Friday, April 13, 2007

Keys To The Future

I've been working off and on over the past couple of months on a story for DownBeat about a very cool distance education program between the Manhattan School of Music and Canada's National Arts Centre here in Ottawa. Look for it in DB's "On Campus" section sometime in the fall.

Yesterday, as part of the story, I attended a piano masterclass by Kenny Barron. Barron was at the Steinway in the beautiful, new performance space at the Manhattan School of Music, and the students and an audience of +100 were here in Ottawa. The broadband technology is so good that Barron's Steinway sounded like it was in the house -- perhaps not with as much low-end presence as it would have if it was in the room, but clear as a bell.

There were four young pianists playing for Barron: Steve Boudreau from Ottawa, David Ryshpan (who had a trio) from McGill's Schulich School of Music in Montreal, Victor Cheng from the University of Toronto, and Hayoun Lee from Toronto's Humber College. All of them were quite good, but Lee in particular has really stayed on my mind. He performed a very moody "It Never Entered My Mind" and followed it with a crystalline take on "All The Things You Are." Both of them were filled with space, and Lee really impressed with his ability to take his time and maintain the languid feel throughout the pieces. I know from experience that the tendency when you're young and playing in an uncomfortable situation is to rush, but Lee didn't at all. Obviously, Lee's had years of classical training, but this was in another realm. The kicker was that when Barron asked him who his jazz influences were he replied that most of his musical influences were either hip-hop artists or Radiohead. Obviously, he's heard some Brad Mehldau along the way, but his command of time and mood was just exceptional.

Speaking of Mehldau, I've been sorting through some CDs I've been meaning to get to, and finally got around to listening to Mehldau's appearance on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz radio program from 1996, which was recently released on disc. This was three years before DownBeat selected him as one of the 25 young artists to watch and just after the release of his first recording (he mentions how little solo work he'd done to that point) and it's interesting to hear how his style has evolved since then.

It's also interesting how, 12 years later, we immediately think of Mehldau when we hear someone like Lee stretching and de-constructing a tune while pledging allegiance to Radiohead.

As usual, all this makes me shake my head when I think of people who say jazz is dead or dying.

Watch out for Hayoun Lee and those three other players.

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