Joey Alexander doesn't like to be called a genius, but what else to call a 13-year-old jazz piano prodigy with the chops of McCoy Tyner, the rhythmic sensibilities of Ahmad Jamal and the improvisational skills of Thelonious Monk?
Our quest quest to drown out the Greek chorus in Washington by hearing lots of music took us to the Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on Friday evening for the Joey Alexander Trio. It was amazing, and the full house in this large-ish and acoustically superb performance space was testimony to how Joey has shaken up the jazz world.
The youngest jazz musician to be nominated for a Grammy, Joey featured mostly covers on his first two albums, but other than a Monk cover ("Eronel," I think) and a gospel encore ("I’m Dying, Lord") he played all original compositions last night, and all were extraordinary as he sat, stood, grimaced, smiled and stretched his tiny self over the Steinway. Joey plays in a highly improvisational Less Is More way where what is between the notes matters nearly as much. I love that, but coming from a kid barely in his teens?
About the photo at the top: Standing with Joey are outstanding bassist Dan Chmielinski (left) and Ulysses Owens Jr., the best drummer we've heard quite in some time (and we regularly hear neighbor Bill Goodwin, who is one of the greats).
I'm certainly not the first person to remark on this, but when you close your eyes while Joey plays, and you can easily imagine a grizzled old bebop veteran who nevertheless brings a freshness to each song. And just imagine what he’s going to be doing in 5, 10 or 20 years.
Fuggedabout the "Joey is the future of jazz" and "Joey's gonna save jazz" stuff. They said that about the Pat Metheny Group in the 1980s and they're still saying it about Wynton Marsalis. Jazz will survive because it's jazz, and youngsters like Joey who worship at the altar of the legends.
Appreciate the moment. I know that Monk would.