Joey Alexander reinvents rhapsody in jazz

Jan. 22, 2024, 12:19 a.m.

Stanford’s Bing Concert Hall transformed into a haven for jazz enthusiasts on Friday evening with the performance of Grammy-nominated prodigy Joey Alexander. The concert was a kaleidoscope of emotions and genres; the immersive experience left the audience spellbound.

From the very first note, Alexander’s charismatic accompaniment transported me into a world of enchanting melodies repeating like a hypnotic spell. It was as though the audience was suspended in the center of the universe, a place where time stood still, alone with his music. 

Alexander’s mastery of the piano made the performance seem easy and light, but anyone who understands the demands of this instrument would recognize the depth of his skill. Parts played on electric piano were a testament to Alexander’s great transitions. He seamlessly moved between the realms of traditional jazz and more alternative expressions, with notes reminiscent of futurism and even surrealism. It seemed as though he was giving a carte blanche to his unconscious mind, bestowing it with complete freedom to create new sounds. 

This was not Alexander’s first rodeo at Stanford. The first time, he visited as a performer presenting his Grammy-nominated album of jazz covers, “My Favorite Things.” This time, he came as a composer in his own right, sharing his latest album, “Continuance.”

What truly set this concert apart was the synergy among the musicians on stage. Alexander’s compositions not only highlighted his own talents but gave independent and star moments to every member of the ensemble. The players themselves seemed to enjoy the performance immensely, often celebrated by the thunderous applause of appreciative listeners.

This collaborative spirit was a testament to his dedication to jazz as “people music.” Alexander told The Daily that jazz is “a medium of honest expression, a way to tell my stories, give energy to the audience.”

The variety of instruments and sounds woven into his compositions created an immersive, enveloping experience. Throughout the performance, there was a delightful juxtaposition of moments of great intensity with quiet murmurs, the variety keeping us on the edge of our seats.

One of the standout pieces of the evening was “Remembering.” While some may have already listened to on YouTube, experiencing it live is an entirely different journey. The transitions from the central melody to more delicate, savored moments felt like reminiscences of a lost souvenir, with high and low moments that resonated deeply.

The concert hall’s dim lighting and the music’s ethereality created an atmosphere that felt almost otherworldly. It was as if we had been transported to a dimly-lit jazz bar, where the music and fleeting thoughts mingled as one.

The concert concluded with a crescendo that grew before gradually disappearing, leaving us in a state of calm as we stepped out into the night.

When asked about his process for composing, Alexander said that he “maintains a practice routine while waiting for inspiration to strike naturally.” 

The young composer and performer also shared how diverse cultural experiences, like that of his birthplace in Bali and the bustling energy of New York, have shaped his compositions. The musician also looks to the outdoor environment: “Nature, including beaches and mountains, serves as a wellspring of inspiration for my compositions.” 

Collaboration with fellow musicians has also played a significant role in Alexander’s creative process. Despite his young age, he has already performed with many jazz greats. 

“I am fortunate to have met musical giants who have already passed. But the music remains,” Alexander said. “We continuously shaped each other, and they helped me become a better musician.” 

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.

Olena Bogdan is a predoctoral research fellow in finance at Stanford GSB. If you have questions or ideas for an article, please contact her at [email protected]

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