Stuart Isacoff’s entertaining new book, “A Natural History of the Piano” (Knopf, $30), begins with the Canadian jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. To the author, Peterson represents an ideal entrée into the wonders of “the most important instrument ever created.”
“It’s a coming together of traditions into one great artist,” Isacoff explained by phone from New York. “The fact that Peterson was classically trained gave me the opportunity to set up the story.”
Isacoff, a pianist who teaches music at SUNY Purchase, weaves together seemingly disparate voices and piano-related subjects. He also uses informative sidebar contributions from well-known pianists, including Alfred Brendel, Yundi Li, Gabriela Montero and Billy Taylor.
Despite its full title of “A Natural History of the Piano: The Instrument, the Music, the Musicians -– From Mozart to Modern Jazz and Everything in Between,” the book is intentionally not encyclopedic. Its vignette-like structure conveys an improvisatory quality reflecting Isacoff’s own approach to the piano.
It was evident during a recital at Le Poisson Rouge last year, when Isacoff teased Harold Arlen's "Over the Rainbow" out of a Scriabin Prelude; while playing a Scarlatti Sonata, he suddenly segued into Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays."