Where do you call home and what is it like growing up there?
My home is in Willingboro, NJ, even though I was born in Charlotte, NC. I have been growing up in Willingboro since starting preschool. I love our home and my school. I have many friends and it’s where I call home.
It’s truly amazing that you are only 16 years old and you have this ability to create the music you do. What sparked your interest in becoming a musician and how old were you when you began?
When I was six years old, I had to go to a sitter’s house after school and stay there until my grandparents got off work. The sitter had a piano and two granddaughters who were taking piano lessons. I was so interested that I started sitting in when they had their lessons and I wanted to play too. I told my grandparents but they were not convinced until I was eight and they finally bought me my first keyboard and I started taking lessons. A month later I was able to sight read music from just about any music book or sheet music you would put in front of me. I started to learn to write my music on staff paper and today I write my piano parts that I record on staff paper. All of my songs are created on staff paper first before I record.
Tell me about the key role your grandparents have played in your life.
Both of my grandparents are retired veterans of the US Air Force. My grandfather is a veteran of both the Vietnam War and Desert Storm. They took custody of me when I was 4 years old. They have been raising me ever since. They are wonderful and they give me the very best that they can. We do most everything together. They have worked with me and have been behind me every step of the way when it comes to my music. I couldn’t have better support. They both are great teachers and I have learned so much from them. I have learned more from my grandfather when it comes to music since he’s a musician himself. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.
You are currently in your second year of high school. What type of response have you received from your peers regarding your music?
Lots of times my friends are surprised at the fact that I play jazz piano. I think it’s that way because most of them have never been exposed to jazz and for them to hear and see live musicians are rare. They are always supportive and have given me so much respect in what I do. None have ever given me any negative feelings about me being a musician or playing jazz.
Do you find it difficult to maintain your Honor Student status in high school while pursuing your blossoming music career?
No, it’s not hard for me, besides my grandparents are behind me every step of the way making sure I stay on top of my studies. I appreciate it because sometimes I get behind my piano and it seems nothing else matters and they have to bring me back to reality. Doing well in school is important for me because I want to go to college and earn a degree in music. In order to get to the better colleges I need to maintain a high grade point average.
Have you given any thought to which colleges you might be interested in attending when that time comes?
Yes I have, I am interested in Berkley, Temple and Julliard. However, I’m not limiting myself to just those schools. I might have to settle on a different school depending on my circumstances when the time comes.
I understand that you arrange and produce your own music also…correct?
Yes, that is correct. I started writing my own work because I started having ideas of songs I wanted to hear and create. Through my classical piano teacher and my jazz piano teacher and my grandfather, they helped me to develop my ideas into songs. I started taking classical composition courses on the weekends and that also helped me along with me doing a lot of research online, etc. I’m still working on my production and sound quality, which a lot of the sound quality is developed through very expensive software, but nothing, can replace good songs and good musicianship. I will always believe that.
I am very impressed that you created your own independent label. Tell me more about it and why you decided to do so.
We started the label because everyone wanted me to sing and not play jazz piano. We were always being told that no label would be interested in me even tough I play good; it’s just that jazz doesn’t sell. I didn’t want to do any other genre of music as far as recording so I asked my grandfather if he could help me to record some songs or can he afford to get me into a studio to record. With technology today he decided to get me a computer, proper keyboard, software, etc. and we began recording. My grandfather decided that I should create my own label and start a proper business. So he licensed Kne-O’ Records when I was 10 years old and we became members of BMI and we started getting copy rights for all of my material and so we had the birth of my own record label.
You put out your first CD entitled “The Other Side of Town” at the age of 10. How did it make you feel and what type of feedback did you receive?
I felt wonderful. It was something I wanted to do and my grandfather got the equipment and set me up a studio and I went to work. I just had so many ideas in my head and I was confident in my playing that I wanted to do it weather the project was bad or good. The response was GREAT! We sold well over 100 CDs in my first performance after releasing the CD. I think people were more generous because I was so young. To me the songs were great ideas but I still didn’t have enough training and I still had a lot to learn. The recording was not that good at all. I have learned a lot since and I believe that doing that album has helped me to grow as I moved on to other projects.
Then you went on to produce three more CDs that garnered you attention and success but it is what you did with the proceeds from your 4th project entitled “Reaching For The Sky” that impressed me even more about you. Tell me about the donation you made from this CD.
I donated proceeds from the sales of my CDs to an organization called “All About Hope”. They are an organization that gives assistance to those suffering with HIV/Aids and to their family members. I was moved to do this after meeting Dr. Amitaba Das who is from India. He treats those with HIV/Aids and I was so impressed with his work that I dedicated the CD to him. I asked him how can I donate some money for the treatment of HIV/Aids and he told me about this organization. I still make donations every year.
How many performances have you had thus far in your career? Give me a few examples of events and venues you have played before.
I have performed for the Military Order of The Purple Heart, events for the AKA’s and the Q’s. I have done events for the Federal Department of Labor, the National Heart and Lung Association. I have performed at the Smithville Mansion in New Jersey. I have performed at 5 Award Ceremonies for Veterans of WWII and Vietnam. I have performed before US Senator Greenwood before he retired and at Campbell Field in Camden, NJ. All together I might have had over 100 performances in the last 6 years.
When you are not creating music, what do you enjoy doing to have fun and relax?
I like bowling and roller skating. I like doing art projects, drawing, painting, cutting and pasting. I like riding my bike and sometimes I like shooting a little basketball. I also love cooking with my grandmother. She’s taught me a lot.
Talk to me about your new CD project “Crossing Paths” and when will it be released.
I started “Crossing Paths” in January 2007. I wanted to have a more mature sound and a more commercial smooth jazz feel. I thought this new project would be the best time for me to work more into my compositions such as adding a sax player and using more of what I have been learning about jazz chords and progressions and classical music composition. It’s a 20 song CD that I composed, arranged and produced the project. Martin Seaman, my saxophonist, wrote his sax parts. I also added to the studio in order to have a better sound quality to my music which really makes this project much better than my previous releases. It’s exciting for me because I’m already getting great responses from other musicians and some fans about the songs and the sound quality.
You are a perfect role model for today’s youth. What words of wisdom can you share with them so that they can follow your path of being positive and successful?
I would say that for me, it was most important to be myself. So today’s youth should follow their dreams. Don’t be afraid to be different and most of all work hard at it and be dedicated and committed to it. Learn all that you can about what you want to do and that will help you to outline your path and set your goals realistically. Last but not least, stay in school and look towards college.
How can the readers/fans or booking agents contact you and buy/sample your music?
They can email the studio at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Lenny White at (856)495-3916. It’s much better to contact by email, we can send samples and information and respond so much faster. The phone stays pretty busy.
You are a breath of fresh air in a world that tends to look down on its youth. I believe if our young people can find their passion and gifts before trouble does, they would all mirror the success you have enjoyed. It was a pleasure interviewing you and I know that you will achieve success in life beyond your belief. Do you have any final words or shout outs you would like to make at this time?
I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to appear in your magazine, it’s a wonderful opportunity for me to share my story and hopefully get more people interested in my music. I would also like to give a shout out to my wonderful sax player, Martin Seaman. Martin, you’ve done a wonderful job in helping me put together this project.