This week, Joey Alexander is celebrating the launch of his debut album, “My Favorite Things.” It’s an honor that many musicians work decades to achieve, but Joey, whose full name is Josiah Alexander Sila, is only a little over a decade old.
But in many ways, Joey is far ahead of the curve when it comes to jazz music. At the tender age of 11, he is considered one of the rising stars of the international jazz scene and one of the genre’s most promising performers to come around in a long time.
Joey was born in Bali, where his parents ran a tourism business. He first showed a natural aptitude for jazz music after listening to his father’s Thelonious Monk albums and picking out the tunes on an electric mini keyboard without any training. His father, an amateur pianist, taught him some basics and Joey quickly soaked it all up.
Joey began jamming with some of Bali’s jazz musicians and his parents saw his skills grow exponentially. Giving up their tourism business, the family then moved to Jakarta so Joey could be exposed to the capital’s top talents.
The young prodigy’s skills were quickly recognized, and at the age of 8 Joey was given the honor of playing for jazz piano legend Herbie Hancock at an event in Jakarta.
Jazz luminary Wynton Marsalis, the director of Jazz at New York’s Lincoln Center, invited Joey to play at the Lincoln Center’s annual gala after watching a YouTube clip of the 10-year-old playing songs by John Coltrane and Monk.
His performance at Lincoln Center made Joey a star in the jazz world, and he quickly gained the support of some of New York’s most-talented musicians. The US Government recently granted him and his family an O-1 visa (for “individuals with extraordinary ability”) so that he could pursue his jazz career in the Big Apple.
Watching the videos of his performances, it’s clear that Joey has skill beyond his years. But experienced musicians who have played with him say that, unlike many prodigies, Joey has not come by his skills through rote memorization and formal training, but through a sincere love of the music.
In a recent interview, Joey said: “For me jazz is a calling. I love jazz because it’s about freedom to express yourself and being spontaneous, full of rhythm and full of improvisation.”
Indonesia is definitely proud of you, Joey!