How did this new album and overall concept for it come about, and what are your ultimate goals with it?
This new album came about because I wanted to do something different. I called Gerey Johnson and asked him to produce my new album. I told him that I want people to be able to dance to it, and be able to relate to this album, whether they liked jazz or not. Gerey, is such a great producer, and the first thing he did was change how I played on the album. I come from a straight ahead concept and approach, and that approach would not work. Gerey wrote the first song called “Silk Dress”, and the concept was set. We finished the cd in about a month. The grooves are grooves that the average person that does not listen to jazz can relate to and dance to. The majority of Jazz is old. Everything about it is old. Jazz has a rich history and I feel to play this music you have to understand the vocabulary and history of the music. Ultimately, I want to make music that the younger audience can identify with, and that will continue to move jazz forward and bring more folks to this music.
Who would you say has been the single biggest influence in your life in getting you to where you are now in your career?
That would be my father. My dad was a Classical woodwind player for a few different orchestras and Broadway shows. He made me focus on being a good musician first and foremost. Therefore I studied Classical piano for years, and still play it. I applied the skills that I learned from being classically trained to my jazz concept. My dad taught me everything I know about music and life. I just lost my dad about six or seven months before I started on this album. I took my dad’s death very hard, and did not think I would play again. A part of me died when he died. I did not touch the piano for about 4 months after my dad died. I did not want to play music anymore. I came out of my depression and recorded this album and trying to move forward with my life.
What are you most proud of at this point in your life and career?
I am most proud of the concept I came up with called Soulful Night Of Keys featuring Lonnie Liston Smith, Brian Jackson and myself. Three generations of pianist/keyboardist performing together. Awesome! Everyone thought I was crazy and said it would never work. I did it anyway, and we have been selling out everywhere we have performed, and have been overseas twice, and going back in November. We have three more oversea tours lined up for next year.
Who are some of your current favorite artist, Smooth Jazz or otherwise?
I would have to say Roy Ayers first, because he has done what I am trying to do, which is bring a younger audience to his music and folks love his music whether or not they like jazz. Roy is a Great vibraphonist and mentor, who I toured the world with for many years. I also like Robert Glasper, who has done the same thing. Robert is a Great pianist and is number 4 on the Hip-Hop and R&B charts. That is pretty amazing. I also like Brian Culbertson, who has done this as well. Brian has such an exciting show and plays piano well and trombone well, two very different instruments. I am always impressed by folks who play multi instruments well. All three of these musicians will be considered very important to the overall growth and longevity of Jazz.
Outside of your musical career, what else in your life gets you excited and fulfilled?
That would be teaching. I teach part time at York College here in New York, and that is a very important balance for me. I also give free private lessons to kids who can’t afford the high price of having their talent nurtured. I feel anyone who wants to learn how to play an instrument should have the opportunity to do so. It makes me feel good to watch a student grow musically, and to know that I had a part in planting that musical seed in them. Priceless!
What is your favorite non-music activity?
Playing with my 5 year old daughter and exposing her to as much as possible. Taking her to the park, teaching her to ride a bike, playing games, teaching her how to read and do different little things. I enjoy spending quality time with her. I also like to go to the movies and to Broadway shows. I love to be entertained in that way. I also enjoy playing the game of Chess. I love that game and feel that it is the ultimate game of life.