a five-nights-a-week gig in Chicago with bassist and fellow student Dennis Carroll at a club called Blondie's. "I learned three times faster there," he told the Post. "You were just up there on the bandstand, and you had to play. You just had to do it, period."

Terrasson eventually returned to France to complete a year of mandatory military service, and remained in the country playing freelance gigs until 1990, when he moved to New York City, where his mother, a North Carolinian, had worked and first been introduced to the jazz scene. "New York is much more intense than Paris," Terrasson told the Post. "The music scene is a reflection of how the city is---everything's moving all the time. It's alive all night, and it's full of great musicians. But if you're good, there are more opportunities to be heard there than anywhere else." Terrasson eventually secured various club gigs and spent a year-and-a-half playing in drummer Art Taylor 's band. "The gig with Art got people paying attention," he told the Post. "People got to know who I was."

In 1993, at the urging of non-musician friends, Terrasson entered the Thelonious Monk Piano Competition, where his performance was judged by such luminaries as Herbie Hancock, Dave Brubeck, and Marian McPartland. While Terrasson and his critics agre ed that his performance in the finals of the competition did not show the artist performing at his top potential, his stellar semifinal showing was enough to earn him the competition's $10,000 top prize and the notice of several major labels. The ne xt day Terrasson joined legendary vocalist Betty Carter's band, an experience he has treasured. "She was working all the time, and that's what a musician who's starting out wants to do, you know," Terrasson told the All About Jazz website. "Playing with Betty was a dream come true. She was more than a singer; she was like part of the quartet. It's great to be a leader, but it's also great to be in a band like hers. Most of those types of gigs are gone today. "

Significant media and record industry attention soon followed. The New York Times named Terrasson one of 30 artists "most likely to change the culture for the next thirty years," and label representatives compe ted to release his debut. Four months after the competition, executives from Blue Note and Verve both approached him after his performance at a New York club. Blue Note eventually won the bidding war, signing Terrasson to a contract considered lucrative b y jazz standards. "It was not a normal 25-grand-an-album kind of deal; it was quite a bit more than that," Blue Note president Bruce Lundvall told Billboard. Terrasson told Billboard the in tense label attention introduced him to the business side of the music industry fast. "I guess it's kind of the name of the game," he said. "I got a lot more press attention, and as far as business people, it's like all the s harks come after you, you know? It's true---that's really the way it felt for me. All of a sudden, I was exposed to this other part of being a musician."

Terrasson recorded his self-titled debut with his working trio, which included bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Leon Parker. The album was released to widespread acclaim in 1994. Time magazine named the album one of its t op albums of the year. A string of Blue Note releases followed, including a 1997 recording, Rendezvous, featuring Terrasson as co-bandleader with acclaimed vocalist Cassandra Wilson. "That was a situation where she didn't have a record ready to go, and neither did I. So Blue Note said, 'Why don't you do something together?' I thought that was a good idea," Terrasson told All About Jazz. The London Independent named t he release one of its top musical choices of the year.

Terrasson payed tribute to his French heritage with the 2001 Blue Note release À Paris . . ., a collection of popular and traditional songs from his home country arranged in a jazz style, alongside two of Terrasson's original tunes. The album featured "La Marseillaise," the French national anthem, with its brassy march style significantly tempered. "The National Anthem, 'La Marseillaise,' is a march, and the lyrics are very aggre ssive and oppressive," Terrasson told All About Jazz. "But I treated the piece like a child's version of it---a pretty little waltz. I'm very happy about how that track turned out. If you take away the march and the lyr ics, it's a beautiful little melody."

Terrasson told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that while his schedule is now more hectic, he appreciates the rewards that have befallen him: "This is really what I wanted all my life, to have a great record deal and to be able to play the type of music I want and to be recognized a little. It's just that I find myself very busy all the time. And you've just got to watch every move you do, 'cause you're in the spotlight. But other than that, the s upport and the attention, that's great. I don't take anything for granted."

by Kristin Palm

Jacky Terrasson's Career

Played professionally at clubs in Boston, Chicago, and New York City, beginning in 1985; toured with bassist Ray Brown (1991) and singer Betty Carter (1993); won Thelonious Monk International Piano Competition (1993) and signed with B lue Note; continues to record with his own trio; has recorded with singers Cassandra Wilson and Dianne Reeves; saxophonists Guy Lafitte, Javon Jackson, and Antoine Roney; and drummers Sebastian Whittaker and Cindy Blackman.

Famous Works

Further Reading



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