Debbie Poryes

I have been enjoying teaching jazz piano for 35+ years. You will have some serious fun learning about chords and improvising in jazz.

Born in Santa Monica, California, Debbie found herself at the piano when she was five, practicing everything from Chopin to show tunes. Playing led to fascination with musical theory and structure, then jazz standards, composing, and improvising. Hearing Monk and Miles as a teenager, she fell in love with their music and decided to become a jazz pianist. A student on full scholarship at the University of California at Berkeley, she decided to stop going to school so that she could be a full-time professional jazz musician. At twenty, her first regular paying gig lasted a year at a Berkeley restaurant, playing five nights a week from 5 p.m. to midnight.
Debbie has always gone her own way musically, searching for music that would be a reflection of her own inner voice, even while maintaining a constant study through transcription and analysis of her favorite players and composers, such as Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter, Keith Jarrett, Horace Silver, Sonny Clark and Clare Fischer. Drawn strongly to 20th century classical music she has been influenced by many composers such as Aaron Copland and Norman Dello Joio. In her early years as a musician in Oakland, her passion led her to play frequently at jam sessions while continuing to study classical music and jazz with local players. She composed and arranged music, and produced her own concerts with her various duos, trios and quartets in addition to freelancing with various local singers and bands. She has since headlined all over the San Francisco Bay Area including Yoshi’s Jazzclub, the California Jazz Conservatory, the Healdsburg Jazz Festival, and the Piedmont Piano Company.
The 1980s saw Debbie earning a teaching credential in Jazz Studies and becoming fluent in Dutch while teaching jazz in the Netherlands as a tenured faculty member at conservatories in Hilversum and Arnhem. Her students loved her sunny California disposition, sense of humor and encouraging manner. She toured Europe as a leader of her own trios and quartets, performing at festivals and clubs in The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, England, and France, including The Bim House and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, New Morning in Paris, and Quasimodo in Berlin.
While living in Europe she recorded a trio LP for Timeless Records. German and Dutch jazz reviews for that LP referred to her playing as “crystal clear, with the swinging elegance of Tommy Flanagan combined with the depth of Bill Evans.” She arranged for, accompanied, and recorded with numerous singers as well as freelancing with other groups. including an eleven-piece band led by bassist John Clayton, Brazilian bands, and free improvisation groups. She composed soundtracks for a Dutch documentary film company. Then in 1990 as a well-seasoned and traveled musician, she returned to the United States to get married and raise her daughter.
An interesting aspect to Debbie’s musical life has been the struggle beginning in her early twenties with tendonitis in her wrists, temporarily solved with lots of aspirin. Ten years later, intense pain forced her to stop playing for two years, during which time she explored many avenues of healing. A breakthrough came when she happened upon Dorothy Taubman’s piano technique in New York City, which emphasized the natural anatomy of the fingers, hand, and arm. Absorbing this new way of thinking, Debbie continues to study it and pass it along to her grateful students. The injury turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it led not only to Debbie’s developing a beautiful sonority without harshness but also an ease and control she never had before. One has only to see Debbie play to appreciate how comfortable her hands look at the keyboard.
Since 2007 Debbie has released three CDs: A Song in Jazz with her trio (Jazzschool); Catch Your
Breath with her quartet (Origin/OA2) and Two and Fro, duo with Bruce Williamson (Origin/OA2). All three recordings have received outstanding reviews and sold copies across the country as well as in Japan, Australia and England. Jazz Chicago wrote, “Poryes’s playing is confident, playful, thoughtful, and full of life.” All About Jazz exclaimed, “a knockout listening experience” and “Poryes colors outside the lines, plays to challenge and compel, but never forgets to entertain.” From the renowned jazz critic Herb Wong: “Impressive, too, is how her swinging joyousness articulates every note she plays.” All Music Guide calls Debbie’s playing, “infectious, dramatic, spirited and shimmering.”
Debbie felt the call to teach early in her career and continues to adore helping students understand jazz and further their own playing. A popular teacher, Debbie has internet students around the globe and a waiting list for her private practice. Her instructional videos can be seen on the web. Besides teaching at the Jazzschool in Berkeley, California, she teaches at the Stanford Summer Jazz Program and gives presentations to the California Music Teachers’ Association on how to teach jazz. Currently, in addition to teaching and playing at concerts and festivals, she is happily holding forth playing solo jazz piano weekly in a restaurant in Oakland.


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Dr. Reza Dadkhah January

I’m following Debbie’s jazz piano lessons for about 10 months now, and it has been a great experience. I have a classical background, but deep interest in developing improvisation and jazz vocabulary, and having those lessons with Debbie are always very rewarding in my learning process! I won’t talk about her knowledge and talent in jazz music, I will talk about the teaching part, the reason why I enjoy so much her lessons: she has an amazing enthusiasm, I just enjoy the lesson, willing to learn more and to work always more, and waiting for my next lesson! I live in Europe, so we are going through a video-conference program called Skype. You basically just need a mic and a webcam, and you are set! No problem at all in the interaction. A very warm, kind and competent teacher, what else could I ask for?

Dr. Jeffrey Drutman January

After spending most of my life playing classical piano, I decided to learn improvisational music in the Jazz style. I read books on Jazz piano but when all was said and done, I knew a lot but could play very little. Debbie has helped change that. She is not your garden-variety music teacher. I find her unique way of conveying the harmonic language of Jazz to be more conducive for good improvisation than what you see in books and on the Internet. I’ve met plenty of good teachers in my life and also plenty of bad teachers. Debbie is one of the great teachers. She clearly takes pride in being the best at what she does. And I say this even though I’ve only seen her in person once in my life. Our lessons for over a year have been on Skype.

Larry McGovern January

Her lessons are a blast and a high point in my week. I have great fun when she sits behind her keyboard to play bass behind my piano. She maintains a great deal of enthusiasm during the hour, with plenty of encouraging and useful feedback. I can say with certainty that I have progressed a great deal since I started taking lessons with Debbie, and a huge amount of credit belongs to her and her exquisite guidance. Not only is Debbie an extraordinarily talented jazz pianist, she is also a rare and gifted teacher. Each of her lessons is a work of art in itself, a product of years of teaching experience. She is dialed in to where I am as a student, planning a custom made lesson every week. She keeps careful notes during the lesson. At the end of each lesson, she hands me a CD record of the entire hour. This is a good thing, because she usually packs so much information into each lesson that I need to review the recording several times to catch all the details.

Helen Intinoli, 2015 January

Debbie Poryes is not only a wonderful jazz pianist, she is a teacher extraordinaire. In the several classes I have taken at the Jazz Conservatory, I have seen how immediately she connects with individual students in a class, whatever their musical experience. She teaches complex jazz concepts in a clear and uncomplicated way. She demonstrates and gives practice strategies that can be applied immediately and that will deepen understanding as you use them. I recently retired after teaching music for 32 years at Solano Community College. Therefore, I am well aware of the challenge of teaching different levels of musical ability and experience in the same class. I marvel at how she can work so quickly to have each student improve and how she communicates without intimidating in any way. Her humor and warmth make for memorable and joyful learning. Finally, Debbie’s teaching is worth a thousand books full of confusing examples and tedious exercises.

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