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Watch Pianist Dan Tepfer Enter the Matrix with Natural Machines, at the WBGO Yamaha Salon

At one point during Dan Tepfer’s solo concert at the Yamaha Salon, I remarked that the occasion felt like a family reunion.

This was an acknowledgment of the setting. The Yamaha Salon, in midtown Manhattan, is like a second home to Tepfer: equal parts clubhouse, incubator and recording studio.

“This space has been very dear to my heart,” he affirmed. “I recorded my album Goldberg Variations/Variationshere in 2011, and spent many full weekends here, sleeping on couches, and not sleeping. It’s really just been an incredible gift for me to have access to this space and these pianos.”

Tepfer’s project Natural Machines was inspired by the specific capabilities of the Yamaha Disklavier, a digital player piano. As someone who always liked tinkering with code, Tepfer had an epiphany about the algorithms that control a Disklavier’s output. “Suddenly I realized: Wait, I can make myself a duet partner — and not a duet partner that plays a synthetic instrument,” he said. “A duet partner that plays exactly the same instrument that I’m playing, and with just as much finesse as me.”

Before Tepfer put the finishing touches on Natural Machines, he and his algorithms became the subject of an engaging video short by Jazz Night in America. He released the project last year as a series of videos on YouTube, featuring his own responsive graphics and visualizations. And this summer he demonstrated the project in a Tiny Desk Concert at NPR.

But even for those familiar with Natural Machines, Tepfer’s Yamaha Salon concert felt revelatory. It’s a project that renews itself with each new prompt. 

The performance included several of the signature pieces in the Natural Machines repertory, including one algorithm that creates an inverted canon along an axis of symmetry, and another one descriptively titled “Tremolo.”

This edition of the WBGO Yamaha Salon also featured a winning performance by singer-songwriter Becca Stevens, who joined Tepfer in an encore at the conclusion of the evening. Their duet, which can be seen at 36:30 in the video above, evoked memories of the Cornelia Street Café circa 2009. The song they played, “In the Midst,” comes from Stevens’ debut album, Tea Bye Sea.

Credit Jonathan Chimene / WBGO
Dan Tepfer and Becca Stevens at the WBGO Yamaha Salon, Oct. 10, 2019.

For more information about Dan Tepfer, including tour dates, visit his website.

Audio by David Tallacksen

Video Capture by Aaron Ross

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.