New Music,

Joey Alexander – 13yr Old Jazz Sensation

December 29, 2016

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Summary

In this episode, I will be introducing you to a fascinating artist that you simply must know of. The reason? He is the youngest-ever Grammy nominee, his name is Joey Alexander, and he’s a sensational 13 year old jazz pianist. 

Jazz is not easy music and prodigies in this realm rarely have full command of their artistry. They might exhibit good technique and core knowledge, but oftentimes they are criticized for lacking the intangibles—what the experts mean by the word “maturity”. Mastery in jazz demands a staggering breadth of knowledge about improvisation, rhythm, harmony, and orchestration all of which must eloquently and passionately find their synthesis in the artist’s performance.

Joey is only 13 years old, but has already gripped millions with his skill and personality. This is a pianist to know and watch for. If he’s in a town near you, you will not regret attending his concert!

In this episode, we will explore Joey’s music, his reception in the jazz community and his background story prior to coming to the states from Indonesia.

Links

http://joeyalexandermusic.com/



 

Transcript

Thank you for listening, I am your host, Paul Mikhaylenko, and today I will be introducing you a fascinating artist that you simply must know of. The reason? He is the youngest-ever Grammy nominee, his name is Joey Alexander, and he’s a sensational 13 year old jazz pianist. By the way, there are certain musicians that you simply cannot not know about. This is why, several times a month, I will do special episodes like this one, where I will highlight artists which you should be aware of.

It’s hard to find an appropriate introduction for a sensation like Joey Alexander. The first time I heard him was in 2015 at the Lincoln Center in NY and I was simply dumbfounded as I watched a 12 year old boy from Indonesia, perform Thelonious Monk, like I’ve never heard before. That night, Joey Alexander defied my previous notions of what I thought possible for musical prodigies. During the performance, it was fascinating to watch Wynton Marsalis, one of the most respected trumpet players in the world, who’s face would light up with astonishment during Joey’s improvisations. The New York Times called Joey’s debut in New York an “overnight sensation”.

Born, in the not too distant 2003, in Bali Indonesia, Josiah Alexander Sila is a musical prodigy. But what makes his story especially interesting, is how it defies all normal expectations. Born in a place where formal jazz training is not even an option, he taught himself to play jazz piano at the age of six on a miniature electric keyboard, leaning Thelonius Monk by ear, and within 5 years was releasing an album that got him an audience with Herbie Hancock, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama.

Take a listen to a song appropriately called, Giant Steps, from his first album My Favorite things.

Jazz is not easy music and prodigies in this realm rarely have full command of their artistry. They might exhibit good technique and core knowledge, but oftentimes they are criticized for lacking the intangibles—what the experts mean by the word “maturity”. Mastery in jazz demands a staggering breadth of knowledge about improvisation, rhythm, harmony, and orchestration all of which must eloquently and passionately find their synthesis in the artist’s performance.

Which is why, it’s so impressive when the best jazz musicians are so receptive of Joey’s early talent. Let me quote some of their praises:

After Joey’s debut in New York, not only did The New York Times acknowledge him to be an overnight sensation, but Allen Morrison of Down Beat magazine said of the performance: “If the word ‘genius’ still means anything, it applies to this prodigy. He played his own solo variations on ‘Round Midnight’ with a breathtaking precocity and mastery of several decades of piano style.”

Wynton Marsalis said of him: “There has never been anyone that you can think of who could play like that at his age. I loved everything about his playing – his rhythm, his confidence, his understanding of the music.”

Newport producer George Wein says he’s always been reluctant to book so-called child prodigies, but he made an exception for Joey, and concluded that, ”The thing that differs from most young players is the maturity of his harmonic approach. His playing is very contemporary but he also has a sense of the history of the music.”

Growing up in a Christian family, Joey attributes his unique talent as being “a gift from God” and his discovery by Wynton Marsalis through a youtube video, part of “God’s Plan”.

This sometimes goes unnoticed, but Joey’s story is incomplete without some mention to the role of his parents. When Joey was born, Denny and Farah ran an adventure tourism business in Indonesia. They just happened to like jazz, and Joey was perhaps involuntarily exposed to it early in his life.

But as soon as they learned of their son’s passion and potential, even at an early age (we’re talking like 8 years old), they disbanded their tourism business and moved so that he could live near Indonesia’s top jazz musicians. And more recently, they moved again to NY in order to support their son’s flourishing musical career.

I have to say, props to mom and pops who support their children like this! Thank you for allowing your kids to dream when many parents discourage their children from thinking about music seriously because they see no pragmatic future in it.

Now, it’s hard to talk about Joey’s musicianship better than the musicians who have actually played with him. Here’s how top-tier musicians who recorded with Joey during his first album express their impressions of what it was like playing with this rising prodigy:

As always, I will have links to all of these clips on my website, mozartandme.com. Just find the New Music episode featuring Joey Alexander.

If you have any appreciation for jazz, I promise you, you will love Joey Alexander. But if you’re not quite sure what to make of this genre, hang tight, we will have an episode on how to listen to jazz coming up soon.

A final thought on Joey is this: If you ever have a chance to see him live, it’ll be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness someone so young perform with such skill. Every year that you wait, Joey will be a year older and the sensational aspect of watching a kid play like this, will transition into natural expectations we have for adult musicians. This spring he will be touring across the states, everything from New York to Missouri, Chicago, Kansas, Florida, and even in Los Angeles and Seattle in April. Hope you can make it to one of the shows. I promise you won’t regret it! I’ll have a link to Joey’s tour schedule posted on the episode notes on mozartandme.com.

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