A Young Gentleman at the Piano

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Joey Alexander with Herbie Hancock

Joey Alexander with Herbie Hancock

On a rainy December night, I headed to The Standard Jazz Club in Copenhagen, Denmark, co-founded and musically directed by pianist Niels Lan Doky (Berklee ’84) to see Joey Alexander, the 11-year-old pianist from Indonesia. I had arranged with his father Denny to come and see Joey play and talk to him before and after his performance. A more in-depth story about Joey can be found in my previous article “Music from the Emerald of Equator.”

This evening, Joey was joined by Gabor Bolla on tenor saxophone, Mattias Svensson on bass and Morten Lund on drums. Joey opened with a piano solo on Jimmy Heath’s “C.T.A,” and the rest of the band joined in after a few choruses. The band was swinging from the minute they came in. Following a great opener, they played Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas” in a laid-back samba style that Joey had picked right before the set. Joey wanted Gabor to start off to honor the saxophone legend. Next up were two of Monk’s compositions, the ballad “Ask Me Now,” and Joey’s arrangement of “I Mean You,” played in a funky New Orleans feel going into double-time swing for sections of the song. The greatest moment of the evening was when Joey and Gabor played a duet on “My One and Only Love.” They shared a great moment on this ballad, which is probably one of the hardest things for a jazz musician to do, especially when playing a duet. To finish off the evening, they played one of Joey’s favorites, “Giant Steps.”

Everyone applauded Joey after the set. Gabor called Joey “the man,” and Lund called him “a young gentleman.” He performed with a deep understanding of the music; there’s self-confidence and joy in every note he plays. I asked Lund after the concert how it felt playing with him: “Joey had us work!”

Joey currently has a working band in New York with Russell Hall on bass and Sammy Miller on drums. Other musicians with whom Joey frequently performs are New York drummers Evan Sherman and Kyle Poole.  In Copenhagen, aside from the band he performed with on this night, he plays with bassist Ira Coleman (Sting, Joanne Brackeen and Herbie Hancock) and the young drummer Niclas Bardeleben. One of the many great opportunities Joey’s enjoyed was a performance at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem honoring Herbie Hancock and playing for former President Bill Clinton at the Arthur Ashe Learning Center Gala in New York City.

I asked about Joey’s heroes:

Early on I learned most from listening to the jazz greats: Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Clifford Brown, Bill Evans and the list goes on…these are my teachers. Musicians in Bali are important to me as they were the first ones sharing their stage with me (Bonny, Eric Sondhy, Rio Sidik, Koko Horsoe). Then when my family and I moved to Jakarta, there was Benny & Barry, Likumahua, Idang Rasjidi, Indra Lesmana, Indro Hardjodikoro, and many others who I got to share the stage with. I really learned this music from playing at jam sessions. My dad and I talked about my playing afterwards. So it’s hard for me to name names…they’re ALL dear to my family and me. Lately I have been listening a lot to Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace album and the Wynton Marsalis Quartet.”

Denny tells me that Joey has an album release on May 27th at Scullers Jazz Club. Not long ago, a clip was put up on YouTube by the record label Motema Music from Joey’s upcoming album (link below). He will also be playing at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola in New York City on April 30th and  at the Exit Zero International Jazz Festival in Cape May, NJ on May 29th and at the Newport Jazz Festival; on August 1st.

After the concert, Lund mentioned the gig on his Facebook status:

“Such an incredible honor sharing the stage for four nights with the amazing young Mr. Joey Alexander at the piano and of course my old pal Mattias Svensson on bass. Tonight’s last set was one of those rare nights where nothing could go wrong – where every note and beat was like discovering a whole new universe of sound…I truly believe we were blessed with something greater than ourselves tonight, and this is exactly why I play music! Merry Christmas dear friends!”

Joey has a bright future ahead of him and recently he and his family moved to New York City where Joey will be going to school and working on his music. He has also recently joined with the International Music Network.



          February 10, 2018