Young Performers Series
Friday 29 June 2018, 8.30 p.m.
There has long been concern that too many young musical geniuses are pushed too quickly into the spotlight. Joey Alexander, however, has managed to prove that such misgivings can be misplaced: in 2015, when he was barely 12, he released his first album, My Favorite Things, and succeeded in winning over critics and the public with his astounding version of John Coltrane’s theme “Giant Steps” that has become a standard. Born in Bali and raised by jazz-loving parents, Joey and his family moved to New York in 2014. Joey had already caught the attention of many musicians, journalists and jazz aficionados by posting eyebrow-raising videos on YouTube and, upon his arrival in the Big Apple, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis asked to meet him and invited him to play in his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. To introduce him to France in a live performance, Marsalis joined him in 2015 at the Jazz in Marciac festival. Joey’s programme for his concert at the Fondation Louis Vuitton includes works by Thelonious Monk, as well as improvisations and his own compositions.
Born June 25, 2003 on the island of Bali, pianist Joey Alexander originally learned about jazz from his father, who introduced his son to a variety of classic jazz, gospel, classical, rock, and pop albums. Joey’s dad nurtured his gift of swing and improvisation by taking him to jam sessions with professional musicians in Bali, Jakarta, and Odessa, Ukraine. His musicianship and grasp of jazz fundamentals developed at a remarkable pace, and at age eight UNESCO invited him to play solo piano for an elated Herbie Hancock during the piano great’s visit to Indonesia.
By 10, he was performing at jazz festivals in both Jakarta and Copenhagen. An invitation from Wynton Marsalis led to his U.S. debut appearance at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall in 2014, where he amazed the audience with his musicality. This was followed by appearances before the Jazz Foundation of America at the Apollo and the Arthur Ashe Learning Center at Gotham Hall. Realizing God’s gift to Joey and wishing to encourage its continued development, the family relocated to the United States.
In 2015 received an invitation from impresario George Wein to perform on two stages at the prestigious Newport Jazz Festival. Joey took full advantage of the opportunity and brought audiences to their feet with his playful musicality and keen sense of swing. Joey performed twice at the 2016 GRAMMY Awards, including a solo performance of his original tune City Lights during the live broadcast, collaborated with Esperanza Spaulding and Wayne Shorter at the White House for International Jazz Day, performed and recorded My Favorite Things with singer Kelsea Ballerini for the CMA Country Christmas broadcast, and has been featured in numerous programs with Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York.
Over the past four years Joey has been paying his dues and honing his craft: learning what it means to be a bandleader, keeping material fresh after repeated performances, and seeking out sidemen who are also collaborators. Along the way, The Joey Alexander Trio has performed at well-known venues and major festivals across the United States and around the globe.
At the age of 14, Joey has already recorded two GRAMMY-nominated studio albums, 2015’s My Favorite Things and 2016’s Countdown, as well as Joey.Monk.Live!, a critically acclaimed surprise release from late 2017 to honor Thelonious Monk’s centennial.
His third studio effort Eclipse, recorded over a three-day period beginning on the day of the solar eclipse of 2017, features the pianist with a stellar rhythm section of bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland, and guest appearances by saxophonist Joshua Redman on three tracks. The program ranges from jazz classics penned by John Coltrane and Bill Evans, to the Beatles’ hit “Blackbird”, and a reverent gospel reimagining of the 1875 hymn “Draw Me Nearer.” Most importantly though, Eclipse showcases Alexander’s significant progress as an astute composer, writing six of the eleven tunes.
As a pianist, Alexander is neither flashy nor bombastic. He approaches the instrument with discipline, as heard on the opening track “Bali,” playing subtly and gently in some stretches with delicate harmonies, playful and scampering in others as he displaces rhythms. He also possesses an elemental sense of melody, as heard on the final track, an original titled “Peace,” exhibiting the patience and instinct to get his melodic statements just right. “I’ve learned how to be a good listener,” Alexander says.
Alexander is joined by tenor titan Joshua Redman on the originals “Faithful,” about the sacrifices and challenges he and his family have faced in pursuit of his art, and “Fourteen,” written on his birthday, and a nod to the number’s significance in biblical deliverance. Alexander and Redman also explore a pensive duo take on Ray Nobel’s 1934 timeless ballad, “The Very Thought of You.”
As on his previous studio dates, Alexander returned to the well of Coltrane with his upbeat take on the harmonic twists and turns of “Moment’s Notice” from the master’s 1957 album Blue Train. “I love playing Coltrane because he’s so spiritual to me,” Alexander says. “That to me is what jazz is. There’s an uplifting feel to his songs, and I try to put my own take on it.”
The tour-de-force centerpiece to the album is the 10-minute “Eclipse,” that is a spin through the reflective and the dramatic with the pianist in drive mode. Just after the band took a studio break to view the solar eclipse on August 21, 2017, producer Olaine suggested that the trio play free and see where the music would go. The result ended up as the centerpiece of the album, the 10-minute tour-deforce, ‘Eclipse.’
“It was totally unprepared,” Alexander says. “After we saw the eclipse, we came back to the studio and just started playing without talking. I’m thankful to God that I had the confidence and courage to do this. But it’s also about how much we trust each other. I knew they’d be with me even though you don’t know where you’re going to go on the journey. It’s all about exploring the new.”
Olaine notes, “This was an amazing experience for a young artist to embrace the unknown the way Joey did.”
With the release of Eclipse, Joey Alexander has created an ever more personal and powerful statement of his musical and artistic vision. His work continues to draw from his inspirations of the past, as well as his faith, bandmates, and the people, places and events he encounters, all while putting his own progressive stamp on the music by constantly exploring, both on stage and in the studio.
If the word "genius" still means anything, it applies to this prodigy
Technically fluent and harmonically astute
Magnificent not only for his virtuosity - plenty of prodigies have outsized chops - but for his maturity and perception