Category Archives: Billy Childs

The Music of Billy Childs – Influences and Inspiration

“I’ve always gravitated towards music that tells a story.”


Billy Childs

Billy Childs

Billy Childs has played piano with some of the best in the business, from his beginnings as a working musician with J.J. Johnson and Freddie Hubbard all the way to one of his current recurring gigs, touring and recording with renowned trumpet player Chris Botti.  His piano artistry is at the heart of the Billy Childs Ensemble, his core group of musicians on his Grammy Award-winning Lyric — Jazz-Chamber Music Vol 1 and his 2011 Grammy-nominated Autumn: In Moving Pictures — Jazz-Chamber Music Volume 2 ArtistShare CDs.

As important as Childs’ virtuosic musicianship is to his own success and that of his collaborators, it’s just one part of his identity as an artist. Billy Childs is very much in demand as a composer and arranger and his compositions form the heart of his jazz-chamber music albums. Billy talked with me about the influences and inspiration that go into his compositions, and their ultimate goal.

“I’ve always loved composing and I’ve pretty much always looked at myself as a composer as well as a pianist.  I composed my first real piece of music when I was 16 or 17 .  It was something that I just all of a sudden discovered, ‘Wow, I like doing this, and it makes sense to me, how to do this.’

“I guess that the music of the late 60’s and early 70’s was highly influential on my concept as a musical voice.  The fusion era – Return To Forever; Weather Report; Emerson, Lake, and Palmer; Gentle Giant.

“Allan Holdsworth was another icon who kind of had a profound influence on me.  I was intrigued by his harmonic sense, which is one of the most sophisticated systems I’ve ever checked out.

“It was an era where you had rock connecting with classical music, jazz merging with funk, Indian music combined with rock — an era of, perhaps, unprecedented inter-genre respect and tolerance. This informs my music to this day, and has inspired my desire to organically bring together classical music and jazz.”

“The compositional process that I use — and ultimately, what inspires me — depends on the composition, or rather, the intent of the composition.  Sometimes I find it necessary to look inward, in order to express some sort of inner darkness or deeply buried emotion.  Sometimes it’s the external world that inspires me — things in nature.  Trying to recreate a beautiful natural scenario in music, just as French Impressionism does.

“When it comes to melody — a component of the music that I feel is of the utmost importance — I wait for it to come to me.  A beautiful melody, like a beautifully constructed sentence, is something that I cannot manufacture or rush.  It has to come from the soul and, I believe, it makes itself evident.  To me, it is a skill that cannot be taught in a classroom; it’s definitely the most difficult aspect of composing.

“The main goal for me is always to make a dramatic statement with my music, one that will make the listener feel the drama and have it relate to his or her own experience.”

Next – from “Lunacy” to the Dorian Wind Quintet to The Calling, Billy Childs talks about his growth and movement towards his jazz-chamber music concept.

Previously – The Music of Billy Childs – Freddie Hubbard Shows the Way

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The Music of Billy Childs – Freddie Hubbard Shows the Way

Billy Childs

Billy Childs

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.

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Filed under Billy Childs, Interview, piano