Billy Childs is the Grammy Award-winning composer, arranger and pianist responsible for some of the most engaging and enjoyable music on the scene today. Child’s most recent albums as a leader, Lyric — Jazz-Chamber Music Vol. 1 and Autumn: In Moving Pictures — Jazz-Chamber Music Vol. 2, both available through ArtistShare, give us deep and rewarding glimpses into his musical world — a place where melody, emotion and collaborative improvisation flourish without limits and beyond genre.
During his eclectic career Billy Childs has composed and arranged for and played and recorded with some of the greatest artists in music, including J.J. Johnson, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Bobby Hutcherson, Clark Terry, Johnny Griffin, Jimmy Heath, Art Farmer, Nat Adderly, Allan Holdsworth, Regina Carter, Don Byron, The Dorian Wind Quintet, Dianne Reeves, Chris Botti, Brian Blade, The Lincoln Jazz Center Orchestra, The Los Angeles Philharmonic, The Kronos Quartet and many many others.
Recently I had the privilege of talking with Billy about his music and career, and I asked him to go back to the beginning of all these rewarding associations: how he got his start as a professional musician.
“When I was young, there weren’t a lot of piano players and jazz musicians, really, it wasn’t an institutional academic organization like it is now, where you can get a doctorate in jazz. There’s like a whole mess of jazz piano players that are really good, but you learn in a laboratory type of classroom environment.
“I was fortunate enough to be able to get gigs, and still under the apprentice-mentor type of scenario that I grew up with.
“My first real jazz gig was with J.J. Johnson. I did a two-week tour with J.J. in Japan. I was like 19, I think. I learned a hell of a lot from that. J.J. figures importantly in my development as a jazz musician.
“But Freddie Hubbard without question is my main teacher. Freddie essentially taught me how to play jazz. Sometimes when I hear old recordings of me playing with Freddie, I understand the incredible patience that he must have exercised by simply withstanding the youthful comping decisions I made while he was trying to solo. He taught me how to comp on a very high level, because his soloing was so melodically rich.
“Sometimes when he couldn’t stand it any more, he’d just simply say, ‘Lay out.’ But he was really paternal with me. I love Freddie, I miss him terribly.”
Next — Billy Childs on composing, arranging, and his musical influences.