Emily Jordan Bear is an American composer, pianist, songwriter and singer. After beginning to play the piano and compose music as a small child, Bear made her professional piano debut at the Ravinia Festival at the age of five, the youngest performer ever to play there.
She gained wider notice from a series of appearances on The Ellen DeGeneres Show beginning at the age of six. She has since played her own compositions and other works with orchestras and ensembles in North America, Europe and Asia, including appearances at Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, the Montreux Jazz Festival and Jazz Open Stuttgart. She has won two Morton Gould Young Composer Awards and was the youngest person ever to win the award. She has also won two Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers Awards.
In 2013, Bear released her first studio album, Diversity, containing her own jazz compositions, produced by her mentor, Quincy Jones. She composes and plays both classical and jazz music, studies film scoring and is heard on the 2015 Broadway cast recording of the musical Doctor Zhivago. She leads her own jazz trio, with which she recorded an EP, Into the Blue, released in 2017. Later in 2017, Bear became the youngest performer in the history of the Night of the Proms tour.
Bear was born and raised in Rockford, Illinois, the youngest of three children of Brian, an orthopedic surgeon, and Andrea Bear. Her mother has sung professionally and has a music education degree. After being home-schooled for a few years, Bear enrolled in Guilford High School in Rockford in 2015, graduating at age 15 in 2017.
When Bear was two years old, her grandmother Merle Langs Greenberg, a piano teacher, recognized her talent at the piano. By age three, she had composed her first song, "Crystal Ice". The next year, Bear began to study with Emilio del Rosario at the Music Institute of Chicago. Hal Leonard Music has been publishing Bear's original compositions since she was 4 years old. She made her professional piano debut at the Ravinia Festival at age five, the youngest performer to play there. Soon she was enrolled at the Winnetka campus to study classical music. At age six, in 2008, she won her first ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Young Composer Award for her piece "Northern Lights", the youngest composer ever to win the award. She also won the Rockford Area Music Industry Outstanding Achievement Award RAMI that year.
As a small child, Bear made six appearances on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. She played in 2008 at the White House for President George W. Bush, at the age of six, and performed Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra at the age of 7. She performed the same piece later in 2008 with the Rockford Symphony Orchestra. She also participated that year at the McDonald's Thanksgiving Parade in Chicago and performed the next year on Good Morning America. By the age of eight, she had composed more than 350 pieces.
From the age of six, Bear studied classical piano with the former principal keyboardist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Mary Sauer, and also has studied with Veda Kaplinsky, head of the piano department at the Juilliard School. She studies jazz improvisation with Frank Kimbrough and composing with Ron Sadoff, head of NYU Steinhardt film scoring department. She has expressed a strong interest in film scoring, and in 2013 she was the youngest composer in history to attend the NYU Steinhardt Film Scoring Workshop.
2010 to 2012; Carnegie Hall debut and festival performances
In 2010, Bear made her Carnegie Hall debut at the age of 9, playing her own piece for orchestra and chorus, "Peace: We Are the Future". The same year, she performed on the television show Dancing with the Stars.
In 2011, at the 3rd PTTOW! Youth Media and Innovation Summit in California addressed by the Dalai Lama, Bear performed her song "Diversity", which she had written in honor of the Dalai Lama. The same year, she began working with Quincy Jones. He presented Bear at the 45th Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and the Festival Castell at the Peralada Castle in Spain, where she performed her original song, "Peralada", and a trio with Esperanza Spalding and Andrea Motis. Later in 2011, she appeared with him at the Hollywood Bowl, where she played a medley of her own arrangement, "Bumble Boogie" and accompanied "Miss Celie's Blues", from The Color Purple, sung by Gloria Estefan, Patti Austin, Siedah Garrett and Nikki Yanofsky. Jones stated: "I am at once astounded and inspired by the enormous talent that Emily embodies the ability to seamlessly move from Classical to Jazz and Be-bop." Bear returned to Carnegie Hall at the end of the year.
In 2012, she performed as a guest in Zurich, Switzerland, on the "Art on Ice" skating arena tour before an audience of 15,000. She also performed at the Life Ball 2012 gala in Vienna, Austria, to benefit the charity AIDS Life. Later in 2012, she played the first movement of the Schumann piano concerto in A minor with the Santa Fe Concert Association. At this concert, the orchestra also debuted her composition "Santa Fe" and performed her arrangement of "Satin Doll". She returned to perform with the same orchestra two years later.
