Joel Forrester

About Joel Forrester

Jazz pianist Joel Forrester co-founded the witty jazz ensemble the Microscopic Septet with saxophonist Philip Johnston, associated with Thelonious Monk, and plays solo and with his ensemble People Like Us. All of his work reveals an individualistic blend of composition and improvisation, including the theme song he composed for NPR's show Fresh Air.
Born in Pennsylvania, Forrester moved to New York as a young man to pursue his interest in jazz piano. While there, he met Thelonious Monk, who inspired him to focus on "music that hadn't been written yet." Toward that end, Forrester played with various groups in the New York jazz scene, including the Illustrious Others, whose works were collected in the 1999 release Joel Forrester & the Illustrious Others.
By 1980, Forrester established himself as a fixture in the city's experimental jazz scene, playing with like-minded musicians that included Philip Johnston, whose Microscopic Septet was just beginning to form. Forrester joined the group, becoming its longest-running member second only to Johnston himself. Throughout the group's decade-plus-duration, Forrester wrote about half of the group's prolific output, which combined a big-band-like lineup with experimental composition techniques.
When the Microscopic Septet ended in 1992, Forrester continued to play solo gigs in New York and Paris and resumed playing in different ensembles. These included Joel Forrester's Private Life and People Like Us, his second long-running group.
People Like Us pays homage to Monk with its bebop leanings, but also reveals the complex, often witty composition skills Forrester honed with the Microscopic Septet. The group also features former Micros Dave Hofstra and Dave Sewelson; along with baritone saxophonist Claire Daly, who also played with the all-female big band Diva; and the late, great drummer Denis Charles, who also worked with Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman during his long, memorable career. With People Like Us, Forrester has recorded three albums: 1997's No ... Really, 1998's In Heaven, and 1999's Believe It; as a solo artist, he released Stop the Music in 1997. ~ Heather Phares

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