Musician Ondřej Pivec: Everything, and This Too, Will One Day Pass

Ondřej Pivec, photo: Petr Vidomus / Czech Radio

At a time when concert halls have fallen silent, and society is struggling to deal with the coronavirus crisis, music is becoming even more important and many singers and artists are going online to give the public new strength, faith and hope. In the second part of a series of interviews with Czech artists living in the United States, titled Artists That Never Give Up in the City That Never Sleeps, the Czech Centre in New York features Czech musicians in the Big Apple. Marek Milde spoke to Czech-American musician, composer, and producer Ondřej Pivec about his work, his life in New York and the impact of the coronavirus crisis.

Ondřej Pivec,  photo: Petr Vidomus / Czech Radio

Gregory Porter,  photo: Tore Sætre,  CC BY-SA 4.0
Where and how did the situation with the coronavirus catch up on you? Has it affected your life?

“Well, it caught me on my tour with Gregory Porter, we were just in Paris. We had hoped (just like everyone) that it would be over in 14 days. Unfortunately, it turned out a little differently in the end. It has affected my life quite significantly. I was supposed to be on tour all year long, so I had arranged my life accordingly. But I wouldn't dare complain, there are people out there who have real problems. For me, it will only be a little uncomfortable for a while.”

You had a lot of plans for this year, a tour and a very busy schedule, but now you can't perform publicly. How will it affect your playing?

“Well, I don't think I'm going to be able to play live until the fall. This will probably be the longest in my entire professional life. At least I will use the time for activities that I don't normally do, like sleep… We are all wondering what to do next. Going online is quite an evident option, but it is beginning to be excessive. Next week, we are doing a live concert with Organic Quartet, it will be an online stream, so I am curious how it will turn out.”

Now in mid-April, the new All Rise album, where you play with Gregory Porter, will be released. You've also worked with him on the album Take Me To The Alley for which you won a Grammy Award. Can you tell us what we can look forward to this time?

“Well, the record label decided to postone the release date to August, which is understandable, given the current situation. A few days ago, Gregory released a new single called “Thank You” and I am very happy about it, because there is a lot of Hammond. The new album is refined production-wise, and I dare say that it will make Gregory a star like Adele.”

You've been living in New York for over a decade. Could you talk about how New York influenced your work, what inspires you, where has New York taken you?

“New York is a city full of hardworking people who have dreams. This causes a lot of competition, and also quickly reveals the fact that you don’t actually know how to do anything. Which is quite a nice motivating factor. It makes you do something about yourself.”

Photo: Max Talbot-Minkin,  Flickr,  CC BY 2.0
An important role for you was playing gospels at churches in Brooklyn, Harlem, and Queens, where you were very well-received. Not only did you meet important people from your field there, but you also got to the source of African-American music from which jazz and soul were born. How do you experience rituals in the music? Is spirituality transferable to your own creative output?

“Well, this is a fairly complex question. One of the things I realized is how much our history has forced us to move away from our own feelings. Unfortunately I have to say that after traveling through half of the world, I found out that we are quite unique in it. Yes, I may have gotten to the source, but I have so much respect for it that I understand that I was merely getting closer.”

Many people find solace and encouragement in music, which is pretty current now. What do you listen to as a musician?

“I use this time to discover new things and listen to artists I didn’t know so well before. One of them is PJ Morton, then also Anderson Paak. I have quite a lot of unfinished work - things that I should listen to, watch, etc., so now I’m catching up.”

Besides music, what helps you find balance and support in these precarious times? Would you like to tell people something encouraging?

“I think that everything, and this too, will one day pass.”

Ondřej Pivec (1984) is a Czech-American musician, composer, and producer who plays the keyboard and Hammond’s organ. He has lived in New York since January 2009. From an originally jazz organist playing almost exclusively on a non-standard instrument - Hammond’s organ - he gradually worked his way onto the American scene of RnB, soul, pop, and gospel. In addition to Hammond, he also plays various keyboard instruments and sings. On the Czech scene, he is known mainly for his jazz formation Ondřej Pivec Organic Quartet. In the USA, he performs most often with the Kennedy Administration and worldwide with the American singer Gregory Porter. It was with him that he won a Grammy in 2017. He has worked with many artists worldwide: Wu-Tang Clan, Andra Day, Gregoire Maret, Joel Frahm, Jake Langley, Yvonne Sanchez, Russell Carter, Paul Bollenback, Karel Ruzicka Jr., Bill Campbell, Nabuko, Billy Cobham and others.