Sound It Out: “20 Questions” #8 — Ethan Iverson

Another installment of the recurring “Sound It Out: 20 Questions” feature on, with an artist answering a survey inspired by the famous Proust Questionnaire…

Pianist Ethan Iverson was born in 1973 in Wisconsin, moving to New York City in the early ’90s. Since 2001, he has been widely known as one-third of the hit alt-jazz trio The Bad Plus, with bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King. But before that, he played in the New York Tango Trio, then was music director for the Mark Morris Dance Group. The Bad Plus were signed to Columbia Records after only one year together, with the trio eventually making a dozen studio albums for various labels along with two live discs. Along the way, The Bad Plus helped widen the canon for jazz piano trio, ranging from covers of Yes and the theme for Chariots of Fire to Ornette Coleman and their own colorful originals; they also recorded their custom arrangement of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, as well as an album with saxophonist Joshua Redman. Ethan has been active beyond The Bad Plus, recording under his own name and working with such jazz elders as Albert “Tootie” Heath and Ron Carter. The pianist has also been part of the Billy Hart Quartet with saxophonist Mark Turner and bassist Ben Street for more than a dozen years, recording for ECM. Ethan also writes one of the most prolific, widely read blogs in jazz: Do the Math. He has performed twice in the Sound It Out series with soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome, in September 2012 and June 2014. He also organized a multi-pianist tribute to the late Paul Bley for the series in February 2016. Ethan will be finishing his tenure with The Bad Plus at the end of this year, with Philly pianist Orrin Evans taking his place. Sound It Out will be hosting a special collaboration by the founding and future pianists of The Bad Plus on October 9, 2017, with Ethan and Orrin playing the music of Thelonious Monk for the great man’s centenary – his 100th birthday being the next day – on two pianos. — BB

  1. What was the first jazz album you fell in love with and stayed in love with?

This Time by Basie, Count Basie.

  1. What do you think is one of the most overrated jazz albums ever?

I refuse to throw any living artist under the bus so will nominate Conversations with Myself by Bill Evans, which won a Grammy for best jazz album in 1964.

  1. What’s one of your all-time favorite non-jazz albums?

I listened to Martha Argerich play Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 recently, so might as well pick that. It’s not such a great piece, but her incandescent piano playing makes one a believer.

  1. What’s the last album you listened to from beginning to end – and did you like it?

Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington – an immortal masterpiece.

  1. What’s your favorite film score?

The Long Goodbye, by John Williams.

  1. What was the most recent concert – of any genre – that made you fall in love with music all over again?

I saw Barry Harris at the Village Vanguard last weekend. His students were out in force, and they all sang, clapped and responded to Barry’s cues. It was utterly surreal and utterly moving.

  1. Which are your very favorite and least favorite venues for live music?

Hey, I have to work in this town!

  1. What’s your favorite quote about music?

“The whole body of music called jazz is based on the personal approach of the individual, not the collective conclusion of a group.” — Andrew White

  1. If you could have a drink with any late non-music artist of the past, who would it be?

Anthony Powell. His books sound like he is talking to you, but I wonder what he really was like in person. 

  1. What are the top three tools of your trade?

Piano. Computer. Uh, these are unsexy answers…

  1. What’s your most indispensable piece of technology that isn’t music-oriented?

Is a suitcase “technology”?

  1. What are your top media sources of writing/opinion/news about music?

They have mostly vanished. This is a very real concern. I am planning on attempting to address this next year with a new site connected to my blog Do the Math.

  1. What non-musical/non-technological quality is most important to being an enduringly creative musician?


  1. What living person do you most admire – and what’s one quality he or she has that you most admire?

I admire a lot of people, but Mark Turner keeps fit, is a good family man, radiates calm Buddhism, and is perhaps the greatest tenor saxophonist of his generation. He’s pretty cool!

  1. What living person do you most despise – and what one quality he or she has that you most despise?

This question and its answer are too obvious in the age of Trump.

  1. What’s your favorite place in the world?

New York City is a drag, it has been overtaken by finance and high society. But it still has the greatest culture, diversity and people in the world.

  1. If you could live in another time period, when would that be?

Like a lot of jazz fans, I would love to see Coltrane, Miles, Ornette, Monk, Ella, Blakey, Sarah, Duke, Louis, Sonny, Fatha Hines, Teddy Wilson, Albert Ayler, Paul Bley, etc. all active in New York City in the early to mid-’60s.

  1. What book would you most like to read again?

Welcome to the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. I am thrilled she finally has a new book about to come out!

  1. What film haven’t you seen that you feel like you should?

12 Years a Slave.

  1. What aspect of the past do you miss most – and what’s one thing you look forward to about the future that doesn’t exist?

I love the internet, but I miss reading a book a day like I used to… It seems to me that in the future everyone will have a basic income (unless we descend into barbarism).