Billy Childs

Since his first recordings of the 1980s, Billy Childs has developed into one of the most distinctive and distinguished composers of our time. An accomplished symphonic writer, he has also amassed a career’s worth of jazz originals that can swing hard, dazzle with intricacy, touch you with direct simplicity, or mesmerize with crystalline lyricism.

On his new Mack Avenue debut album Rebirth, Childs reaches back to the start of his almost astoundingly varied musical experience—leading a small jazz band of state-of-the-art musicians with his piano playing.

At his musical core, Childs is an improvising pianist. He has the ability to equally distill the harmonic and rhythmic languages of classical music and jazz into his playing. The wide-ranging vocabulary on the taut track “Tightrope” begs the question of Childs’ love of classical music; “I’m not just jazz,” he stresses. His insistent pulse and melodically probing introduction to song is a key to the Childs’ musical identity: open to extended harmonic possibilities as they come along, taking a flexible approach to time and leaving an open door for input from his bandmates.

A Los Angeles native, Childs grew up in a home hearing his parents’ musical tastes: Bach, Stan Getz and Antonio Carlos Jobim, the Swingle Singers. As Childs developed, he was deeply touched by the music of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, the Modern Jazz Quartet and Laura Nyro, among other contemporary musicians.

Childs aficionados will recognize three tunes from his Windham Hill tenure of the 1980s: “Stay,” “Backwards Bop” and “Starry Night.” They’re recast to reflect his subsequent artistic growth, yet with an acknowledgement of their import; Take For Example, This… (1988) was the first Childs release on a major label. “I did all of those albums on Windham Hill,” he points out, “and now all of those recordings belong to Sony. None of it is available on iTunes. That’s a shame because those were very important years for me.”

As a young player, Childs took his bandstand boot camp in the bands of trombonist J.J. Johnson and trumpet titan Freddie Hubbard. While his compositions and orchestrations have taken Childs into a realm that transcends jazz venues, the fact remains that the improvising pianist is largely the product of his tenures as band pianist with those two late masters.

The percussive electricity of “Backwards Bop” and “Dance of Shiva” taps into that part of his development. “J.J. and Freddie are responsible for the jazz part of my pedigree,” Childs asserts. When Eric Harland’s drums not only push the ensemble along but fire back at the players in challenging ways, it’s not hard to imagine the creative tension of the Hubbard and Johnson performances.

“I learned about comping from Freddie,” Childs points out, “in practical application. That’s where I learned to expand accompanying into creating environments for the soloists. Sometimes it was like: ‘I’ll be green; you be blue.’ You couldn’t listen to him and not know what to play.” Accordingly, the piano accompaniment to the vocal on “Stay” is a sublime model of well-placed color and sly musical commentary.

Saxophonist Steve Wilson is central to Rebirth. “I met Steve in 1995,” Childs explains, “when we played a tour of Japan with bassist Buster Williams. I didn’t even like the alto at that time but on the first song where Steve played, I said, ‘Who is this guy? I don’t know what they’re calling modern jazz these days but this is modern jazz!’ I knew I wanted to work with Steve on one of my own projects.”

Vocalist Claudia Acuña, who co-composed the title tune, is another of the album’s stalwarts. Childs produced her 2002 Rhythm of Life album, arranged and orchestrated, and played piano on it. “She went out on a limb and entrusted me to produce that album,” he says. “My mother was dying and it was an emotional time for me. I did a lot of writing at her deathbed; it was therapeutic. So Claudia and I just decided to call the song ‘Rebirth.’”

Singer Alicia Olatuja sings on the soulful, minor key ballad “Stay.” “Dianne Reeves told me about her,” Childs says. “She sang on my Laura Nyro project and I knew she’d be perfect for the angular melody of ‘Stay.’”

Hans Glawischnig takes the nimble pizzicato bass solo on “Tightrope;” drummer Antonio Sanchez referred him to Childs. “A lot of drummers really like to play with me,” Billy notes with pride. “I jump in there with the drums. I really like to write the rhythmic concept and find the people who can make it sing.”

Rebirth touches the combustible intimacy that Childs knew in the Hubbard and Johnson bands, and has instilled it into his own ensembles. So is Childs returning to an instrumental posture that he once knew or is he coming to the small ensemble with new perspectives? “A little of both, actually,” he offers. “I’m revisiting some familiar ground with different musical eyes. My playing is more evolved now—influenced by newer musical trends.”

“You’re hearing something on this album that I love doing but that I haven’t done a lot of lately: having musical conversations as a member of a group. That’s what I love.”

About Billy Childs:

Four-time Grammy® Award-winner Billy Childs remains one of the most diversely prolific and acclaimed artists working in music today. Childs’ canon of original compositions and arrangements has garnered him an additional 10 Grammy Award nominations, the 2013 Doris Duke Performing Artist Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship (2009).

Childs released his first solo album, Take For Example, This… in 1988, on Windham Hill Jazz Records. It was the first of four critically acclaimed albums on the imprint, culminating with the celebrated Portrait Of A Player, in 1993. Childs’ multiple musical interests also include collaborations, arrangements, and productions for other world-renowned artists, including Yo-Yo Ma, The Kronos Quartet, Wynton Marsalis, Sting, Chris Botti, and Leonard Slatkin, among others. He has received orchestral commissions from The Los Angeles Philharmonic, The Los Angeles Master Chorale, The Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and The Lincoln Jazz Center Orchestra. In 2013 he premiered “Enlightened Souls,” a commission from Duke University featuring Dianne Reeves and the Ying Quartet, to commemorate fifty years of African-American students attending the school. In 2014 Childs released Map To The Treasure – Reimagining Laura Nyro (Sony Masterworks), which was produced by Larry Klein and features Reneé Fleming, Esperanza Spalding, Alison Krauss, Shawn Colvin, Rickie Lee Jones, Becca Stevens, Ledisi, Chris Botti, Yo-Yo Ma and Susan Tedeschi.

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Date Artist Venue
May 5, 2017 Billy Childs
1 Bennett St
Cambridge, MA 02138
May 6, 2017 Billy Childs
Vermont Jazz Center
72 Cotton Mill Hill
Brattleboro, VT 05301
May 13, 2017 Billy Childs
Princeton University
68 Nassau St
Princeton, NJ 08544
May 19, 2017 Billy Childs
University of South Florida
3755 USF Holly Drive, MUS 101
Tampa, FL 33620
May 20, 2017 Billy Childs
Tempe Center for the Arts
700 W Rio Salado Pkwy
Tempe, AZ 85281
May 21, 2017 Billy Childs
Douglas Beach House
307 Mirada Rd
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019
May 23, 2017 Billy Childs
Triple Door
216 Union St
Seattle, WA 98101
May 24, 2017 Billy Childs
The Old Church
1422 SW 11th Ave
Portland, OR 97201
May 26, 2017 Billy Childs
Moss Theater
3131 Olympic Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90404
June 24, 2017 Billy Childs
Rochester Jazz Festival
26 Gibbs St
Rochester, NY 14604
June 25, 2017 Billy Childs
Edmonton Jazz Festival
4 Sir Winston Churchill Square NW
Edmonton, AB T5J 4X8

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