Raised in the redwood splendor of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Brooklyn-based pianist Richard Sears is a rising force on the jazz scene who has distinguished himself as a fierce improviser and ambitious composer. His first album “Skyline” (2015) came out on the Barcelona based label Fresh Sound Records, and the critically hailed trio session affirmed his status as a player of prodigious promise.

Over the past decade Sears has performed with some of the most important figures in jazz, including Chick Corea, Joshua Redman, Eric Revis and Billy Hart (subbing for Ethan Iverson in Hart’s celebrated quartet with Mark Turner and Ben Street). As a composer he’s received commissions from the Aaron Copland Fund and the Los Angeles Jazz Society for a six-part suite in honor Albert “Tootie” Heath, which premiered with the drum legend at the 2013 Angel City Jazz Festival. A recording of the project featuring Heath and saxophonists Patrick Wolff and Steven Lugerner was released in August 2016 on Ropeadope Records. Altadena earned 4 stars in Downbeat Magazine, and was named “one of 2016’s best release” by AllAboutJazz.

Growing up in Los Gatos, he soaked up inspiration from the Bay Area’s bountiful jazz offerings, and found mentors in piano masters like Smith Dobson and Geoffrey Keezer. Relocating to Los Angeles in 2005 to study at USC’s Thornton School of Music, he sought veteran improvisers, forging important relationships with Roy McCurdy, Azar Lawrence, Putter Smith, and most importantly Tootie Heath.

In 2012 while still in Los Angeles, Richard recorded a direct-to-disc LP for the indie label Stones Throw with drummer Louis Cole, of the band Knower, and multi-instrumentalist Sam Gendel, the guiding spirit behind psychedelic project INGA. In 2013 and 2014, Richard placed as a finalist in the Jacksonville International Jazz Piano Competition. Richard continues to maintain a deep musical engagement with his contemporaries, and in New York, performs regularly with peers such as saxophonists Roman Filiu and Ben van Gelder, bassist Martin Nevin, and drummer Craig Weinrib.

Presently, Richard keeps a busy schedule performing and teaching in the US and abroad. In April 2016, he gave a solo piano concert in Tangier for International Jazz Day, presented in conjunction with UNESCO and the US Embassy of Morocco. Richard was a featured performer and composer in residence for the 2015 JazzUV Festival Internacional in Xalapa, Mexico. Richard serves on faculty at the New School for Contemporary Music in New York, and the Stanford Jazz Workshop in California. To promote the work of his friends, Richard curates the Open Ground performance series at the Owl Music Parlor in Brooklyn.

– Andrew Gilbert writes for the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury