May 13, 2015

"What I typically find with kid prodigies is that they come from this clinical, Western European way of accumulating knowledge."

"What I found with Joey is that he’s coming from a more intuitive, communal way of playing music, which is so beautiful to see."
Joey [Alexander] began playing piano at 6, picking out a Thelonious Monk tune by ear, which led [his father], an amateur pianist, to teach him some fundamentals. Beyond that, Joey recalled, “I heard records, and also YouTube, of course.”

He played at jam sessions in Bali and then in Jakarta, when his family moved there. At 8, he played for the pianist Herbie Hancock, who was in Jakarta as a Unesco good-will ambassador. (“You told me that you believed in me,” Joey recalled last fall, addressing Mr. Hancock at a gala for the Jazz Foundation of America, “and that was the day I decided to dedicate my childhood to jazz.”)


ADDED: I'm impressed just at the idea of "dedicating my childhood" to something. I mean, you might look back and see that you dedicated your childhood to something. (Did you?) But to come up with the idea, while a child, of having "a childhood" that you could "dedicate" and actually to decide to dedicate your childhood to something is very impressive — even if you don't also follow through. In fact, I think it might be better if you let yourself out of the task to which you bound yourself.

53 comments:

traditionalguy said...

That boy is inspired. I think God listens to Jazz. Hebrew jazz.

Robert Cook said...

Phenomenal! He was playing Coltrane's "Giant Steps" at one point.

tim in vermont said...

Starts off with the requisite slam at white people, check.

I am sure that Elton John and Billy Joel, both of whom came from working class backgrounds and were similarly able to play the piano intuitively at around the age of four agree that there "prodigyness" was an artifact of white privilege.

Bob Ellison said...

I'm an OK musician and was considered quite good as a child, mostly on trumpet and piano. And then I ran into younger kids at music camp and in other venues that were unbelievably good. It shocked me into admitting that I was never gonna be great.

Good for this boy, realizing early that he has amazing talent, and using it. I wish he wouldn't concentrate on awful modern jazz, though.

Bob Ellison said...

When I was about twelve years old, I noticed a classmate in some dumb class (probably social studies) ignoring the teacher and using her pencil and lined paper to do a pointillist portrait of someone. It was breath-takingly good. I asked her about it, and she said it was just a hobby.

What happens to such talents?

Aussie Pundit said...

"What I typically find with kid prodigies is that they come from this clinical, Western European way of accumulating knowledge."


What a load of patronising, sanctimonious, contemptible horseshit.

trumpetdaddy said...

The interesting thing is that Althouse picks a throwaway comment by bassist Larry Grenadier (and a true one, incidentally) to be the important quote with which to headline this blog post.

Grenadier never used the term "white privilege." He's talking about a method of instruction, the European conservatory model.

This kid didn't come out of that model and that is what is interesting to Grenadier, a product of that kind of model (Stanford, Berklee), himself.

Not everything is a political statement. Especially not everything in art and music.

Aussie Pundit said...

Althouse picks a throwaway comment by bassist Larry Grenadier (and a true one, incidentally)

It's not true.

What you said may well be true- that most talented child musicians have come through conservatoriums, and therefore possibly all sound the same to someone who's heard lots of them. But that's not what he said.

Western knowledge accumulation is not more clinical or less "communal" than knowledge obtained in other cultures. That is just spiritualist, romantic nonsense.

EMD said...

I dedicated my childhood to being a child. Which, frankly, is underrated.

mccullough said...

He's a special kid. Like the wizard kids in Harry Potter.

AReasonableMan said...

Bob Ellison said...
What happens to such talents?


They end up in advertising.

trumpetdaddy said...

It is absolutely true in the context of professional musicians, which is what Grenadier is discussing.

He isn't talking about general knowledge acquisition or a normal person who has been normally educated.

He's is specifically discussing a musical prodigy in a musical context, and referencing how musicians learn their craft. As a classically-trained musician I understand exactly what he is saying.

Extrapolating a context-specific comment by a professional musician about another musician to some larger political commentary on education generally is in-apt. But it is perhaps what Althouse hoped commenters would do to drive the thread, hence the positioning of this comment as the title of the blog post.

Ann Althouse said...

I picked the quote because I thought it was interesting, more interesting to me than that a particular child is a prodigy. I'm not into child prodigies, and there is a big problem with musical prodigies. If he were an adult, would you want to listen to him? Close your eyes and listen and picture an ordinary man. Do you want that? What is missing? Will this child ever find what's missing?

I liked the quote because it contains some truth but also this massive anti-European insult of a sort that I've seen amongst Americans of European descent since the 1960s. It's such bilge.

And it's at least as insulting to non-Europeans as it is to Europeans. It's the kind of thing white people say when they think they're being good and not displaying racism.

Terry said...

The full quote is:

On the album, Joey worked with top-tier players like the bassist Larry Grenadier. “I was wary,” Mr. Grenadier said of the invitation to record. “What I typically find with kid prodigies is that they come from this clinical, Western European way of accumulating knowledge. What I found with Joey is that he’s coming from a more intuitive, communal way of playing music, which is so beautiful to see.”

The statement is meaningless, except for the part where Grenadier says "beautiful to see" rather than "beautiful to hear."

Lyle Sanford, RMT said...

So many child prodigies, to my ear, seem to be making the music they think the adults want to hear, giving it a kind of rigidity. This boy's music really does seem to come from his heart and has an ease to it that to me is full of joy.

William said...

I'm asking because I don't know. Do child music prodigies end up having the problematic lives of child actors? Aren't there more child musical prodigies in classical music than in modern jazz? I've never heard of a child prodigy in modern jazz......Well, if he sticks to modern jazz, his childhood won't be burdened with fame and riches.

Robert Cook said...

"I wish he wouldn't concentrate on awful modern jazz, though."

1. Awful is in the ear of the listener.

2. What he was playing has been "standard" jazz for 70 years. I don't know if what he was playing can be properly be called pure "bop" (or be bop), but it is bop-derived, which was the radical and innovative new direction jazz took in the mid-1940s.

Coupe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
traditionalguy said...

The John Stuart Mill of Jazz.

Hopefully he will never grow up, but I suspect that he will.

trumpetdaddy said...

I love when non-musicians talk about music.

It's absolutely comical.

Having been through a formal conservatory musical education, I knew exactly what he was saying, and why. It wasn't a political statement. It was a commentary on how talented youngsters get crammed into a particular method of instruction, and how this kid didn't.

There is a long-standing argument in jazz about how jazz is taught at conservatories and university music departments, vs. how it used to be learned "on the job."

"Communal process" vs. "clinical" and terms like that are common in jazz when discussing instructional methodology.

It isn't a political commentary nor a social commentary about anything other than music.

EMD said...

"They end up in advertising."

This is true. I work in advertising.

You should have seen me draw Garfield at the age of five. I was a wunderkind!

I also swept the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Highest scores from Grades 1 through 5.

It has been all downhill since then.

EDH said...

Right out of high school I was a research assistant for two writers who listened to jazz as they wrote.

I found it okay while zipping along. But when I went to concentrate on some particular detail I had to sort-out analytically, the music would invariably enter some up tempo flourish that would conflict with the pace of my thoughts and make me want to smash the stereo like Belushi did to the folk guitar in "Animal House".

The "What is this music?" moment from "Jerry McGuire".

Skyler said...

Wow, I had no idea that intuitiveness didn't exist in western civilization.

Racism isn't racism when it's not convenient to the progressive narrative to call it racism.

Paul said...

Jesus he sounds like Joey Calderazo or something!

What Trumpetdaddy said: non musicians, especially Althouse who taste in music struggles to barely attain the level of banal, cannot grasp what this kid is doing.

tim in vermont said...

I think that, however true the statement by the bass player may be in terms of his experience, including the term "European" was a racist slam, like Chinese kids never fit that mold, for example.

lemondog said...

There is a long-standing argument in jazz about how jazz is taught at conservatories and university music departments, vs. how it used to be learned "on the job."

Can innovation be taught? Always regarded it was some organic instinct.

trumpetdaddy said...

"Clinical, Western-European way of accumulating knowledge" to a musician means the European-model music conservatory. These are adjectives describing a particular way of teaching music. In this country, think Juilliard or Eastman.

"Intuitive, communal way of playing music" refers to another model of learning (particularly) jazz. The "on-the-job" method. Which is "beautiful to see" because this kid had no access to "on-the-job" learning of the traditional jazz club type where he grew up.

Go to any top conservatory and you'll see that plenty of Chinese kids wholly embrace the "clinical, Western-European way of accumulating knowledge" about music.

This is basic stuff to any professional musician. Apparently, it is akin to splitting atoms for some non-musicians.

trumpetdaddy said...

"Can innovation be taught?"

Hence the long-running argument in jazz.

tim in vermont said...

One thing is certainly true. Youtube is a cultural revolution in progress. It provides access to stuff that was beyond unimaginable in my youth. I lived in an era of you had to be born into the right place at the right time and have the right connections to even be exposed to certain things, like the music in Jazz clubs.

You so much depended on your parents for a life apprenticeship, and then your schooling, whatever your parents could manage for you. That is simply not true anymore.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

trumpetdaddy,

Odd that you've diagnosed "Joey Alexander" as Chinese. Is he a "white Chinese"?

I find him absolutely wonderful. Not just the notes, but the touch. The guy definitely knows exactly what he wants.

trumpetdaddy said...

tim in vermont, you are absolutely right about the availability of resources for kids around the world to learn music today.

My son is a very talented pianist and I tell him all the time how much easier these tools make learning his craft than when I was coming up.

This Joey kid is on a whole different level. There is a young trumpet player from California named Geoff Gallante who is amazing, too.

Yitzchak Goodman said...

And then I ran into younger kids at music camp and in other venues that were unbelievably good. It shocked me into admitting that I was never gonna be great.

Pity. Not everyone who eventually becomes great is the most amazing child prodigy on the block. At one point Charlie Parker was humiliated at jam sessions.

Yitzchak Goodman said...

And then I ran into younger kids at music camp and in other venues that were unbelievably good. It shocked me into admitting that I was never gonna be great.

Pity. Not everyone who eventually becomes great is the most amazing child prodigy on the block. At one point Charlie Parker was humiliated at jam sessions.

trumpetdaddy said...

Michelle, it is "odd" that you would think I've "diagnosed" anybody as Chinese, since I said no such thing.

Bob Ellison said...

Yitzchak Goodman said, "Pity. Not everyone who eventually becomes great is the most amazing child prodigy on the block. At one point Charlie Parker was humiliated at jam sessions."

True dat. As a child musician, I was mindful of the notion that there were prodigies among us. They used to appear on TV from time to time, some seven-year-old girl playing Chopin with an orchestra behind her.

I used to wonder: what became of them? Where are they now?

They're playing modern jazz shit. They didn't learn how to play music that people want to hear.

And Michael Jordan got cut from his high-school basketball team.

Bob Ellison said...

Yeah, Robert Cook, modern jazz has been around for a while. It sucked from the start and sucks worse now.

tim in vermont said...

Modern Jazz is as inevitable as performance art. It is the logical culmination of western musical development.

All the scales, modes, and chords, are in there, not like Rock, Bluegrass, or Klezmer that hammer on just a few. It is catholic. It requires a complete mastery of music theory to play, and probably to appreciate. I don't enjoy it, but I know that is my failing.

Steve said...

Probably the top musical prodigy in the world right now isn't dedicating his life to the piano and if you close your eyes he sound like a very sophisticated adult playing. And it is all classical.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUBuNbMMHY0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aaakFH8JIYU

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

Ever since I was smitten by the rambunctious appetites of adolescence, I have dedicated my manhood to being God's Gift to Women®, but after 40 some years or so of nearly unpunctuated sexual frustration, it has become abundantly clear to me that both God and nearly every woman on the planet view me as something less than a prodigy.

Paul said...

