Joey Alexander – An Astounding Mix of Youth And Depth That Defies Convention
by Scott Homewood
Maybe you’re like me.
While occasionally scrolling Facebook or checking Youtube during your downtime you run across videos of these amazing child prodigies playing a guitar or bass bigger than their hands could possibly fret or maybe even seated at a piano with the spread of the keys seeming impossibly wide, too wide for them to possibly reach all of them, yet they play their instruments as if they’ve been playing them for forty years. They seem impossibly agile as their limbs and fingers flow, creating sounds even veteran musicians wish they could come up with. Awestruck, you watch transfixed as they play these complicated passages easily. Runs that would break, twist and mangle the fingers and hands of those who have played these instruments for most of their lives, fall easily under their miniature counterparts.
My personal favorites are the child drummers.
Perched on the edge of a drum throne at a mountainous drumset set up for an adult as they play with precision something Buddy Rich would struggle to play, arms and legs moving independently as if the child is possessed by a soul much, much older than their own. And we wonder, as we watch with our eyes open as big as saucers at these wunderkinds, if that isn’t the case. I swear I was never a believer in reincarnation until watching a four year old girl play the drums like Elvin Jones. Did her body catch the spirit of some long-gone professional drummer? Maybe just a piece of something divine floating through the ether? Then again, maybe this otherwise unobtainable amount of talent is the result of the union of two perfectly matched people whose combined genes could not help but create a little one with such skills.
Whatever the case, it is amazing to watch, knowing as adults the possibilities that lay ahead for such youngsters, secretly just a little envious we were not blessed with the same gifts. How many of us watch and wish we could call ourselves one of the best at what we do? How many of us even know someone like that? Rarer than hen’s teeth are these people.
Luckily for Baby Grand members, Middle C Jazz fans and Charlotteans in general, we are going to see a former child prodigy ply his trade here very soon when award-winning pianist Joey Alexander comes to town! He may possibly be the one to answer the question of how someone who starts off so talented while so very young manages to handle their talent as they grow into adulthood. Growing older usually means a normal lifestyle after their “Facebook fifteen minutes” are up, and as they age their talents become more ordinary compared to others of equal vintage who have practiced and studied their craft instead of being blessed out of the gate.
But Alexander is a different case!
Alexander has continued on an artistic path, unlike most, and seems poised to push jazz piano to the next level. Born in Bali in 2003, then spending his younger years in Jakarta before moving to the US in 2014 at the age of eleven, Alexander has pretty much dedicated his life to his art.
Alexander’s first inclinations for music came from his parents. “There was always music around. My father was a guitarist at church, there were cds of course, Youtube where everything can be found. I was attracted to all kinds of music…gospel, classical. Of course, jazz attracted me.”
By sharing and continuing to share his art with the world, his reputation as one of jazz music’s new vanguard has only grown and as the respect from his fellow musicians continues to pile up, he has experienced one of the most meteoric ascensions ever seen in the world of jazz. Through four amazing albums all produced by Grammy-winning producer Jason Olaine (who also serves as director of programming for Jazz at Lincoln Center) Alexander has shown an incredible depth, replacing the flash and attitude normally displayed by younger artists who do not yet possess restraint by instead focusing on melody, his compositional growth, and listening to the other musicians he plays with and recognizing the strengths they bring to the table can only enhance his own music if harnessed correctly.
To Alexander, these are the keys to his growth as a musician. “For me, every project is different and I try my best to make them that way. It’s fun for me to see myself grow as a composer and listening is very important. I like to play in a small group the best because its like we are having a conversation with the music. We can try new things, which is what I tried to do with my last album “Eclipse” – I tried to compose by using a flow and not a structured concept, just play and let it come out and that is what resulted.”
While he has played a few times in the South in cities like Savannah GA, Jacksonville Fl, and Richmond VA (at an R&B festival – Alexander said he was “pretty surprised at how much the audience enjoyed his music”) he has never played in Charlotte before. A bonus for ticket holders!
When asked if he felt his childhood in Jakarta and his subsequent move to the US had affected his growth as a musician Alexander had an interesting take. “New York City is the best environment for my music. With all the great musicians here, I just feel like its a perfect place to push more, collaborate with musicians here and expand my music. This is how I’ve met the musicians who play with me and working with different artists and listening is how I continue to do different things with my music. With a big city, people move faster, there’s an easy access to food, different music which has helped me expand mine. Even the church I go to, it has the most amazing choir. Back home in Jakarta, not as easy to find access to these things. It’s a different vibe there, easy and not as hectic. But I love the city.”
As for the future, listeners who enjoy Alexanders music are going to see more music and development from the artist. “I don’t feel like I am following one certain path. As I progress all I think about and want to do is compose more music and new songs and just be open to new possibilities that I can bring to my music”