Thu June 28, 2012
Local Aspiring Jazz Pianist Heads Off to Berklee
The name “Wes Powell” is probably an unfamiliar one to many of you. He’s a recent high school grad and a local jazz pianist heading off to the alma mater of some of this year’s Jazz Festival headliners including Esperanza Spaulding. As WXXI’s Helene Biandudi reports, this future Berklee College of Music grad, is just a small-town kid, with big city dreams.
“I don’t think music’s as great as people think it is,” said Wes Powell.
Don’t let the jazz pianist fool you, he loves music. But his views on it are more like those of an old wise man instead of a recent high school graduate.
“I try and apply my life experiences to my music instead of allowing the music to dictate my life.” Powell said. “Without music there can be life, but without life there can't be music.”
Powell is a small-town boy. He grew up in the Ontario County Village of Manchester and attended Red Jacket High School. The son of a Baptist minister, he developed his musical ear as a young kid listening to his parents play everything from Earth, Wind & Fire to Mozart.
“So that kind of ignited the fire but what really got me into piano was when my mom started giving me lessons in 2nd grade,” said Powell. “I mean I did it to please my mom really, I didn’t really get interested until 8th grade.”
That’s when he was hired as the entertainment for a Christmas party. He got a hundred bucks for playing the piano. And he says life as he knew it was never the same.
“When you’re in 8th grade and you get a check for $100 for 2 hours of work which felt effortless that really inspired me.” Powell said. “And I remember that night I was so excited I could barely fall asleep and I realized you know I could make a living playing piano.”
“What caught our attention was the touch that he said,” said Darryl Powell.
He said he and his wife knew early on their son had a gift.
“It wasn’t the typical learn and bang at it and play but there was feeling and emotion and he was delicate where he was supposed to be and rowdy where he was supposed to be,” Darryl Powell said.
Paul Hofmann is the chairman of the jazz department at the Eastman Community Music School. He’s also Powell’s most recent teacher.
“His enthusiasm for music is off the charts,” said Hofmann. “His love of music is just great and that's something you can't really teach you just hope that you can help to foster it, you can help to introduce people to inspiring people like, like whoever, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Chick Corea.”
And it worked. The young pianist says he learned preciseness from Chick Corea and how to improvise from Keith Jarrett. But it’s Paul Hofmann that Powell credits for what he calls his “jazz explosion.”
“He didn’t’ just teach me the people I should listen to, but he taught me how to explore, how to go beyond and when new musicians, new artists arrive, how to evaluate them properly. How to take from their work,” Powell said. “He taught me how to take the beauty from anything and disregard the rest.”
Later this summer, Wes Powell is packing his bags and heading off to the big city. He’ll be a freshman at the renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston.
“I’m scared of the culture shock and learning to interact with people cause it’s so much different there than I’m sure it is back in back at home,” said Powell.
But the small-town jazz pianist says he’s excited he’ll finally be around peers who share his passion.
“There’s nobody in my school district, there’s nobody in my area who really plays I guess to the extent that I do,” Powell said. “To walk out of my dorm room walk down the hall and knock down the hall and say “who plays drums” and someone raises their hand and we say let’s go jam and then we do, ahhh, I’m looking forward to that.”
He’s also looking forward to mapping out his future options while at Berklee, which of course include winning a Grammy. It just so happens 99 Berklee grads have received the award.
“That is something I would want to put in my bio, that I won a Grammy but I don't know if that'd be for performance sake or producer sake,”said Powell.
Luckily, he’s got some time to decide. But Powell says no matter what the future holds, thanks to what he’s learned as a jazz pianist, he’ll be ready to roll with it.”
“It’s improvisational…it allows you to be more ready to accept situations that you're not prepared for cause you can improvise,” Powell said. “And that's kinda a good analogy for life. If you know how to improvise you can get through any situation.”