David Zoller, Dallas pianist and composer, died Monday morning at his home surrounded by family, his son Matt Zoller Seitz announced.
Zoller, who was born in 1941, was revered for three generations for his jazz and piano compositions. His discography includes 3x4x, Snug Harbor and Love Song to a Genie as well as many collaborations with local artists such as Fred Hamilton. Zoller founded the DPZ Jazz record label which released albums from artist and Zoller's second wife, Genie Grant. Among his several albums and record label pursuits, Zoller also prepared over 1,000 tracks for television and radio, making him a versatile staple in the Dallas music scene.
In a post memorializing his late father, Matt Zoller Seitz spoke of the “Dave Zoller solo,” a shorthand commonly used by local artists that detailed how Zoller’s music created a story within his song, developing themes with a climactic ending. With performances from the Texas Theater to the Dallas Museum of Art, Zoller’s presence was engrained in North Texas.
Bassist Jonathan Fisher says he met Zoller 20 years ago when Fisher needed a pianist to accompany him at a restaurant gig.
"I wanted the best, older and experienced musician I could find. I wanted someone who would pass on to me the tradition of jazz music," Fisher says. "David Zoller fulfilled that role more than I could’ve known. He became a mentor, a friend and a musical father figure."
Fisher says Zoller showed him "musical things that cannot be taught at a school."
"He encouraged me when I was right and scolded me when I was wrong," Fisher continues. "I longed to be a recipient of his vast musical knowledge and understand the way he expressed that knowledge in his art. I am eternally grateful to have been able to learn from Dave and to have him as a friend for the past 20 years. My music is better for his presence and will not be same with his absence."
Drummer Andrew Griffith also worked closely with Zoller.
"Dave Zoller was one of DFWs most unique musicians," Griffith says. He says he remembers being "excited" to hear Zoller's interpretation of Thelonious Monk at a show 25 years ago and discovering their shared passion for the music of Duke Ellington.
Soon after, they joined a band together with the renowned saxophonist Marchel Ivery.
"Dave was always fun to work with and talk with," Griffith says. "He had an incredible knowledge of jazz and Tin Pan Alley repertoire. He could sit and talk at long length about his experiences playing with Al Hirt just as easily as he could expound on various obscure jazz recordings in his collection.
"Sometimes, if we were on a gig together, Dave would get my attention from across the bandstand and say 'Hey Andrew, do you know this one?' and proceed to go into an obscure standard or Duke composition just to see if I could recognize it," Griffith adds. "To me, he was a friend and mentor, and without a doubt, one of the greatest pianists/composers/arrangers on the scene. He loved to talk about the music, but he had truly mastered the art of saying a lot musically with very few notes. He will be missed."
Zoller first gained an interest in jazz at the age of 13 when he heard a Dave Brubeck album while attending a camp for Boy Scouts. An Ohio native, Zoller attended Southern Methodist University, where he unsuccessfully pursued a degree in chemistry. After a stint in the Army, Zoller studied composition and theory at the University of Missouri where he met his first wife, Bettye, where they had two children. The couple divorced in 1975. In 1986, Zoller married Grant and moved to Dallas where they remained until her death in 2009.
Zoller’s impact was celebrated by the Dallas Museum of Art in 2014 when Zoller was recognized for his numerous contributions to the arts in North Texas.
Matt Zoller Seitz, a former Observer contributor who later became editor-at-large for RogerEbert.com, spoke with the Observer in 2014 about his father's rare accomplishments, such as sustaining himself through music starting at age 19.
Zoller is survived by his partner, Liz Sutherland, two sons, Matt and Jeremy Zoller Seitz, and eight grandchildren.