Peter grew up first in Ohio, then in Oakland, California, studying classical piano, then turning to jazz while in high school. Following graduation from U.C. Berkeley, Peter played clubs, concerts and festivals in the San Francisco Bay Area with such artists as Frank Morgan and John Handy.
Since relocating to New York, he has performed and/or recorded with Junior Cook, George Coleman, Jimmy Cobb, Billy Hart, Ryan Kisor, Etta Jones, Scott Hamilton, Al Foster, Eric Alexander, Curtis Stigers, Walt Weiskopf, and Jon Hendricks, among many others. Peter is also a faculty member in the renowned jazz program at New School University.
Since 2005, Peter has released a series of critically acclaimed recordings for the Danish jazz label, SteepleChase Records. His first release for the company, The Peter Zak Trio, featuring drummer Al Foster, and bassist Paul Gill, appeared that year. Subsequent releases include For Tomorrow, featuring Paul Gill and drummer Willie Jones III, in 2006; a solo piano album, My Conception, in 2007; Seed Of Sin, featuring Paul Gill and drummer Quincy Davis, in 2008; Blues on the Corner: The Music of McCoy Tyner, again featuring Paul Gill and Quincy Davis,in 2009; and The Decider, a quartet album including Walt Weiskopf on saxophones, Ugonna Okegwo on bass, and drummer Billy Drummond.
Down East, a trio date featuring Peter Washington and Billy Drummond, appeared in the spring of 2011. Among the enthusiastic national and international press for this release was a profile in the September, 2011, issue of DownBeat magazine. Peter remains quite busy as a recording sideman as well, including recent appearances on Walt Weiskopf's Day In, Night Out, and See the Pyramid, Ryan Kisor's Live at Smalls, and Tom Guarna's Major Minor, among others.
In 2005, Peter received a prestigious $10,000 grant from the Doris Duke Foundation and Chamber Music Ameica to compose and perform a new work for his jazz trio, featuring Al Foster and Paul Gill. The first of two performances of this three-part suite took place at New York's Smoke Jazz Club in June of 2005, and the second in January of 2006, at the Jazz Gallery in New York City.
Peter leads is own groups at various venues in and around New York, as well as making national and international appearances as a leader, including recent gigs at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, the Zacatecas jazz festival in Mexico, and a tour of Canada as a co-leader with saxophonist Walt Weiskopf. At the same time, he performs as a sideman with various other artists, including Jim Snidero, Ryan Kisor, Tom Guarna, Walt Weiskopf, and others, both in the U.S and internationally. In 2011, Peter performed with the Brooklyn Philharmonic as the featured soloist on Gershwin's I Got Rhythm Variations.
For bookings or further information, see Peter's contact info
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What the critics are saying:
About Down East:
"Classy set by Peter Zak, accompanied by the stellar rhythm tandem...together they strike a swinging accord..." Bill Milkowski, JazzTimes
You can’t help but be drawn in by his deepswing, mastery of tempos,horn-like phrasing,orchestrative savoir faire, andability to conjure melodic pathways through harmonic thickets.” – Ted Panken,DownBeat
"The kind of trio date many aspire to but few reach so effortlessly, Zak and his pals are on the money throughout. A must hear/have date for all straight ahead jazz piano fans." - Chris Spector, Midwest Record
About The Decider:
"...further distinguishes Zak as a savvy bandleader. The chemistry here is superb throughout." - Bill Milkowski, Jazz Times, December 2010
About Blues on the Corner:
“The inventive, poised pianist and composer Peter Zak — he of bebop-and-beyond heart — creates beguiling passages of flowing melody driven by an assured swing” – Zan Stewart, Newark Star-Ledger
“Peter Zak and his trio have made a fine album that shines new light on a too-often neglected aspect of McCoy Tyner's legacy” – Joel Roberts, All About Jazz New York
About Seed Of Sin:
"...Zak is a focused, original player with fine taste and great chops...4 stars" - Mitch Myers, DownBeat Magazine
