Jed Distler Collection
Jed Distler, composer, pianist, writer and radio host, was born on December 8, 1956 in West Orange, New Jersey. He studied piano and music theory with Vera Tisheff until age 14, then attended the Juilliard Pre-College, where he studied composition with Lawrence Widdoes and Andrew Thomas. At eight, Distler met pianist, composer and arranger Dick Hyman, who became a lifelong friend and mentor. As a Sarah Lawrence College undergraduate, Distler studied piano with Stanley Lock, composition with David Maslanka, and counterpoint with Joel Speigelman. Other important teenage influences included composer/pianists Robert Helps and Frederic Rzewski.
In 1980 the jazz pianist Bill Evans asked Distler to edit his improvised solos for publication; Distler had just edited and transcribed a book of Art Tatum solos, published by Consolidated Music. Later on, Distler transcribed and arranged Bill Evans’ music for Jean-Yves Thibaudet’s Decca release “Conversations with Bill Evans,” and was commissioned by Steven Mayer to transcribed further Tatum solos for concert and recording purposes.
After settling in New York City, Distler worked at Sarah Lawrence College as Music Director of the Theater Department from 1978 through 2002, and later as a guest faculty member, while pursuing an eclectic freelance career as composer and pianist. His diverse collaborations include many luminaries of opera, cabaret, dance, and new music. Andrew Thomas, William Schimmell, Andrew Violette, Alvin Curran and Frederic Rzewski are among the composers who have written works especially for Distler.
In 1987, Distler and his wife Célia Cooke (1948-2011) founded ComposersCollaborative, Inc., a not-for-profit organization devoted to presenting and producing new music. As artistic director, Distler created a number of innovative New York-based festivals and performance series.
He launched another career in 1992 as a professional freelance writer, contributing record reviews and articles to a number of publications (primarily Gramophone and Classicstoday.com), and annotating many box sets devoted to reissues of important pianists. In 2007, Distler helped to uncover the Joyce Hatto scandal, in which more than 100 CDs issued under her name turned out to have been stolen from recordings by other pianists.
In 2015 WWFM.Org The Classical Network chose Distler as the station’s first Artist-in-Residence, inviting him to create, produce and host “Between the Keys,” a weekly program encompassing a broad range of the piano world’s artists, styles, genres, repertoire and trends. The show received ASCAP’s 2017 Deems Taylor/Virgil Thomson Award for excellence in broadcasting.
After Célia Cooke’s death, Distler married the Italian painter and art conservator Maria Scarpini, with whom he collaborates on artistic projects, including a 2013 multi-keyboard event that won a Guinness Book world record, and the chamber opera Tools, with libretto by Luigi Ballerini.
Distler’s compositions, arrangements and piano performances are available on the Decca, Nonesuch, Point, Bridge, CRI, Musical Concepts and TNC labels. He also records for Steinway & Sons’ Spirio high definition player piano. Further information is available at www.jeddistler.com, and www.composerscollab.org.
The Jed Distler Collection consists of audio-visual materials, and papers related to the Composers Collaborative and other aspects of Distler's varied career. Future additions to the collection are anticipated.