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Influences: Jazz musician Billy Childs

December 28, 2011 | 10:00 am

Billy Childs
Billy Childs is a triple threat of music. The jazz pianist, an L.A. native, is not only an accomplished player, but he's also won Grammys for both arranging and composing. The latter skill has drawn the disparate likes of Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Kronos Quartet and the American Brass Quintet to commission Childs’ music for them. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Will Friedwald described Child’s compositional talents as: "...impossible to tell where the jazz ends and the classical music begins.”

Childs will be playing with a jazz quartet at the Blue Whale bar in downtown Los Angeles on  Friday and Saturday nights. Part of the latter performance  -- with vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater emceeing and singing a number or two -- will be heard live on National Public Radio during its multijazz artist “Toast of the Nation” New Year’s Eve broadcast.  Childs will also be at Walt Disney Concert Hall on March 11 -- he will play with a jazz quartet, and then Kronos will play a set and then the two ensembles will collaborate on a new piece written by Childs and aptly named “Music for Two Quartets.”

Among his ecclectic influences:

Laura Nyro: I grew up in the '60s, lived near Washington and Fairfax. My two sisters, about five to six  years older than me, had a lot of records -- Joy played soul and jazz and Kirsten was into the white singer-songwriters. And that’s how I heard Nyro, who introduced me to the dramatic possibilities of music. Nyro tapped into Broadway, jazz, doo-wop; she synthesized all of these into music that was her own. On an album called “Christmas and the Beads of Sweat,” she had this song called “Map to the Treasure,” and she played with Alice Coltrane. It was the first time I had heard harp used like that, and it stayed with me all those years and gave me the idea to start my jazz-chamber ensemble. I listen to Nyro and her first four albums even now, all the time.

Leon Bisquera (neighbor): He lived next door and played jazz piano. He was two to three years older than me, and he was very encouraging teaching me to play, letting me watch how his hands moved on the keyboard and answering every question I had about it -- he was patient and explained things to me. He’s a professional musician, has played with Anita Baker. We still talk all the time.

Herbie Hancock: Leon turned me onto Hancock. It’s so obvious, but every piano player of my generation… you have to consider Herbie Hancock if you play jazz piano. Albums like “The Prisoner” and “Mwandishi,” they are the source.

Paul Hindemith (classical composer): At 17, I heard Hindemith’s “Mathis der Maler” and another light went off in my head. The range of emotion that was captured with an orchestra, it just connected with me and it made me go into composition. I really admired how seamlessly it flowed from one section to another, almost imperceptibly from one place in the piece to another, but you didn’t realize how you got there. Just the chordal harmony really related to me, the harmony based on fourth. At the time, I was into McCoy Tyner a lot and his approach to harmony was similar to Hindemith’s.

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-- Christopher Smith

Billy Childs Quartet. The Blue Whale, 123 Astronaut E.S. Onizuka St., Suite 301, Los Angeles. Friday and Saturday. Call for times and ticket prices. (213) 620-0908 and bluewhalemusic.com.

Photo: Billy Childs. Credit: Javiera Estrada


 
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