“My dad grew up playing the bass—just amateur bands, nothing professional, but he has an ear for music. He knows what’s wrong, what’s right, but he doesn’t know why. He understands music in an interesting way.
He got me into a conservatory for kids in San Pedro Sula [Honduras]. You had to audition. I remember that day, going in early morning. It wasn’t tough. It was just like ‘Okay, let’s see if you can carry a tune and mimic some rhythms.’
I grew up surrounded by classical music. I only started listening to jazz in high school in Tegucigalpa. It was Latin jazz and I went crazy about it. Michel Camilo, a Dominican pianist, he was the first where I said ‘What’s he doing? I need to find out.’ My classical teacher got mad at me because I wasn’t practicing enough classical, trying to figure out the Latin jazz stuff. That’s how it all started.
My idea when I started LSU was to study jazz. But my teacher, very wisely, told me ‘You’re gonna keep improving in jazz. You’re gonna be exposed to jazz musicians that are better than you here and learn from them, so you should get your bachelor in classical.’
I’ve been fortunate to work with people who I really enjoy playing with. I play Spotted Cat every Sunday with Pat Casey. I play a lot with Jasen Weaver, Gerald Watkins, Steve Lands. I’m about to release two albums with Brad Walker. I’m also working on this collaborative endeavor called Extended with Brad Webb and Matt Booth. There’s a special connection I feel with Brad and Matt that I put in a different category. We have such different backgrounds, influences from classical and rock. We leave a lot of things to chance. We might play an entire set and never swing. One tune can be four chords and a single melody, but we go different places every time we play it.
I use the vocabulary from the classical world in jazz improvisation, instead of just playing melodies on one hand and chords on the other. The piano is an instrument so rich and you have so many possibilities. You can come up with different textures, different voices happening at the same time. I like using all that’s available to me.
When I write, it usually starts with improvisation. I try to just play and see whatever happens. Sometimes, that leads to a very specific idea. I say ‘Oh, this pattern in 5 is interesting. What can I do with this?’ As a kid, nobody ever told me ‘Hey, you can just compose music whenever you want.’ So I was always performing, improvising, but now I’m digging more into [the composing] world, trying to make it a habit. You gotta work. It’s not just inspiration.”