Two of the most respected names in jazz piano took the stage at Koerner Hall on Thursday night (June 30). Joey Alexander, the 13-year-old from Indonesia, opened the show, while Grammy-winning Ramsey Lewis took the second half.
Alexander was joined by Dan Chmielinski on bass and Kyle Poole on drums. He played a mix of standards and his original compositions throughout his set. Most people in attendance did not know what to expect, and as he started playing he was met with satisfied chuckles and remarks of “who the ‘heck’ is this kid?” One man even yelled out “You’re the man, Joey!” from the upper balcony between songs.
One thing was for certain, young Joey Alexander had excellent chops and was able to tear the house down. All three players were extremely tight with precise synchronization and a hard swinging feel. Though he may not have been able to effectively reach the entire keyboard sitting down, Alexander took matters into his own hands. He regularly sprang to his feet and stretched out to make full use of the piano’s range. His whole body shook as the music flowed through him.
Some of the older listeners were critical of his age, saying he hadn’t gained enough life experience to truly feel or understand the music. However, this criticism is easily dismissed. Music is so subjective that the true meaning should come from within, not from whatever perceived meanings are produced by the artist. As long as they can play their music well, which Joey Alexander certainly does, it would be foolish to consider it to be an inferior performance just because of his age. That attitude will certainly not help the future generations of jazz develop, so it is time for a change in thinking.
As Ramsey Lewis and his quartet took the stage, the same man from the upper balcony shouted out “the king is back!” Both in his on-stage persona and his command of the instrument, Lewis acted with elegance and grace. Even the backlighting in Koerner Hall changed as the feeling of his music grew and evolved.
Lewis played a wide variety of favourites and covers, often transcending genre lines. His version of "The In Crowd", the hit that rocketed him to success, sounded just like the original recording. The audience clapped along, and inserted chuckles and laughs in much the same way as on the record. Near the end, he experimented with Latin and boogie-woogie feels on the same tune. During “Livin’ for the City” the whole hall was grooving to the funky sounds of Stevie Wonder.
He was also one to incorporate humour into his performance. Introducing his song “Clouds,” he told the audience how it started as a ballad, but now is more of a drum solo. “Oh well,” he said, “what are you going to do.” During his encore, his soloing slowly started getting softer and moving higher up the piano, until his fingers started “playing” the outside edge on the side of the piano. This was also received with plenty of laughs.
The Joey Alexander/Ramsey Lewis performance at Koerner hall was a fantastic evening where old jazz met new jazz. Both groups brought unique approaches to the genre and satisfied the whole audience. It will be very exciting to see how jazz continues to develop over the years, with Joey Alexander certainly being one performer to watch. I was glad to be able to attend this show, and look forward to seeing their performances for years to come.