Piano prodigy trio wows audience with jazz jamming

13-year-old Indonesian jazz piano prodigy Joey Alexander headlines a concert in the Jorgensen Theatre on Thursday, Dec. 1, along with Alex Claffy on upright bass and Kyle Poole on drums. Joey Alexander is the youngest artist to be nominated for a Grammy Award in the jazz category. (Owen Bonaventura/The Daily Campus)

Thirteen-year-old piano prodigy Joey Alexander stunned audience members at the University of Connecticut's Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts with a compilation of classical jazz music Thursday night, performing pieces written by the likes of John Coltrane.

“The future of jazz is in good hands,” said audience member and UConn alumnus John Jarosz. “He’s a 13 year-old with soul beyond his years.”

Composed of the pianist, a bassist and a drummer, Joey’s trio jammed their way through a two hour performance that included pieces by Thelonious Monk, Wynton Marsalis and Herbie Hancock, each song interspersed with Joey’s signature improvised style and played from memory.

The audience cheered, clapped and called encouragements to the musicians, with Joey responding to some of the shoutouts as he played.  

Born in Bali to a pair of jazz music fans in 2003, Joey taught himself to play jazz at the age of six using an electric keyboard, learning music pieces by ear.

After learning to jam with musicians in Bali, Joey went on to compete in and win the Grand Prix at the 2013 Master-Jam Fest in Ukraine at the age of nine.

When a YouTube video of Joey playing various piano pieces went viral in 2013, the then-10-year-old enjoyed overnight success and was invited to play at several prestigious institutions and events, including Juilliard Institute, the Arthur Ashe Learning Center gala and the Copenhagen Jazz Festival. In 2014, he and his family moved to New York to further his music career.

Joey’s first album “My Favorite Things” was released in mid-2015, containing renditions of jazz classics such as “Lush Life” and “Round Midnight.” The album received a nomination at the 2016 Grammy Awards for Best Jazz Instrumental Album and Best Improvised Jazz Solo, making Joey the youngest artist ever nominated in the jazz category.

Thursday’s performance featured a variety of Joey’s arrangements, including rousing original song “Soul Dreamer” which was featured in his latest album “Countdown.”

Other pieces, including “Chelsea Bridge” by John Coltrane, were more laid back, but still had a quiet energy and intensity to them, as each musician seemed to become lost in their performance.  

Joey moved constantly as he played, tapping the beat out with his right foot and even standing up at several points as he swayed to the music. His co-musicians both enjoyed several long solos throughout the performance, playing energetically as they followed the pianist’s rhythm.

At the end of the night, the audience gave the trio a standing ovation, before the musicians played one final piece, featuring what Joey called a more “spiritual movement.” This too was met with thunderous applause and another standing ovation.

Audience members said that they were thrilled by Joey’s performance, especially considering his young age.

“I can’t believe he’s 13,” said Mallory Goldsmith, a student in the Tolland High School Jazz Band who attended the performance with her bandmates. “He was just amazing, and so were the bassist and the drummer. Knowing that you can be that creative is awesome. It’s really inspiring.”

Others praised the energy and soul of the show.

“I thought that it was breathtaking-- not just for a 13 year-old, but for anyone, ” said audience member Marc Saegaert. “He was the music. That kid has soul.”


Marlese Lessing is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu. She tweets @marlese_lessing.