Who is that masked man with the head of irrepressible curls, concertizing at keyboards all around town? If the vibe is jazz and the tunes are cool, it’s Jasper Zimmerman, age 13: multi-instrumentalist, music history aficionado, and composer.
Zimmerman is an eighth-grader at Farragut Middle School (FMS), and the son of Suzanne Levine and Andy Zimmerman. Last Saturday, Nov. 7, he performed outside The Good Witch Coffee Bar in Hastings. On Nov. 1, he entertained voters waiting on line at Greenburgh Town Hall. He has also performed solo piano concerts at the Upstream Gallery in Hastings.
In October, Zimmerman, who goes by the name “Jazzy Jasper Z” on his YouTube channel, learned that his original composition for reed quintet, “Swing State,” received an Honorable Mention in the 2020 Student Composers Competition held each year by the National Association for Music Education (NAfME). Zimmerman was one of three student composers nationwide in the Grade K-8 category to be recognized. His composition is familiar to Farragut students, since Principal Gail Kipper, who retired in June, used a recording of it in her weekly videos last spring.
His music teacher at FMS, Jon Riss, commented, “Jasper has been recognized as a young composer multiple times at the state level by the New York State School Music Association, a state unit of the National Association of Music Education. I am thrilled he has now received recognition from NAfME. He is most deserving of this honor.”
“Swing State” is only about 2 minutes long, but it’s a bouncing ride from big band to swing, with stops at Klezmer, circus calliope, and impressionism. It’s firmly rooted in the early 20th century.
“I guess it’s partly because my dad played some of it for me," Zimmerman said, referring to music of that era. "And I use Spotify and YouTube." He’s a fan of Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie. “There’s a lot of great music from that time,” he said. He also likes Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, a big band of the ‘60s and ‘70s that the teen credits with “modernizing big-band style.”
He even used some classical-sounding passages in his composition.
“I like a lot of different things, and in this piece, I kind of merged them together,” Zimmerman said. “A lot of musicians these days like to merge genres and combine influences.” He follows the work of the piano/drum duo Domi and J.D. Beck. “They’re 25, or something like that. I also like Jacob Collier from England. He does a lot of combining different genres.”
Zimmerman explained why he elected to compose a reed quintet for his competition piece. “The choice was to make [a composition] for a reed quintet or an orchestra,” he explained. “So that was interesting, because I’ve never heard of a ‘reed quintet.’”
Zimmerman began studying piano at age 7, and soon discovered how much he enjoyed composing. He picked up the trombone at age 9, and began performing in Hastings school ensembles. By the time he was 11, he was busking on his keyboard down in New York City.
He has studied at Jazz House Kids in Montclair, N.J. For two years, he played weekly with the Jazz Standard Youth Orchestra in Manhattan, and performed with the JSYO at the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival in Ireland. He has performed at Dizzy’s Club, which is part of the Jazz at Lincoln Center complex in New York City, and at the Montclair Jazz Festival.
Two years ago, one of his original jazz pieces, “Marketplace,” earned him honors from the New York State School Music Association. It’s one of three awards he has won for composition from NYSSMA. He has also sat in on jam sessions at the Jazz Forum in Tarrytown, where he was the only young person making music.
Because of the pandemic, Zimmerman’s parents decided on the “fully remote” option for his schooling this year, which can get complicated, musically speaking. “The music program, they’re still having bands and chorus and stuff,” he said. “It’s kind of hard because I’m full remote, but I play along with them in the Zoom call. It’s definitely more challenging, but it’s still happening.” He uses FaceTime for his regular piano lessons with Billy Lester, who is based in Yonkers.
When he isn’t busy with music and school, he is teaching himself to code. He enjoys graphic design, and he is editor and designer of “The Honeycomb,” the FMS student newspaper.
But he’s plenty busy with music. “Whenever I compose something, whether on the piano or singing, I always record it on my phone,” he said. He uses a musical notation software program called “Sibelius” to transcribe what he plays on the keyboard onto the musical staff. When “Swing State” is performed by professional musicians at NAfME’s virtual awards ceremony next spring, they’ll use his music transcribed by the Sibelius software.
Zimmerman is working on a new song focusing on “mallet instruments” such as kalimba (an African thumb piano), djembe (a rope-tuned, goblet-shaped drum), and other African drums.
“I like to experiment with composing in different styles,” he explained. “The inspiration for this was that I noticed in my sound library in Logic Pro X, that there were pitched percussion instruments that I haven’t explored before.”
To hear “Swing State,” go to: https://nafme.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Swing_State_final.mp3.