Normally, for a number of reasons, I have an a distaste for child performers. At best they are circus performers verging on the freakish. At worst I think they are possibly children who have been deprived of their childhood by driven parents, care takers and teachers. It also pops into my mind; How is it even possible for a youthful performer to be able to develop the strength, stamina, muscle memory and mature musicality and perform at an adult level? Then there is the other question of intimidation. If a child can do it why can’t I? So when I saw a positive review of a recording by the pianist Joey Alexander I was intrigued. At first glance I thought here is another new (adult) pianist on the scene who had escaped my attention. Then in the review I noticed he was only 13 years old. Is that possible? I was intrigued. I decided to check out YouTube for his performances. I was immediately gob smacked astounded and completely blown away. This was not some circus performance. It was the work of a mature musician with a bucket load of technique and musicality. Joey Alexander, is an Indonesian jazz pianist who learned about jazz by listening to classic albums his father gave him. By age six, he had taught himself to play piano using a miniature, electric keyboard his father brought home for him, learning by ear compositions such as Thelonous Monk’s Well You Needn’t and other songs from his father’s jazz collection. Here is his version of Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage and Duke Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood – both are classics in the Jazz repertoire. Note the length of his fingers.
Of course Chris Potter is no novice. His work here on Soprano Sax and Bass clarinet are just hints of the high standard of his many performances. I get a kick out of Chris’ expressions on In a Sentimental Mood when he steps aside to check out Joey’s playing. Here is Joey with performances of My Favourite Things and John Coltrane’s Giant Steps.
While it is unusual for some one of his age to be able to perform at this level Jazz has always been blessed with a number of young performers, usually in their late teens, who have won international acclaim and gone onto long and fruitful adult careers. Some musicians in that category that come to mind are the vibes player Garry Burton, trumpeter Lee Morgan, guitarist Pat Methney, pianist Oscar Peterson and bassist Christian McBride. I’m sure there are many others. For the final video clip here is Joey at age 7 performing Caravan.
It just isn’t right, fair or even natural but there it is.