"...his fourth strong album for SteepleChase... Zak invariably comes upon lovely notes you never anticipated. “Shala” has a heartfelt melodic inevitability that, in a more perfect world, would make its composer famous." - Thomas Conrad, Jazz Times, November 2008
"NYC pianist Peter Zak, a spirited bebop-and-beyond stylist, again offers a beguiling mix of distinctive originals and jazz repertoire items both well-known and not-so. This is A-1 modern mainstream trio jazz, swinging with spark." - Zan Stewart, Newark Star-Ledger
"Zak covers a number of jazz styles during this wide-ranging session. His buoyant, swinging treatment of Billy Strayhorn's lesser known “All Day Long” and lyrical setting of Eubie Blake's “Memories of You” have great appeal. The brisk bossa nova “Propinquity” and the melodic “Shala” (the latter introduced with a bit of free improvisation) are also signs of Peter Zak's gifts as a composer." - Ken Dryden, All Music Guide read full review
"...another strong entry in (Peter Zak's) burgeoning catalog." - Derek Taylor, Bagatellen read full review
About My Conception:
"Zak's imaginative studio session blends stunning originals with a few overlooked gems...as a composer, comparable to the likes of Bill Evans, Denny Zeitlin, Fred Hersch, or any solo pianist you can name...a flawless record date. Four and one-half starts out of five" - All Music Guide
"...a bouquet of self-assured solo piano performances" - New York Times
"Peter Zak has now made three albums as a leader, all for SteepleChase of Denmark. The first two were piano-trio dates, the most recent of which, For Tomorrow, was one of 2006’s sleepers. My Conception, a solo album, is better.
The 12 pieces on this album feel less like calculated performances than one private, unbroken contemplation on which the listener is allowed to eavesdrop...
Zak plays a varied program: originals like “Mahmoud’s Memory,” with harmonies that suggest Arabia over a written bass figure; hard-bop classics like the title track by Sonny Clark; standards like “Witchcraft.” But even when he does a snapping calypso for trumpet by Blue Mitchell, “Fungii Mama,” never before heard as a piano solo, the rapt atmosphere is sustained. The best piece is “With a Song in My Heart,” with new changes, an unusual dead-slow tempo, and fragments repeated and communed over, as if in wonder." - Thomas Conrad, Jazz Times
About For Tomorrow:
"...together, Peter Zak, Paul Gill and Willie Jones III constitute one of the most polished, intelligent, swinging piano trios now playing jazz in New York or anywhere else. For Tomorrow gets better every time you play it." - Thomas Conrad, Jazz Times
One of the 10 best of 2006 (For Tomorrow) - Nancy Barell, Jazz Journalists Association
"A musician of Zak's caliber is expected to deliver, and deliver he does...For Tomorrow is chameleonic to the point of being startling. It is organic and tight, with no loose chords and no loose strings...You find yourself tapping your foot long after the last note is played and the resonance is as striking as the music." - Karla Cornejo, All About Jazz New York
"Up-and-coming NYC-based pianist Zak offers a first-rate program...Zak's flowing original, "The Cream or the Clear," demonstrates his ace style: a clean, warm sound, and crisp execution of on-the-money ideas that swing--often with a provocative verve. This music has a very current heft, despite its roots in the jazz tradition...three and one half stars out of four." - Zan Stewart, Newark Star-Ledger
About The Peter Zak Trio :
"A pianist on the rise....an exceptional trio...melodically rich playing with harmonic depth and supple rhythm. One of the top emerging artists on the New York jazz horizon." ? Zan Stewart, Newark Star-Ledger
"Pianist Peter Zak has made a name for himself...but his new disc, The Peter Zak Trio, on Steeplechase, just might break him as a soloist." - TimeOut New York
"A thoughtful player who shines" ? Dan Morgenstern, Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University
."Vibrant and singular...Zak's mastery is evident." - Terrell Holmes, All About Jazz New York
"Zak...has put together a nice mainstream style mixing melodic class with easy-riding cool. His work on his own compositions, "Laughing With RZ" and "Better Late Than Never" is bright and engaging while he brings an unusual waltzing grace to Monk's "Ugly Beauty." - Cadence Magazine