Gratitude and Inspiration: A Conversation That Will Make You Think Twice

A Pianist Composer’s Reflections During Covid 19

Isaiah at Birdland Jazz in March 2020

The story of my life and understanding the role that I play inspires me to look for opportunities to grow each day.

The pandemic brought out the best of the human spirit. Every household has something valuable to share and I caught up with a few interesting characters...

The Recent Julliard Graduate has performed with renowned musicians including Christian McBride, Steve Turre and John Pizzarelli.

With special performances at Jazz at Lincoln Center and Rudy Van Gelder, earlier this year, Isaiah shares his thoughts on Gratitude and Inspiration.

Simi:

Your album dropped in September, right? Have you and the band been able to perform?

Isaiah:

I was blessed to have the opportunities I did, playing at Jazz at Lincoln Centre, and with Ron Carter, Joe Lovano and Kenny Washington at the Rudy Van Gelder Live Video Session.

I know so many musicians that haven't touch the stage all year, so being supported by the community to keep doing what I love means the world. Honestly…

14th Nov 2020 — Isaiah @ Rudy Van Gelder Studio

Simi:

I love seeing music transcend the ages — Jazz especially made me feel at home with strangers. What is it like performing with different generations?

Isaiah:

Different generations bring new perspectives on music but respect is universal.

It’s not unheard of to play with people you’ve just met. Jazz has an intimate culture, so we can reach reciprocate a casual closeness that might seem strange from the outside.

Like when you see your Nigerian uncle’s or aunts at the market - family or not, you call them uncle and aunt, right?

Simi:

Right- Haha!

Isaiah:

It’s the same with the community.

Part of our identity is being a musician and bringing honesty to the instrument. At the same time, it was an excellent opportunity to learn from the older generation and listen in on their life stories.

At what point do you stop teaching your student on Zoom, who can’t play the instrument because they’re six hours ahead of you and their mom is a light sleeper?

How do you manage your income when you’re dependent on bookings and touring to support your family?

I’ve been fortunate to move back into a healthy home in New Jersey, and I can get a break when I need it. Not everyone has that luxury.

Simi:

Moving back home and redefining adult relationships was a two-year process for me — What’s working from home like for you?

Isaiah:

Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

I loved New York, but I’m not a city person. Moving back home and seeing the springs of my adult behaviour helped me understand my personality.

I value quality time with my family down to the most basic human interactions. I might catch my mom in the hallway, or later that day, and we collide on something in conversation but still show deep compassion for one another. No matter what happens, its all love.

You have to remember that not everyone has that privilege and music might have been their only escape.

I use my music to deliver that empathy.

Simi:

Have you consistently felt that way or is this a new source of inspiration?

Isaiah:

For me, inspiration comes from my life experiences and my actions following what I believe is right.

Let’s start from my early childhood — I didn’t grow up with Jazz in the house, my parents were RnB and Gospel fans.

But I found my way to Duke Ellington and Bill Evans before High school. So I had an introduction to following my intuition way back.

Bill Evans Playing the Piano

Following that, I was accepted into programmes like the Jazz House Kids and won several awards at the Essentially Ellington and Charles Mingus competitions.

Sharing those experiences with future classmates at Juilliard built my Jazz family, giving me a culture that I could share with younger players and older cats.

The story of my life and understanding the role that I play inspires me to look for opportunities to grow each day.

Read Isaiah’s thoughts on Post Graduation in our first conversation — Here!

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