Canadian pianist John Stetch is a sophisticated performer, whose harmonically rich post-bop jazz often touches upon his rich Ukrainian heritage. Arriving on the New York scene in the early '90s, Stetch won early acclaim with his second-place finish in the 1993 Thelonious Monk Composer's Competition. He has also issued a stream of well-received albums like 1994's Juno Award-nominated Carpathian Blues, 2002's Ukranianism, and 2006's Bruxin', which showcase his adept chops and love of both the acoustic jazz and Ukrainian folk traditions.
Born Ivan Stechishin in 1966 in Edmonton, Canada, to a family of Ukrainian descent, Stetch grew up in Vancouver listening to both Ukrainian folk music, and his dentist father's jazz LPs. Initially starting out on clarinet at age nine, he switched to piano in his teens, during which time he also sang in a Ukrainian choral ensemble and played in a Ukrainian wedding band. After high school, he earned his music degree from Montreal's McGill University where he delved even deeper into jazz, balancing his love of classical with influences like Bill Evans, Kenny Kirkland, and Keith Jarrett. Graduating in 1991, he began playing around Montreal and in 1992 released his debut solo album, the quartet date Rectangle Man.
In 1993, Stetch moved to New York City, where he quickly found himself an in-demand performer, working regularly as a member of bassist Rufus Reid's band. He also continued his education, studying with noted classical pianist and teacher Burton Hatheway. A year later, he reached second place in the prestigious Thelonious Monk Composer's Competition. More albums followed, including 1994's Carpathian Blues (which earned a Juno Award nomination for Best Contemporary Jazz Album), 1996's Stetching Out, and 1996's Kolomeyka Fantasy. In 1998, he garnered further acclaim, winning the Le Grand Prix Du Jazz Du Maurier at the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. Away from his own projects, he has worked with such luminaries as Ed Jackson, Chris Kase, Akira Tana, Mark Turner, Johannes Weidenmueller, and others.
Beginning with 1999's Green Grove, Stetch issued a handful of highly regarded albums on the Justin Time label, including 2002's Ukranianism, 2004's Exponentially Monk, and 2006's Bruxin'. TV Trio arrived two years later and featured the pianists group with bassist Doug Weiss and drummer Rodney Green. Around this time, Stetch began dividing his time between Vancouver, where he lives with his family, and New York, where he leads his Vulneraville quartet with saxophonist Steve Kortyka, bassist Ben Tiberio, and drummer Philippe Lemm. He returned to his classical roots with 2014's Off with the Cuffs, reinterpreting the work of Chopin, Bach, Mozart, and Shostakovich. That same year, he also released the trio album Fabled States. Improvisations followed in 2015. A live album, The Vancouver Concert, arrived in 2017 and featured Stetch performing in his hometown alongside his Vulneraville quartet. He issued the solo piano date Ballads in 2019. ~ Matt Collar