"Modern Jazz is as inevitable as performance art. It is the logical culmination of western musical development.

All the scales, modes, and chords, are in there, not like Rock, Bluegrass, or Klezmer that hammer on just a few. It is catholic. It requires a complete mastery of music theory to play, and probably to appreciate. I don't enjoy it, but I know that is my failing."

Well Tim in Vermont you are a rare and noble individual to realize that it is your lack of sophistication that prevents you from grasping and being smitten by this very advanced but equally interesting and moving music. Bob Ellison is the norm...ignorant of even his own ignorance and making sweeping and erroneous proclamations on topics they are not remotely qualified to opine upon.

William said...

People are far more likely to read a book or see a movie about a tragic jazz musician than to buy or listen to a record of a tragic jazz musician.......They say epic poetry started at the level of genius with Homer. The same can be said for jazz. I don't think anyone topped Louis Armstrong.

SteveR said...

I find it funny that music like Jazz is seen by some as the distinction between some great level of sophistication and just being an ordinary simpleton. Or some variation thereof.

I'm glad that works for you but its not the real world, not even a very small part of it. You are the smartest person in the Porta Potti. Congrats

Anonymous said...

I think I dedicated my childhood to taking things apart with hand tools. I became an engineer. I am lucky to have a skill that is in demand. I would have done it anyway.

AReasonableMan said...

EMD said...
It has been all downhill since then.


I also peaked in grades 3 and 4. It was a wonderful time of life.

AReasonableMan said...

SteveR said...
I find it funny that music like Jazz is seen by some as the distinction between some great level of sophistication and just being an ordinary simpleton


I both play and listen to jazz. It is true that there is some snobbery but no more than any other artistic field. No doubt there is a pecking order in rap just as much as in baroque.

I started playing and listening to blues and jazz was a natural progression. I am not a very good player but I post stuff on the internet every now and then and no one tells me to take it off. Maybe they are just being polite, you know how the internet is.

SteveR said...

ARM- true enough

Krumhorn said...

I had the very same experience as Bob Ellison. One summer at Interlochen was all I needed to discover that I would never be a professional musician. That said, I've studied continuously since, and it is a significant part of my life.

However, I wonder what ever happened to those amazing folks I met that summer.

I think a jazz prodigy is a far different animal than a classical prodigy. This kid is simply amazing. Not only because he can do it, but because he brings such creativity, originality and harmonic sophistication to his art.

Check out this performance:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1liUart72g

I'll bet he plays it differently every time and in many keys depending upon what he hears.

As for the 'clinical, Western European' debate, I'd love to spend a half hour with the kid to find out how much of what he knows about music theory is as technically sophisticated as what he produces. My bet is that he could make a conservatory prof's head spin like a fretful midge.

- Krumhorn

MadisonMan said...

My favorite part? His delightful way of speaking.

I miss my daughter's lisp (she grew out of it in about 4th grade).

Bob Ellison said...

Krumhorn, do you actually play the crumhorn? My father owns one or two of them. That's one of the strangest musical instruments around.

Skeptical Voter said...

Jerry Lee Lewis taught himself to play. I guess he was a kid prodigy as well.

Freeman Hunt said...

I find it interesting that it is so hard to find information on what is typical for children playing piano. Try googling for what a typical ten year old plays. You will get result after result about prodigies.

Paul said...

The best musicians on the planet play this music so when some dunderhead calls it shit or of no value because it's not wildly popular and for mass consumption he needs to be called out. That is not to suggest it is the only music of value. Howling Wolf is sublime in his own way and as far removed from this level of complexity and sophistication as can be imagined. He's still a great and original artist. King Curtis and John Coltrane were both great tenor saxophonists. King Curtis has a broader popular appeal no doubt but for those who can hear what Coltrane was doing it overwhelms like a religious experience.

Krumhorn said...

Krumhorn, do you actually play the crumhorn? My father owns one or two of them. That's one of the strangest musical instruments around.

I don't. My reference is to a loud, nasally solo reed in the great division of some organs...which I do play.

- Krumhorn