Marc Copland is a modern jazz pianist, composer, and recording artist whose nickname "the Piano Whisperer" was earned for his rich harmonic technique and crystalline sound. He was born Marc Cohen in Philadelphia in 1948. His early musical studies were on the alto saxophone with Joe Allard. He also studied composition under Romeo Cascarino and Meyer Kupferman. By the early '60s, while still a teen, he became an integral part of Philly's jazz scene. Copland moved to New York in 1966 to attend Columbia University. He studied music theory, composition, and improvisation under various instructors including pianist Lennie Tristano. He graduated with a B.A. in music in 1970.
As a saxophonist, Copland worked often on the city's burgeoning jazz scene. He lent his talents to a number of bandleaders, including Chico Hamilton, Cameron Brown, and Jeff Williams, and collaborated with other young players including guitarists John Abercrombie and Ralph Towner. Despite his growing reputation as an original saxophonist (not to mention steady work), Copland was dissatisfied with what he perceived to be the harmonic limitations of his instrument. He left New York in the mid-'70s, seemingly abandoning music entirely. In the decade he spent away, he studied piano and began to develop his own technique on the instrument. When he returned to N.Y.C., he found work as a sideman with a number of artists including Bob Belden, James Moody, John Scofield, and Herbie Mann. He also reunited with Abercrombie.
At the age of 40 in 1988, Copland cut his first date as a leader (credited to the Marc Cohen Quartet) with Abercrombie, bassist Gary Peacock, and drummer Jeff Hirshfield. It was released by Jazz City as My Foolish Heart. The same year, he appeared on drummer Bill Stewart's Think Before You Think along with saxophonist Joe Lovano and bassist Dave Holland. Between his debut and his sophomore effort, 1990's Blues All Night, the pianist changed his last name to "Copland," put more distance between himself and the influence of the pianists who inspired him (namely Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, and Keith Jarrett), and began to grow into his mature style of playing and improvisation. Copland spent the rest of the '90s releasing trio recordings and occasionally dabbling in other settings, from duo to quintet, on a variety of labels. Especially notable among his releases during this period are 1991's At Night, 1993's Stompin' with Savoy and Songs Without End (co-billed to duo partner Towner), 1995's Paradiso, and 1996's Second Look. He established long-lasting recording and touring relationships with Peacock, Abercrombie, and drummer Billy Hart.
In 2000, the pianist and trumpeter Tim Hagans played as a duo on the Steeplechase date Between the Lines; it was the kickoff to a prolific decade in which Copland made up for lost time, much of it recording and touring in Europe with smaller groups. Among the highlights are two dates with Abercrombie and Kenny Wheeler (2000's That's for Sure and 2004's Brand New); three co-billed to Dave Liebman (2001's Lunar, a quartet side, and the duo sets Bookends and Impression from 2002); a pair of duo recordings with Greg Osby (2002's Night Call and 2003's Round and Round); and several trio dates with Peacock (including his first two celebrated albums for Pirouet, Some Love Songs in 2005 and New York Trio Recordings, Vol. 2: Voices — which also included Paul Motian — in 2006). Copland marked the last year of his fifties with the quartet session Another Place. Abercrombie, bassist Drew Gress, and Hart were his sidemen. At 60, he cut the solo offering Alone (released a year later) and a trio date with Gress and Stewart entitled New York Trio Recordings, Vol. 3: Night Whispers. A 2009 duo offering with Peacock, entitled Insight, was widely celebrated for its intimate dialogue.
In 2010, Pirouet released Five on One by the quintet Contact, which placed Copland in the company of frequent collaborators Abercrombie, Gress, Hart, and Liebman. It was followed by Speak to Me, a duo with the guitarist, and Crosstalk, a quartet set with Osby, drummer Victor Lewis, and bassist Doug Weiss in 2011. Copland issued his most unusual recording in 2013 for the Vision Fugitive label. Entitled Le Long de la Plage, it was a piano and spoken word date with French writer Michel Butor. The pianist was a member of Abercrombie's quartet with Gress and Joey Baron for 2013's 39 Steps on ECM. Copland's second appearance on the label was as a member of Peacock's trio for 2015's Now This (which also included Baron) in celebration of the bassist's 80th birthday.