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A musical journey
Jazz star Lynne Arriale, who performs Saturday, says jazz has opened new doors in her world
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Lynne Arriale, an internationally-acclaimed jazz pianist, will perform Saturday at the Smithgall Arts Center in Gainesville as part of The Arts Council’s "Evenings of Intimate Jazz" series.

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Jazz star Lynne Arriale advises the Gainesville audience to prepare to listen for "the space between the notes" at her Saturday performance, part of The Arts Council’s "Evenings of Intimate Jazz" series.

Lynne Arriale was a late bloomer — at least by jazz norms.

Although the internationally-acclaimed jazz pianist has been improvising music since kindergarten, Arriale said she didn’t discover jazz until she was a 25-year-old graduate student at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music in Milwaukee.

"It kind of struck me on the head, actually," Arriale said. "I literally was walking down the street, sunny day, beautiful blue sky. And I just had a passing thought, and it was, ‘You should study jazz.’ And I didn’t even really know what jazz was. And I listened. And that was it for me. I knew that was what I wanted to do."

Since Arriale’s epiphany, jazz fans worldwide have warmly embraced her piano music that draws upon traditional melodies and reinvented pop classics. Arriale will be performing with bassist Dennis Marks on Saturday evening at The Arts Council’s Smithgall Arts Center as part of the "Evenings of Intimate Jazz" series.

Arriale, who has toured with bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Steve Davis for more than 10 years, has performed at the prestigious Burghausen Jazz Festival in Germany and was a mainstay on the 100 Golden Fingers tour of Japan. She frequently performs in Europe and also plays at jazz festivals in Australia.

Arriale and her trio have released seven albums in their time together. The trio’s albums "Inspiration" and "Arise" have made back-to-back No. 1 Jazz Week radio hits. "Inspiration" held the No. 1 spot on The New Yorker magazine’s "Best Jazz CDs of 2002" and received the German Record Critics Award for Best Jazz CD in 2003. And the trio’s latest release, titled "LIVE," has garnered the group yet another German Record Critics Award for Best Jazz CD in 2007.

So why has Arriale sandwiched in a Gainesville performance between shows in Germany, Norway and Spain?

"Big concert halls are nice, but they’re big," said Arriale, who currently resides in Jacksonville, Fla. "There’s something very special about being physically close to the audience. We’ve played (in Gainesville) a couple of years ago ... and it’s a lovely audience ... a lovely intimate venue. And that’s always very rewarding to feel the audience is close."

Arriale said she aims to make a personal connection with members of each audience, and pulls melodies from The Beatles’ "Come Together," or lively numbers such as "Iko Iko" or old Celtic ballads in an effort to revive a familiar tune in a new light.

She said the group rearranges the melodies and then improvises over the same set of chord changes.

Many jazz critics, along with Arriale, credit the trio’s success to her ear for melodies. This has especially helped the group in the United States, where jazz albums rarely receive the radio play the Lynne Arriale Trio has enjoyed.

"I think it’s because of the material we pick, that is accessible to people and are melodies that people like to listen to," Arriale said. "The focus for us is about melody. Melody is what reaches people, whether it’s the melody of a pop tune or ... an original composition. Melodies stay with us."

In addition to the new jazz-infused wrinkles Arriale folds into old melodies, she composes quite a bit of her performance while under the glaring lights and watchful eyes of the audience.

"When I’m improvising, I’m telling a story from the beginning to the end, and I hope to take my audience with me on this little musical journey and have it make sense to them. But also reach them on an emotional level, as well," she said.

Jazz is unlike classical music, Arriale said, where a musician brings the notes to life off the page.

"We are creating a new piece every night, in a sense. And that’s a very exciting thing to do," she said. "We feel the excitement within the group, and I think the audience feels that as well, whether they know what’s going on or not."

Arriale said she sometimes explains the improvisational routine to audience members, and said she has had listeners approach her after performances who tell her they’ve been listening to jazz for 40 years, and never knew exactly what was taking place within the music.

"But to me, that’s a testament to the power of the music — that they loved it and they didn’t have to know what was going on, that there was something just so infectious about this music, and something so compelling," Arriale said.

Although Arriale will not be performing with her regular trio in Gainesville, she will be performing with her co-worker, bassist Dennis Marks, who also teaches jazz music at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.

Marks is no amateur musician, Arriale said. For years, he performed with Cuban-born jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, who studied under the legendary jazz master Dizzy Gillespie.

Arriale said she and Marks will play a more intimate performance at the Smithgall Arts Center on Saturday, sans drums, and will play songs from "The Great American Song Book" as well as a few originals.

"When you have drums, there’s a different kind of energy. This is a little quieter ... and will be a little bit more like chamber music. It should be a very interesting evening," she said.

Arriale said she aims for her performances to whisk the audience away for a couple of hours of relaxation.

"The most important thing for us when we’re playing is to reach people," she said. "This is what I do. This is my life’s work."

Arriale said music has taken her on an amazing journey, leading her through dozens of countries and boosting her over the obstacle of a woman touring in the male-dominated jazz world.

"The music always teaches me, all the time," Arriale said. "There’s things that happen in music that go beyond words, that teach us of the more subtle things in life. I always think of it as what happens in the space between notes. Where does (your) mind go and what happens? That’s the question, and there’s not an answer. Just listen for the space between the notes."

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