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Joey Alexander: Youth Without Youth

The precociously tactful 12-year-old piano phenom

Joey Alexander
Joey Alexander (right) with Newport Jazz Festival founder George Wein, 2015

In August, the Newport Jazz Festival added a fourth venue, the 100-seat Storyville Stage, at Fort Adams State Park. It was tucked inside a brick building outside the walls of the 19th-century stone fortification. On Saturday, Aug. 1, a long line snaked from Storyville’s entrance all the way to a distant row of food vendors. When I arrived, I assumed that the building hadn’t opened its doors yet, but no, the venue was already full. People were standing in line for seats they would probably never get.

Who were these people so desperate to see? Joey Alexander, the Indonesian-born, now New York-based piano prodigy who had turned 12 five weeks earlier. He was still 11 when his debut album, My Favorite Things, was released on Motéma Records in May, an event recognized by a front-page feature story in the New York Times. Jazz fans may become blasé about 19-year-old virtuosos from Berklee and Juilliard-not to mention 54-year-old alumni of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers-but a 12-year-old prodigy from Indonesia? That they’ve got to see.

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