Bending the genre

Jazz pianist Gregg Kallor at UD

By Katie Christoff

Photo: Pianist Gregg Kallor will perform at University of Dayton on Jan. 22

ArtsLive at the University of Dayton strives to challenge its audiences’ traditional notions of music, particularly jazz. On Thursday, Jan. 22, pianist Gregg Kallor will kick off the 2015 season with his fusion of jazz and classical tunes.

“I was particularly interested in Gregg [Kallor] because he challenges the notions of what we understand jazz to be,” said Eileen Carr, the coordinator of ArtsLive at UD. “A lot of times people have a very set idea about whether they do or don’t like jazz.”

ArtsLive has focused specifically on jazz artists after receiving funding from the Cityfolk Legacy Jazznet Endowment, the final gift from the now-dissolved Cityfolk, as a way to continue its legacy of jazz programming. Carr said this is a new and venture for UD, and she’s looking for interesting jazz musicians that will appeal to wide audiences.

“[Kallor] was trained classically but studied with some great jazz pianists,” Carr said. “He’s like a lot of 21st century musicians, not about coloring inside the lines or defining music by one specific genre.”

Kallor said he grew up playing both jazz and classical, and just never stopped. He called his 2011 concert in the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall his “Aha!” moment, when he decided he didn’t want to identify himself with just one genre of music.

“I premiered a piano suite I composed, called A Single Noon – which is a tableau of life in New York City told through a combination of composed music and improvisation,” Kallor said. “It felt amazing to combine them all – it was like coming home.”

Now, Kallor said he’s frequently asked about his combination of styles, but he doesn’t like to define his style with terms as broad as “jazz” or “classical.”

“Calling something ‘jazz’ or ‘classical’ isn’t much help at this point because those are umbrella terms that encompass so many styles and approaches and hybrids,” he said. “I find it more helpful and more stimulating to talk about the specifics of a composition or a performance, and what it is about the music that resonates with me. That’s what’s important, and that’s why we commune with music and paintings and novels and poems and dancers – to feel something, no matter what it’s called.”

Kallor said this passion for music began before he could even walk – according to tales of his childhood told by his parents. He began studying with a piano teacher when he was six, after relentless begging, and credits her for his love of different genres.

“She was kind and patient and she encouraged my love of improvising while opening the door to the classical and romantic composers,” he said. “I was very lucky to have someone like that introduce me to music.”

Though his piano teacher was his first influence, his music has been influenced more recently by living and performing in New York City.

“The revolving door of amazingness that is New York City provides an endless array of influences,” Kallor said. “There’s so much incredible music, and art, and dance, and food and interactions with people from all fields who are passionate and brilliant and inspiring.”

Kallor currently serves as the first composer-in-residence at SubCulture, a performance venue in downtown Manhattan. He will perform three concerts there this season, featuring solo piano, songs and chamber music, and will perform several more next season.

“The intimacy of the space makes it feel like you’re playing for a bunch of friends in somebody’s living room,” Kallor said. “Somebody’s amazing living room, with a well-stocked bar and great acoustics!”

It’s safe to say Kallor is now a New Yorker at heart, but he was born in Ohio – Cleveland, to be exact. He said he’s never been to Dayton, but looks forward to returning to his home state.

“I’m thrilled to perform on the ArtsLive series at the University of Dayton – I’m returning to my roots,” he said.

The performance will be open to the public as well as students, and Carr called it one of the best deals in town. There will also be a free conversation about what jazz has to teach classical, and vice versa, the night before concert. Kallor will speak at Antioch College in Yellow Springs alongside a member of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. Carr said this will serve as an extension into the community, taking the conversation further than the UD campus.

“Part of our responsibility as a university is to bring in a diverse palate of arts presentations,” she said. “We start by thinking of it as an opportunity to enrich student education, but immediately take it to the community as well.” She said attendance is usually split evenly between students and the rest of the Dayton community.

Gregg Kallor will perform at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 22 in Sears Recital Hall at the University of Dayton, 300 College Park. For more information, please call 937.229.2787 or visit

Reach DCP freelance writer Katie Christoff at

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