The best debut of a young musician since Tony Williams with Miles Davis" —Stanley Clarke
Once in a generation a talent like Beka Gochiashvili comes along. An extraordinarily gifted prodigy from Tbilisi, Georgia, the 16-year-old pianist plays with a kind of improvisational authority and depth of maturity that belie his young age. As drummer-producer-talent scout Lenny White says of his latest discovery, Beka is an old soul in a very young body."
A multi-directional musician in the best sense of the word, the young pianist's many sides are well represented on Beka Gochiashvili. Backed by the internationally renowned Return To Forever rhythm tandem of drummer White and bassist extraordinaire Stanley Clarke, along with a cast of New York all-stars, Beka distinguishes himself as a formidable new force on the jazz scene. His firm command of the hard bop idiom is showcased on Clarke's aggressively swinging New York," which captures the energy of the Big Apple and features a brilliant solo turn by special guest trumpeter Wallace Roney. White's brisk trio number Chicknstan" (named for his two RTF partners) has Beka navigating the tricky stop-time head with aplomb while contributing a potent piano solo. White's other composition here, L's Bop," is one that Beka remembers hearing as a little boy on 1982's all-star outing, Griffith Park Collection, which featured the great drummer with Corea, Clarke, Joe Henderson and Freddie Hubbard. John Patitucci's stellar bass solo here shows the kind of maturity and dexterity that can only come from a master musician.
Aside from his considerable skills as a pianist, Beka also shows remarkable maturity in his writing on this auspicious self-titled debut. His seven originals include two odes to his pianistic heroes, Keith Jarrett ("For Keith") and Chick Corea ("Un Gran Abrazo"). They are my musical fathers," he says. The first time when I heard Keith, I was four years old and I went crazy. It was Standards II, his 1986 recording with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette. This music became my lullaby. I listened to it every night. Then when I was six, I heard Chick Corea's New Trio album Fingerprints, which I loved so much. Later on, Chick's first email to me concluded with 'Bye Beka, Un Gran Abrazo,' which means 'A Big Hug.' And that's what I decided to call this tune for Chick."
Elsewhere on Beka Gochiashvili, he reveals a deeply romantic sensibility on the beautiful ballad Song to Niniko" and on the lightly samba flavored Passionately in Love," both written for his girlfriend Niniko back home in Georgia, the country located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe. Coco," a buoyantly swinging trio number with guitarist Tom Guarna and bassist Ben Williams, evokes the retro feel of early '40s era Nat Cole Trio with guitarist Oscar Moore and bassist Wesley Prince. And for a real change of pace there's the turbulent Exit to the West," which has Beka playing Fender Rhodes electric piano alongside electrified contributions from guitarist Guarna and alto sax burner Jaleel Shaw. The poignant Made of Tenderness," dedicated to Beka's mother, features Beka on piano alongside former Weather Report bassist Victor Bailey on upright bass, Richie Bashay on drums and Guarna on guitar. Two pieces by the renowned Georgian composer Giya Kancheli, When Almond Blossomed" and the somber chamber composition Herio Bichebo," feature the stunning 19-year-old Georgian opera vocalist Natalia Kutateladze. The latter piece, easily the most ambitious number of this eclectic outing, features beautiful string quartet orchestrations by veteran arranger Gil Goldstein.
Regarding the highly eclectic nature of his first stateside outing, Beka says, I really love a lot of kinds of music. And though jazz is my life, I believe a musician shouldn't be closed and surrounded only by jazz music. The richness you get from other musics - pop, soul, funk, rock and classical, is really important. It all helps me to be really free and creative when I'm improvising something on a jazz gig. So it's all related."
Born in Tbilisi, Georgia on March 11, 1996, Beka was just three years old when he began dabbling on piano and by age four was already playing full-blown compositions. He honed his technique for three years with classical piano teacher Tengiz Chitaishvili and by age eight won a competition at the Schwaigern Classical Music Festival in Germany, where he performed pieces by Ravel, Mozart and Handel. He began studies at age nine with Zurab Ramishvili, the most prominent jazz piano professor in Georgia, and by age 10 began playing at various jazz clubs in Tbilisi, the capital and largest city of Georgia. That was really a big experience for me," Beka recalls. It was at Latvia's Saulkrasti Jazz Festival in 2007 that the piano prodigy first met Lenny White. He came up during a sound check and sat in with me and Victor Bailey," White recalls. And we were like, 'What?! Are you kidding?' He sounded like he really understood how to play jazz, but he was just a kid. Five years later, he's advanced 100 percent. I mean, he could play at age 11, but where he's at now at age 16 is pretty amazing. He's really something special."
The following year, in April 2008, the US Embassy in Tbilisi hosted two State Department sponsored cultural envoys - jazz pianist Dan Tepfer and Joel Harrison, Artistic Director, President and Chief Executive Officer of the American Pianists Association, who performed with Beka. Both of them highly praised Beka's unique talent, as did Condoleezza Rice, then US Secretary of State and an accomplished pianist herself. Beka is one of the best jazz pianists I've heard anywhere," said Ms. Rice in her remarks at the conclusion of her visit to Georgia in July 2008. Through the efforts of Rice, Harrison and John Teft, former US Ambassador in Georgia, Beka and his father travelled to New York in 2008 to participate in auditions at the prestigious Juilliard School and at the Manhattan School of Music. Not surprisingly, he was accepted into both schools. The following summer, in July 2009, Beka became the youngest musician to win the coveted Montreux Jazz Piano Competition in Switzerland. That same year, the Development and Reforms Fund of Georgia awarded Beka a full scholarship for studies at the pre-college division of the Juilliard School, where he currently takes jazz piano classes with Frank Kimbrough and classical piano classes with Victoria Mushkatkol. Concurrently he attends the Professional Performing Arts School in New York.
Says Lenny White of his astonishing new discovery: Most young musicians that come on the scene are able to decipher the techniques and lexicon of all the great jazz players who came before them, and they feel some sense of legitimacy from that. Beka just turned 16, so he hasn't experienced enough of the jazz lexicon to know all the slick licks that all the guys played before him. So he processes the music his own way. He doesn't play clichés, he plays cognizant statements, one after another, that develop from the piece itself. He develops themes, linking one thought to the next, each defining the previous one. And that's a great sign of maturity."