From the time he was a high school student in West Hartford, Connecticut, in the prestigious William H. Hall High School jazz program, Patrick Zimmerli stood out as a virtuosic talent on the saxophone, winning Downbeat Magazine’s “Best High School Jazz Soloist Award” in both 1985 and 1986. During this time, he met Kevin Hays, Brad Mehldau, Larry Grenadier and other now-renowned jazz musicians, and became immersed in the New York City jazz community.
Zimmerli attended Columbia University, where he became increasingly interested in classical composition. While at Columbia, Zimmerli worked as a freelance saxophonist with, among others, jazz drummer Jeff Williams. It was for Williams’ Quartet that he wrote some of his earliest pieces combining jazz and contemporary classical techniques. Zimmerli would go on to pursue graduate work in composition at Columbia, studying with Fred Lerdahl and George Edwards, and receiving his DMA in 2000.
In 1992, Zimmerli recorded his first album as a leader, entitled Shores Against Silence, with Kevin Hays on piano, Larry Grenadier on bass and Tom Rainey on drums; this record also featured Zimmerli’s piece “The Paw,” which won him first prize in the first annual BMI/Thelonious Monk Institute Composers Competition in 1993.
Throughout the 1990’s, Zimmerli’s music became noted for its progressive blend of rhythmic intricacy with a strong melodic sense. Together with his Ensemble, consisting of guitarist Ben Monder, fretless bassist Stomu Takeishi and percussionist Satoshi Takeishi, Zimmerli forged a hybrid style, heavily influenced by contemporary classical music, but with a jazz-oriented, improvisational aesthetic. This group would eventually record two albums, Explosion in 1996 and Expansion in 2000. During this time, Zimmerli also collaborated with Ethan Iverson and Reid Anderson (of the Bad Plus), as well as percussionist John Hollenbeck, on Twelve Sacred Dances, a large-scale suite of music inspired by contemporary dance; a recording was released on Arabesque Records in 1998.
After a series of performances at the Guggenheim Museum with his Ensemble, Zimmerli made changes to his style; he simplified his harmonic and rhythmic vocabulary, and began composing longer-form pieces for mixed ensembles, using traditional classical structures. In 2000, Ethan Iverson, Satoshi Takeishi, and the Metamorphosen Chamber Orchestra, under the direction of conductor Scott Yoo, premiered his first such piece, Concerto No. 1 for Piano, Strings and Jazz Percussion. The piece’s success led to Zimmerli becoming Metamorphosen’s Composer in Residence, a position he held from 2002 to 2005. His collaboration with Scott Yoo has since led to numerous commissions, including a second Concerto, two Piano Trios (released on Arabesque in 2004), and two quintets for the Festival Mozaic in San Luis Obispo, California.
During this period, Zimmerli also put together a new ensemble, made up of saxophone, string quartet, piano, bass, percussion and electronics, and continued to explore the possibilities of cross-stylistic pollination. Following the group’s recording of Phoenix in 2005, Zimmerli organized a concert series, entitled Emergence, dedicated to the creation and performance of new work. The series featured this 9-piece ensemble, as well as numerous guests from the classical, jazz, and electronic music communities. There were 17 performances and over 30 premieres, including excerpts from Zimmerli’s opera-in-progress Lucia.
In 2011, Zimmerli won the CLICK People’s Orchestral Commission from the Colorado Music Festival, a competition wherein the public voted for the commissionee via an online system. Other commissions have included a Chamber Symphony for the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and a large-scale orchestral work with video on the subject of music inspired by architecture, for the Colorado College Summer Music Festival. Zimmerli has also received commissions from the Ying String Quartet, the Seattle Chamber Music Festival, the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music, cellist Kristina Reiko Cooper, and violinist Timothy Fain (whose recording of his solo violin piece the Light Guitar was released in 2011 on Naxos).
Also in 2011, Zimmerli’s Modern Music for two pianos, written for Brad Mehldau and Kevin Hays, was premiered at Carnegie Hall. A CD featuring that and other compositions was released on Nonesuch Records later that year; the music was performed throughout Europe at such venues as the Vienna Konzerthaus Grosser Saal and Paris’ Salle Pleyel, as well as the new SFJazz Center.
In October 2013, London’s Wigmore Hall saw the premiere of Zimmerli’s song cycle on poems of Sappho, written for Luciana Souza, pianist Gary Versace, and Zimmerli on Saxophone. In June 2013, Redman, along with Brad Mehldau, Larry Grenadier, Brian Blade and the Knights Orchestra premiered Zimmerli’s new arrangements for orchestra and jazz quartet at New York’s Town Hall to great acclaim.
Zimmerli recently completed an evening-length work for jazz saxophonist Joshua Redman, the Escher String Quartet, bassist Scott Colley and percussionist Satoshi Takeishi, which was premiered at London’s Wigmore Hall in April 2014. The work, Aspects of Darkness and Light, in 19 sections and approximately 90 minutes in length, was the Seattle Commissioning Club’s 2013 Commission.
Upcoming projects include a large-scale oratorio on the work of Alan Seeger, for operatic tenor Andrew Richards, drummer Jeff Ballard, pianist Jeanne-Minette Cilliers, and the French choir Mikrokosmos under the direction of Loïc Pierre. The Oratorio, a meditation on World War I from the perspective of a century on, will be premiered in France in 2016. Also upcoming is a recording of the suite Signs of Life, a commission from jazz pianist Thomas Ehnco and classical percussion virtuoso Vassilena Serafimova. The piece will be recorded for Deutsche Grammophon in 2015.
Articles by Patrick Zimmerli:
If you didn't know it already, you'll see that Ethan Iverson has an extremely interesting and idiosyncratic take on new music based on years of serious study and experience from which...
Early next year a CD will be released featuring my compositions on Nonesuch Records. I’m very excited about the recording, which features Joshua Redman, one of today’s greatest working jazz...
Is music meant to be ephemeral or enduring? And indeed, are those two goals consonant with one another, or at odds?
Jazz, once revered as America’s classical music, has come in for a beating lately at the hands of popular culture. How did it go from such an august status to...
I’m very proud of my new CD, released last Friday, which features some of the finest musicians working in the jazz field today. The catch? The music was recorded on...
New music has been as much about challenging modes of listening and perception as anything else. What is most wonderful to me about the park experience was that all modes...