2013 to 2016; Diversity
In 2013, Bear released Diversity, an album of original jazz compositions, on the Concord Records label, with bassist Carlitos del Puerto, drummer Francisco Mela and cellist Zuill Bailey, led by Bear at the piano. It was produced by Jones and recorded at Westlake Recording Studios in Los Angeles. The album peaked at No. 5 on Billboard's Jazz Albums chart and No. 3 on its Traditional Jazz Albums chart. Jeff Tamarkin wrote for JazzTimes:
Bear is a gifted (if not quite virtuosic yet) pianist ... who understands innately the role of her instrument in both solo and group capacities. She can improvise smartly, shift between genres, tempos and dispositions effortlessly, elevate a melody. ... [T]here’s nothing childlike about Bear's music: While some of her classically informed ballads teeter on the edge of new age, she never quite falls into that hole; she already knows the difference between jazz and Muzak. With many super-talented children, there's often a sense that some sort of rote mechanism takes over and guides them, but Diversity feels like the work of an artist of depth and sensitivity."
Also in 2013, she again performed with the Rockford Symphony as part of its salute to big bands. She also composed the music for a national ad campaign for Weight Watchers, called "Simple Start". The same year, WGN-TV presented the documentary "Girl with a Gift", exploring Bear's early promise. The program won a 2014 Chicago/Midwest Emmy Award.
Ellen Marie Hawkins, in Relate magazine, commented about Diversity: "There's an excitement to this music, and ... I felt as if I was being whisked off with limitless energy, eager to see one thing and then just as quickly, experience another. ... I was smiling and I was dancing, and I was living through this music." Bear has often donated a portion of her earnings to charity. In July 2013 she participated in Quincy Jones 80th birthday concerts in Montreux, Switzerland, Seoul, South Korea and in Japan.
Bear performed in 2014 on The Queen Latifah Show, accompanying herself at the piano and singing "The Girl from Ipanema". In concerts and on broadcasts, Bear has demonstrated her ability to compose musical stories and mood music improvisationally upon request. In late 2014, she performed George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, as well as her own compositions, with New Haven Symphony Orchestra, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and Performance Santa Fe Orchestra. Holly Harris wrote for the Winnipeg Free Press: "After wowing the crowd with a two-hour program of jazz and classical music selections, tossed off Gershwin's knuckle-busting Rhapsody in Blue as easily as child's play." She also performed with her trio and cellist Dave Eggar at the ASCAP Centennial Awards in November. Since 2014, Bear has led the Emily Bear Trio, consisting of Bear, bassist Peter Slavov and drummer Mark McLean.
In 2015, Bear won another ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Young Composer Award for her orchestral piece "Les Voyages". At the Jazz Open Stuttgart 2015 jazz festival, she gave several concerts. Bear appears on the 2015 Broadway Cast Recording of the musical Doctor Zhivago playing a solo piano version of "He's There". The same year, she composed, orchestrated and performed an orchestral piece, "The Bravest Journey", for the event "Stars & Stripes: A Salute to Our Veterans", with Rockford Symphony before General Colin Powell, veterans and others in Rockford, Illinois. She ended the year with her debut at Joe's Pub in New York City.
In 2016, for the opening charity gala of the "Play Me, I'm Yours" street piano event in Mesa, Arizona, Bear re-orchestrated "The Bravest Journey" for 25 pianos. The same year, Bear received a Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers Award, from the ASCAP Foundation, for her jazz song "Old Office". In August 2016, she was featured in a Disney Channel program, performing the song "Reflection", from the film Mulan, with singer Laura Marano. Also in 2016, Bear returned to Rockford Symphony to play "Les Voyages" and Edvard Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor. She also played with her trio at the Gilmore Festival in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and gave a concert with the Kishwaukee Symphony Orchestra, playing her own symphonic compositions "Santa Fe", "The Bravest Journey" and "Les Voyages", and George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.
