Michael Malis is a composer, pianist, and music educator based in Detroit MI. A multi-faceted musical artist, he performs as a jazz musician, composes for the concert stage, and contributes to multidisciplinary collaborations.
2020 saw a proliferation of Malis’ work as a solo artist. In July of 2020, Malis released Dualisms, a multimedia project containing recordings, videos, and an accompanying 16 page zine of writings, artwork, and ephemera. Consisting of brand new original compositions, Dualisms features performances by Malis in duet with saxophonist Kaleigh Wilder, percussionist Thom Monks, and vocalist Denzel Donald, and features artwork by Zara Teicher. Each of the works presented in Dualisms were premiered at New Music Detroit’s 12th annual Strange Beautiful Music Festival in September 2019. All About Jazz praised Dualisms as “an extraordinary multimedia project which illustrates some of the remarkable ways artists in the age of COVID-19 found new approaches to displaying their craft and connecting with their audience.”
His March 2020 release, Three Pieces for Piano, was praised by the Southeast Michigan Jazz Association as “thrilling music, with shifting harmonic and rhythmic qualities that require prodigious precise technique and the kind of generic versatility that few pianists achieve.”
As a composer, Malis has been commissioned by Detroit Chamber Winds and Strings, Chamber Music Society of Detroit, Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, Detroit Composers’ Project, Virago, Hole in the Floor, and others. His piece Five Stations, premiered in May 2019, featured Malis and saxophonist Marcus Elliot alongside a string quartet of musicians from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. His string quartet, Emerge, was premiered at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 2018. His piece for piano and cello, Coda, was premiered by Detroit Symphony Orchestra principle cellist Wei Yu in 2018.
In April 2019, Malis and Elliot, who join forces under the duo known as “Balance,” undertook a collaborative performance piece with former Detroit poet laureate Bill Harris. The piece, which featured drummer Gerald Cleaver, set Harris’ collection of short stories I Got to Keep Moving. According to AllAboutJazz.com, “what was most striking about the synergy between Harris and the band was the sheer beauty of the music: the stark contrast between the grim realities of Harris’s story and the band’s melodic core, located in Elliot’s exultant phrases and Malis’s evocative runs, was stirring. And much of the music’s strength was found in the spirit of resilience and defiance that permeates Harris’s text.” The duo’s 2017 eponymous album was praised by the Detroit Metro Times as “contemporary jazz of the highest order, a benchmark for where the genre can go.”
In July of 2015, Malis’ self-released debut album as a leader, Lifted from the No of All Nothing, was called by The Detroit Free Press “an uncommonly mature and distinctive debut.” It was described by Hot House Jazz Guide (NYC) as “cover[ing] a broad range of free expression. [Malis] bridges the gap between original composed, complex material and the spontaneity of improvisation.” In September 2016, his trio made their debut at the Detroit International Jazz Festival.
As a pianist, he has shared the stage with a diverse array of musicians, including notables such as Marcus Belgrave, Gerald Cleaver, Jaribu Shahid, John Lindberg, William Hooker, A. Spencer Barefield, Tyshawn Sorey, Ken Filiano, J.D. Allen, Andrew Bishop, Dennis Coffey, and Marion Hayden. He has performed at the Yokohama Jazz Promenade (Yokohama, Japan), the Kennedy Center, Birdland (NYC), and The Stone (NYC).