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Indonesian Jazz Pianist Inspires Grammy Camp Musicians

  • VOA News

Every year, dozens of talented young American musicians spend a week at Grammy Camp in Los Angeles. They live and breathe music, playing with their peers, honing their skills and working with some of the biggest names in the industry.

This year, they jammed with Joey Alexander, the 13-year-old Indonesian-born jazz pianist whose debut album, “My Favorite Things,” reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Albums chart and received two Grammy nominations last year, for best jazz instrumental album and best improvised jazz solo.

This year he was nominated for a third Grammy, for best improvised jazz solo with “Countdown.” The field this year also includes John Scofield, Brad Mehldau, Fred Hersch and Ravi Coltrane, son of the late jazz icon John Coltrane.

One of the campers, Geoff Gallante, played trumpet with Alexander on a ballad: “Just me and him ... so that’s a great honor. We got to play for a good 15 minutes.”

Born in Bali, now a New Yorker

Alexander felt the same way.

“It’s really my honor because to play with my peers who are close to my age ... so I am really happy,” he told VOA.

Josiah Alexander Sila was born in Bali to musical parents; his dad plays guitar and piano, his mom’s sister is the Indonesian pop star Nafa Urbach. He remembers hearing jazz for the first time when he was 3 years old; at 6, he was playing the piano.

Alexander played for jazz icon Herbie Hancock in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, but his big break came in 2014 when trumpeter Wynton Marsalis spotted him on YouTube. Marsalis, the artistic director for Jazz at Lincoln Center, invited Alexander to play at the center’s gala that year.

Since then, Alexander has been profiled on U.S. television (CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes”) and received millions of views on YouTube. However, “I’m still me,” he told an interviewer from National Public Radio. “I play sports. Like, I play a little bit of tennis, swimming, like a normal kid. I watch movies.”

The ‘confident touch’ of a veteran

Alexander now lives with his parents in New York City, where he is home-schooled when not performing and receiving swooning reviews from the jazz press.

Alexander’s original compositions, JazzWeekly said, show that “his touch is already confident, spacious and patient.”

Or as Sylvannia Garutch, wrote in the online Elmore Magazine: “I have reached the point where I no longer think of him as an incredible jazz pianist for such a young man; I regard him as an incredible jazz pianist, period.”

This story was first reported by VOA Bahasa Indonesia.

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