Biography of Jasper van ’t Hof

Jasper van ’t Hof (Enschede, 1947) is a pianist, keyboard player and composer. The child of a jazz trumpet player and classically trained opera singer, he grew up surrounded by music. His musical training began on the piano at the age of five, under the tutelage of experienced instructors such as Harry Bannink, and the young van ’t Hof knew by the time he’d reached his teens that he wanted to devote the rest of his life to music. From that point onwards, he became self-taught, and began shaping himself into a keyboard player of international repute.

Van ’t Hof first caught the public’s attention at the age of nineteen, when he took second prize at the Loosdrechts Jazz Competition. It also brought him to the attention of Dutch jazz drummer Pierre Courbois, who invited him and the guitarist Toto Blanke to join his jazz-rock band, Association P.C. The band made international headlines and toured throughout Europe, and van ’t Hof made heavy use of electric instruments during his four years with the group.

Such was his reputation by this point that he was able to command a public for solo performances, and play with musicians such as Archie Shepp, renowned saxophonists Charlie Mariano, Bob Malach and Ernie Watts, and the pool of European pianists known as the Piano Conclave (which included such jazz notables as George Grüntz and Keith Jarrett).

His collaborations with Charlie Mariano led in 1974 to the formation of the group Pork Pie, which also included the guitarist Philip Catherine, the drummer Aldo Romano and the double bass player Jean-François Jenny Clark, and the band played to packed houses across Europe.

His natural curiosity saw him become a notable innovator in the European jazz scene, on both grand and electric piano, as well as on the synthesizer and church organ. It also enabled him to eschew the restrictions of a single style, allowing him to roam freely between bebop, free jazz, groove, jazz-rock, fusion and pop, and develop a style that he named “very open jazz”, which was characterised by personal and emotional figures and lyrical lines that segued abruptly into frenzied piano solos.

It was this same curiosity that took him to Africa in the 1980s, where he discovered the now globally famous star Angelique Kidjo, with whom he formed the band Pili Pili and toured for six years, recording several albums along the way. Pili Pili became the vehicle for a new expression of sound, one in which van ’t Hof interwove jazz, electronic music and improvisation with dense Congolese rhythms. Pili Pili’s take on “world music” found a huge international audience, especially in West Germany, and the band maintained this success for years, during which it also became a platform for emerging Dutch talent, such as Eric Vloeimans, Isaline Calister and Tineke Postma.

Jasper van ’t Hof has performed in countless ensembles and with artists from as many nationalities, and his international schedule remains as full as ever. Lately, however, this schedule has increasingly found room for performances in the Netherlands, not least because of the album No Hard Shoulder, which he recorded in 2016 with his acoustic band, the Jasper van ’t Hof ¼tet, featuring the tenor saxophonist Dick de Graaf, drummer Jamie Peet, and the double bass player Stefan Lievestro, later succeeded by Frans van der Hoeven.

Van ’t Hof is widely known for his virtuosic technique on the keyboard, and is one of the most active jazz musicians in Europe today. He has more than five hundred compositions and close to eighty recordings to his name, and has repeatedly been named the best jazz pianist in Europe by the renowned magazines DownBeat (US), Melody Maker (UK) and Jazz Podium (DE). In the Netherlands he is a previous recipient of both the Edison Award and the Bird Award.