Part I of II. Read Part II here.
Awarding-winning 20-year-old pianist/drummer Julius Rodriguez is no stranger to jazz stages around the world. Besides performing and composing, he’s played with a genre-diverse wealth of big-name talents: from Wynton Marsalis, Jazzmeia Horn and the late Roy Hargrove to Andra Day and Dev Hynes. There’s no doubt he’s in tune with life and music.
You’re 20 years old, but you come across as an old soul.
I’ve always been told I was different, more mature for my age, more observant. I always like to look and observe, instead of putting everything out into the space and the energy. I feel there’s enough people filling up the space. It’s important for some people to sit back and observe and not take up too much space. That’s just where I feel comfortable.
What’s in your background that most people don’t know, but should?
I am of Haitian descent. My dad grew up in Haiti. Growing up, I ate a lot of Haitian food and heard a lot of Haitian music. Even though I don’t speak Haitian Creole, the music has always affected me in a great way.
What music do you appreciate that might be quite the eye-opener?
I love electronic music. James Blake, Samsa, Little Dragon. I love all that kind of stuff: synthesizers and experimenting sounds. Another that I love is the music of Mali in Africa. Oumou Sangare’ is one of my favorite singers and composers in the world. I got a chance to see her this summer. I also like a little bit of country, too. I’m a big fan of Hank Williams and Pete Seeger—I got to perform with him before he passed away.
For those who say they don’t like jazz or they just don’t listen to it, what jazz number would you play to bring them into the fold?
That’s hard. There are so many. I’d ask them what jazz they heard and didn’t like. For me, I grew up hearing old school classic, all the ‘60s Blue Note stuff. I remember I was seven or eight years old and I heard a Chick Corea/Bobby McFerrin duo album and I didn’t really like it. When Dad said he had tickets to a Chick Corea concert, I remember hearing that record and I didn’t really want to sit there and listen to Corea play boring solo piano for two hours. But I went and it turned out to be his electronic fusion band from the ‘70s. That concert changed my life.
It changed your idea of what jazz is?
My whole perspective on what jazz was and could be. Nowadays, jazz can sound like hip hop or electronic music, so if someone says they don’t like jazz I’d play a song and tell them to keep searching. Because jazz doesn’t end wherever you heard it. Jazz continues to grow and evolve.
Read Part II here.