Jazz Wunderkind Joey Alexander Returns with New Album and Tour

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Jazz pianists come to the U.S. from many other places around the world. But Bali, land of yoga retreats, sandy beaches, and relaxing vacations? As far as I know, the wunderkind Joey Alexander is the only Balinese pianist to hit the hard concrete of the Big Apple. At the age of 14, he’s already recorded two Grammy-nominated albums—mostly proving his prowess on jazz classics—and now he’s back with a terrific new album called Eclipse. This time, Alexander shows his continued growth by featuring a number of his own compositions. Other tracks on the album range from John Coltrane and Bill Evans classics to the Beatles’s “Blackbird.”

Alexander recorded Eclipse over three days beginning on August 21, 2017, the day of the solar eclipse. He was joined at the green and peaceful setting of Dreamland Studios in upstate New York by veteran drummer Eric Harland, bassist Reuben Rogers, and tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman, who guests on three tracks. The band took a break to observe the eclipse and returned to the recording studio both moved and amazed. They decided to play free and see what happens, and the result is the impressive title track, “Eclipse.” I also enjoyed the original composition, “Bali” with its gentle feel, as well as Alexander’s interpretation of Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice”—showing that he can tackle anything.

Joey Alexander was born in Bali, where he heard his father tinkling the ivories at home as a young child. He listened and learned by ear, then quickly surpassed anything his father could play. His father nurtured his young talent, giving him jazz records for further exposure and ear training. Six-year-old Joey’s first instrument was a small electric piano. When jazz master Herbie Hancock visited Bali as a UNESCO goodwill ambassador, he heard Alexander play and told him he believed in him. That was a turning point. Just eight years old at the time, Alexander said, “That was the day I decided to dedicate my childhood to jazz.” One year later at age nine, Alexander won the Grand Prix at the 2013 Master-Jam Fest, an all-ages music competition in Odessa, Ukraine.

Soon after, Wynton Marsalis, artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, saw a Youtube video of Alexander playing and invited him to perform at the storied New York venue. It was his U.S. debut, and he followed that with additional performances along the east coast. These successful outings enabled Alexander to secure an O-1B visa, given to “individuals with extraordinary ability” (source: Wikimedia). Alexander moved in 2014 to New York, where he was signed by Motéma Records founder Jana Herzen. I’ve been a fan of Alexander‘s since he released his first album My Favorite Things in 2015 at the age of 11. Now the diminutive teenager plays 9-foot Steinways with power, subtlety, and authority.

Joey Alexander (Photo by Carol Friedman courtesy of Musco Center for the Arts) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Alexander cites among his piano influences such veterans as McCoy Tyner, Brad Mehldau, Bill Evans, and Herbie Hancock. I also hear the influence of Ahmad Jamal in his playing. Check out his voice in the video below when he talks about his influences. He sounds like a little kid but oh my god, what a talent!! This video from his first record release in 2015 also includes some fellow musicians (Larry Grenadier (bass), Ulysses Owens (drums), Sammy Miller (also drums)) talking about working with him. You can find the trailer for Eclipse and more videos on Joey Alexander’s website.

The Joey Alexander Trio is touring the U.S. now and will head to Europe soon. The group makes its only L.A.-area stop on Friday, April 27, at the Musco Center for the Arts at Chapman University in Orange. They’ll premiere songs from Eclipse as well as play hits from his previous albums. Alexander has been winning over audiences in live performance since his U.S. debut in 2014, so prepare to be wowed!

Banner image of Joey Alexander courtesy of Musco Center for the Arts