This is our inaugural post of a new series that showcases up-and-coming musicians from each instrument. The series comes from our realization that a simple list here and there of “X” amount of musicians simply does not do justice to the amazing talent pool that is currently available. Our inaugural post features Six Young Pianists you might or might not have heard about but are definitely on the up-and-up:

Carmen Staaf

Pianist for the current class at the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance, Carmen Staaf has already garnered a lot of attention for her musicality and creativity. Honors she has received include winning the 2009 “Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz” pianist competition and being chosen to perform as a guest soloist with Jazz at Lincoln Center under the direction of Wynton Marsalis. She has played with such masters as Bob Brookmeyer and George Garzone and was a student of Danilo Perez. Studying classical music for 12 years, she studied music in Cuba for a year before beginning a five year double-degree program that awarded her an anthropology and a performance degree. Her debut album, Reflection, was released in 2008 and, before moving to Los Angeles to complete her master’s degree at the Monk Institute, she was on staff at Berklee College of Music.

Julian Shore

As a teenager, New York-based pianist Julian Shore studied with legendary educator Hal Crook before receiving a full scholarship to study at Berklee College of Music where he studied under Danilo Perez. Through Perez, he was able to participate in the Panama Jazz Festival as part of a young musicians ensemble, where he learned from artistic giants like Wayne Shorter and Brian Blade.  Since graduating in 2009, Shore has had many opportunities to play and record with an impressive array of today’s most creative musicians, including: Kurt Rosenwinkel, Kendrick Scott, Ferenc Nemeth, Mark Giuliana, and a short stint touring as part of Gretchen Parlato‘s band. Shore’s debut record, Filaments, came out in 2012 and he is now performing frequently both as a sideman and a leader around NYC and internationally. His current group often enlists the talents of the incomparable Dayna Stephens and rising star guitarist Gilad Hekselman.

Miro Sprague

A member of the most recently graduated class of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance, Miro Sprague is an active performer and educator based in Los Angeles. He won several of “Downbeat” magazine’s student awards, including two for best original composition, before completing his undergraduate degree at Manhattan School of Music. During the course of his educational career, Sprague studied with a truly remarkable array of musicians including: Jason Moran, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Benny Golson, among others. Legendary saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi said of Sprague, “Miro is pure music to me,” while Grammy-winning pianist Billy Childs remarked, “His lyrical and harmonic senses are beautiful and adventurous… I look for great things from him in the very near future.” His debut album, Blue Dreaming, was released in 2014 and, with the other members of the past class of Monk Institute graduates, he is part of the band Holophonor that released their self-titled debut last summer and are slated to go on a short east coast tour later this month.

Justin Kauflin

Justin Kauflin recently gained quite a bit of attention when he was featured, along with Clark Terry, in the film Keep on Keepin’ on. But he’s been playing music his whole life. He began studying piano at a very young age but has a twist to his story: he completely lost his vision due to a rare eye disease. This challenge, part of what the film focuses on, didn’t stop from pursuing his passion . He’s been performing professionally since age 15, studied with Mulgrew Miller while in college, and became a semi-finalist in the Thelonious Monk International Piano competition. Through his relationship with Terry, Kauflin met and signed with the legendary Quincy Jones. Jones produced his sophomore album, Dedication, which was released last year to critical acclaim. It features guitarist Matthew Stevens and is comprised of all original compositions. Kauflin and his band are currently touring in support of the album around the U.S. and internationally.


James Francies

Those who recently witnessed this pianist alongside Linda Oh and Jeremy Dutton this past weekend at the Brooklyn Museum can attest to just how amazing James Francies really is. He can’t even legally buy an alcoholic beverage and he’s already hit the stage with Now Vs. Now, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Chris Dave, and The Roots. The young pianist hails from Houston’s High School for The Performing Arts and is currently studying at New York’s New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, which is an academic career eerily similar to this other pianist.

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Joey Alexander

The biggest question we have about the video of 11-year old wunderkid Joey Alexander ripping “Giant Steps” to pieces is whether or not he can actually reach the pedals when he’s sitting down. While that last statement sounds like a short joke, the kid’s not even a teenager and he already possesses a harmonic, rhythmic, and melodic understanding that most people literally spend decades cultivating. So our query of whether or not Alexander can actually reach the pedals isn’t a dig because he’s short, it’s more of a “I’m pretty sure all I was doing at 11 was playing Mario Kart and not killing it on one of the most harmonically advanced chord changes ever constructed.” Catch Joey Alexander and his trio as they celebrate the release of his debut album on April 30th at Dizzy’s.

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Stay tuned next month for a brand new set of musicians that are currently on the rise. 

Written by Paul Naser & DanMichael Reyes 


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