An Interview With Talented Jazz Pianist James Park
Hi James, first of all, it’s awesome to meet you. I love your work and how you are bringing a modern touch to jazz music. Let’s dive into your musical beginnings and background:
When did you first realize you wanted to play piano?
When I was five years old, my dad sung and played “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys for my sister and I on the piano in our living room, by ear. It was the first time anyone had ever played the piano for me and I was simply dazzled by the perfect imitation of what I heard previously on the radio.
Who were some of your influences growing up?
Growing up I loved listening to the New Orleans jazz band that my dad played in. I idolized all of those guys and the joyful music they played so much. When I learned that the son of one of those band members became a famous jazz artist with a platinum album (Duke Heitger) I was inspired to learn jazz.
What do you remember the most about your very first gig/performance and where was it?
My first gig was a dive bar in Toledo OH called “The Sodbuster” I was 11 years old and my dad was playing with the band that night. It was a full house and the energy was huge because the band was back after a long hiatus. I was so nervous that I could hardly walk up to the stage when they called me up to sit in. When the leader pointed at me to take a solo, all I knew how to do was play the melody of the tune (You Took Advantage of Me… made famous by Rosemary Clooney), the applause from the audience was so thunderous and genuine. The interest and encouragement, the patrons and band members gave me that night still inspires me to this day.
What has been your favorite gig so far that you have played?
On my birthday this year, Diana Krall’s longtime bass player (Paul Keller) joined me for a duo gig at a local restaurant. The music we made together was beautiful. It was a fabulous experience.
What struck me the most about your piano playing, is how timeless it is and that it gives the new generation a way to be reminded of the greats that played before us. Is this something you also wanted to do?
It’s funny you should ask that, as I have deep admiration for so many pianists and other musicians. The emotions I have felt from their artistry has changed my life. When I started out I would try to imitate the way others played. It was my way of honoring them and learning music.
After years of trying, I still can’t play like any of those artists, but what I didn’t realize is that they were all teaching how to play like me. The beauty of this realization is paradigm shift. Learning jazz will strike out the ego and liberate the true individuality of any soul willing to try its hand.
If there was anybody that you had the chance to work with, who would that be and why?
There is a tremendous vocalist out there named Haley Reinhart. No one has done a better job of bringing jazz and soul to the mainstream, than her.
What other projects do you have coming up?
My debut album “The Song Is You” is due to be released in December. It can be pre-ordered on my website at www.JamesPPark.com
What are some of the most positive words that you live by when it comes to life and approaching everything as best as possible?
Nothing in this world is perfect. So decide now to wake up each morning and know that you and your art are enough. Society does not typically support the decision to be an artist and march to the beat of your own drum. And it does not matter what your art form is, or how talented you are, there will be resistance. When I first started out I was not very good. I would sit in jam sessions with local jazz musicians and I could not hold my own. I would venture to say that I have had as many “trainwreck” experiences on stage as any musican ever has.
There was a sad time when I was a younger man, that the only person who cared to hear me play was my own grandfather. But my grandfather would happily hang his undivided attention on my every note. The only reason I continued to play was for him, he nurtured a tiny, tiny flame alive in my soul for years.
The secret he knew is that my music was enough all along. Now when I play, I remember to play for myself first and foremost and forget about the critics. Grandfather is gone, but the little flame he nurtured is now a fire that will never be extinguished. Not everyone will have a grandfather like mine, but you have to listen to your heart. You have to keep going.