2017–present; Into the Blue; Night of the Proms tour
On January 27, 2017, Bear released a jazz EP, Into the Blue, with her trio, on her independent label, Edston Records. The EP includes five original jazz song and her arrangement of Richard Rodgers' "My Favorite Things". Reviewing the album for All About Jazz, C. Michael Bailey wrote: "Bear demonstrates a capability well beyond her age. ... tears percussively through her short and tightly composed originals 'Old Office' and 'Je Ne Sais Pas', before showing her willowy ballad chops on 'Araignee'. 'Tiger Lily' returns to up-tempo form, descending figures over a light, almost stride, beat. On 'My Favorite Things' the pianist surprises with an emotional depth translated into a mature lyricism." Luiz Orlando Carneiro of Jornal do Brasil felt that "Old Office" is driven by chords that refer to Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia"; "Je ne sais" pas has a bossa nova beat; "Indigo", also with a bossa nova feel, is more melancholy; and "Tiger Lily" has a theme that recalls Thelonious Monk's "It's Over Now". He also noted that "Araingnée" spider in French, is adapted from Bear's soundtrack for an animated film about two spiders competing to create increasingly elaborate webs inspired by famous works of art. Mike Greenblatt of The Aquarian Weekly called the disc "a thoroughly delightful trio romp". The EP debuted at No. 7 on Billboard's Jazz Albums chart.
In January 2017, Bear performed three of her pieces at Valley Performing Arts Center near Los Angeles, California, in a concert benefit for Save a Child's Heart, an Israel-based international humanitarian organization that provides lifesaving heart surgery for children in developing countries. In 2017, she received her second ASCAP Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers Award, for her song "Je ne sais pas", and won a 2017 RAMI award for composition of the year. Bear participated in Chicago, in March, in Concert for America: Stand Up, Sing Out! to benefit several human rights charities. As a recipient of the Morton Gould Young Composers Award, she was commissioned to write a choral piece, "We have a dream" with lyrics adapted from "I have a dream", which she premiered and accompanied at St. Ignatius of Antioch Church in New York City in May. In June, Bear performed with her trio at the Blues'n'Jazz Festival in Rapperswil, Switzerland.
In November 2017, Bear performed the piano score to The Cat Concerto live at the Hollywood Bowl, accompanying screenings of the 1947 Tom and Jerry short. From late November to December, Bear performed at Night of the Proms 2017, a 25-concert arena tour in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg. She was the youngest artist ever to appear at Night of the Proms. In each concert, she played "Epilogue" from the film La La Land, led her orchestral/choir arrangements of "Skyfall" and "Crazy", composed an improvised musical story based on a suggestion by an audience member, and played "Bumble Bear Boogie" and part of Rachmaninoff's second piano concerto, leading into "All by Myself" with John Miles, among other things. Reviewers called Bear the highlight of the concerts and the "discovery of the evening".
Bear was a 2018 recipient of Illinois' Order of Lincoln Award, the state's highest honor for professional achievement and public service. She was the youngest recipient of that award. At the award ceremony, she led the Rockford Symphony in her composition, "And Forever Free", celebrating "the spirit of Abraham Lincoln". In May, Bear returned to the Hollywood Bowl to play two performances of the Freddy Martin piano and orchestra arrangement of "Bumble Boogie" live to the segment of the same name in the 1948 Disney film Melody Time as part of an evening that featured a live concert of the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack. In June, Bear received a 2018 Abe Olman Scholarship at the Songwriters Hall of Fame Awards in New York City. In July she performed Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra at the Grant Park Music Festival in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion.
In February 2019, Bear played with the World Doctors Orchestra in Israel to benefit Save a Child's Heart and also sang together with Ester Rada. Bear composed and sang "More than Just a Girl" and "Daylight", two songs in the film Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase. She also played the piano on the score for another 2019 film, A Dog's Journey. The same year she returned to the Hollywood Bowl to play her new score to the 1938 Disney short film Merbabies, as part of the 30th Anniversary celebration of Disney's The Little Mermaid. Bear released an EP of pop songs, Emotions, in October 2019. A single from the album, "I'm Not Alone" was released in April 2019 and featured in the TV show Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta. She performed a second single, "Dancin'", on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in June. Bear performed several concerts beginning in August 2019 and released the album's title track, "Emotions", in September. The critic for Rockford Register Star wrote: "The songs pair her jazzy pop-charged vocals with her ability to write catchy tunes." In April 2020, she arranged the music, accompanied and sang for a project involving 117 dancers, including Radio City Rockettes and Broadway dancers, titled Don'tcha Wanna Dance?.
- Five Years Wise 2007
- The Love in Us 2008
- Once Upon a Wish 2008
- Always True 2009
- Hope 2010
- Diversity 2013
- Into the Blue EP 2017
- Emotions EP 2019