In August, jazz pianist Tuffus Zimbabwe (Steinhardt MM ’09) received an unexpected phone call from Saturday Night Live bandleader Lenny Pickett, inviting him for an audition at NBC. Pickett, an artist-faculty member at NYU Steinhardt Jazz, and a member of Combo Nuvo, the Steinhardt Jazz Artists-in-Residence Ensemble, auditioned over 100 pianists from across the country before selecting Zimbabwe for the highly coveted position. Zimbabwe is currently rehearsing for the upcoming SNL Fall season that begins on Saturday, September 25. He will join another Steinhardt alumnus, saxophonist Rob Blake (Steinhardt Jazz MM’10), an SNL band member for the past three years.
Originally from the Roxbury section of Boston, Zimbabwe began taking piano lessons at the age of five. His father, a teacher, and his mother, a visual artist, made it a point to provide him with substantial musical exposure. Zimbabwe began studying classical piano and, at age 12, began exploring gospel music at a local Roxbury church where he started playing piano with the choir.
At NYU, Zimbabwe’s principal instructors included master musicians Stefon Harris, Vijay Iyer, Gil Goldstein, and Brian Lynch. Through his studies at Steinhardt, Zimbabwe develop the artistic and professional skills that opened up a wide range of opportunities for him in the professional music world. Two of his works were selected for NYU’s State Orphans’ Film Symposium ('09) and NYU Doctor Radio. Zimbabwe was also honored as a recipient of the prestigious Barney Josephson Award for Excellence in Jazz. Through his teaching experience at Steinhardt as an adjunct instructor within the Jazz Program, Zimbabwe has developed an active career as a music educator. He currently teaches at numerous youth programs including the Berklee City Music Program, Hamilton/Garret Music & Arts Academy, and the Piano Outreach of New York (PONY). Zimbabwe is also musical director for youth service at the Mount Zion Baptist Church of Newark, New Jersey.