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Joey Alexander: Bringing joy to all

A. Kurniawan Ulung

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Wed, November 15, 2017  /  08:43 am
Joey Alexander: Bringing joy to all

Mesmerizing: Young Indonesian pianist and 2016 Grammy Awards nominee Joey Alexander performs at the Tourism Ministry in Jakarta on Sunday. Jakarta is the final destination of his concert tour 'A Night of a Million Imaginations,' after Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong. (JP/Bangkit Jaya Putra)

Jazz pianist Joey Alexander, 14, is working on a new album in New York, the United States, but recently he came home because he missed Indonesia and one of the country’s irresistible comfort foods, which is difficult to find in the Big Apple. 

“I missed martabak telur [stuffed fried pancake]. It even appeared in my dreams,” he said.

After Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore, Joey ended his Asian Tour on Sunday at ICE BSD in South Tangerang, Banten, with a concert entitled “A Night with a Million Imaginations.”

“I am always proud of being an Indonesian. Even though I play music in America, I always remember my country, family and friends,” he said. “I am happy to be back!”

During the concert, attended by 2,500 people, Joey played out a number of compositions and songs, including Chrisye’s “Zamrud Khatulistiwa,” for which he shared his stage with noted bassist Barry Likumahuwa and pop stars Glenn Fredly and Isyana Sarasvati. 

For The Beatles’ “Blackbirds,” he was reunited with vocalist Adinda Shalahita, who shared a stage with him in the World Youth Jazz Festival in Malaysia in 2013.      

Joey holds a special place in the hearts of the Indonesian people. Two years ago, he made history not only as the first Indonesian to be nominated for a Grammy Award, but also being the youngest-ever Grammy nominee in the jazz category at the age of 12. 

He recalled that when he was making his second album, Countdown, his producer told him over the phone that he had scored two Grammy nominations: Best improvised jazz solo for “Giant Steps” and best jazz instrumental album for his first album, My Favorite Things. 

“I was blessed to get the nominations. God opened the doors for me to share my music,” he said. 

In 2017, he returned to the Staples Center in Los Angeles as he was nominated again for best improvised jazz solo with Countdown, which also reached No. 1 on Billboard’s jazz album chart.

In September this year, he released his third album, Joey.Monk.Live!, showcasing his skills in playing the legendary jazz composer Thelonious Monk’s perplexing music. The young Bali-born musician recorded the album live in June at the Appel room at Jazz at the Lincoln Center with Scott Colley on bass and Willie Jones III on drums. 

Of his fourth album, which he is working on and expects to hit stores in April next year, he said, “I have more confidence in myself.”

Joey, who created the concept of the upcoming album by himself, promises something new as his musicality grows along with his maturity. 

“I make my own music. It is important to be yourself.” 

The teen remains down-to-earth despite the fact that he has performed in prestigious events. He said he learned from the music of his favorite musicians, such as John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Miles Davis, Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington and of course Monk. 

Joey learned of those big names for the first time through his father’s record collection. At the age of 6, he was captivated by Monk’s “Well You Needn’t” and he began to learn to play it with a mini electronic keyboard given by his father.  

His family later moved to Jakarta, where he honed his skills at jam sessions with renowned Indonesian jazz musicians, including jazz veteran Indra Lesmana. 

When he was 8, Joey played piano for UNESCO goodwill ambassador Herbie Hancock when the latter was in Jakarta. The musician told him that he believed in him and it became the day he decided to dedicate his childhood to jazz. 

“I always carry the feelings of swing and freedom that jazz music has,” he said. “For me, jazz is a spiritual thing.”

Joey considers himself a regular kid who likes going to the park, watching movies, swimming and playing tennis. He hopes that his visit to Indonesia will inspire and motivate Indonesian musicians if they have dreams of going international. 

“For me, the most important thing is to share happiness and joy for all,” he said.