"Once you achieve technical facility you're either a musician or you're not. You're either a creative person or a stenographer"
This quote, which was seen on the back of a t-shirt at the Berklee Beantown Jazz Festival in Boston this past weekend, got me thinking that there are essentially two types of performers: Creators and, yes, stenographers.
Both can entertain. There are some very enjoyable stenographers our there, who are adept at getting folks smiling, or dancing or just simply relaxing. But only creators can make sounds that deeply stir your soul.
At last year's Beantown Fest I took in a number of acts featuring stenographers and a smattering of creators all sharing the stage. The fest certainly had its share of seasoned players with proven chops. But it was one of the younger players who caught my ear, by the name of Caili O'Doherty, a 23 year-old piano player and composer.
O'Doherty, who will be appearing with her quartet at the Vermont Jazz Center on Saturday, has certainly achieved technical facility on piano As a composer, the prodigious native of Portland, Oregon is showing signs of moving into the creator category. Her original works performed that afternoon –most from her debut cd "Padme"- were eclectic and engrossing.
In an email exchange from her new home in New York City, O'Doherty reflected on her musical journey, which began in a supportive musical household. "My dad grew up playing guitar in rock bands in Montana and my mom played classical piano for 10 years We had an upright piano in my house growing up and when I was young my dad would sit at the piano and play songs for me. I would try to imitate what he played and when I was five years old I asked for piano lessons."
The youngster studied classical piano for the next six years, then her parents enrolled her in a public arts magnet middle and high school for sixth grade. "At that point I stopped classical lessons and started taking blues and jazz piano," recalled O'Doherty. "When I was in seventh grade I got into the high school big band and started studying with Thara Memory. He introduced me to pianists like Oscar Peterson, Gene Harris and Bud Powell. I had to play Thelonious Monk's 'Well You Needn't' to get into his big band program."
Soon O'Doherty became enthralled by one of the great jazz creators: Oscar Peterson. "He was my favorite jazz pianist growing up. I transcribed many of his songs and would play along with the recordings. When I was sixteen my dad got me tickets to see Oscar live at Dimitriou's Jazz Alley in Seattle. We sat in the front row, right next to the piano and I got to meet and shake hands with Mr. Peterson after the show. He died less than a year after that show, so I was extremely grateful to get the chance to see him perform."
She is also grateful for all of the mentors and performers she encountered on her journey. "In Portland, I studied piano with Janice Scroggins, a gospel and blues pianist in town. She would bring me to church with her when I was 11 and have me set my keyboard up next to hers and try to copy what she was playing. Those experiences were very special and unique for me."
"When I was in high school I studied with jazz pianist Randy Porter. He has been a huge role model and mentor and is one of the greatest pianists I know. At Berklee College of Music, I studied with Terri Lyne Carrington, Joanne Brackeen, Ralph Peterson and Greg Osby, to name a few."
During her second year at Berklee O'Doherty was selected for the prestigious Berklee Global Jazz Institute, an intensive honors performance program headed by highly acclaimed pianist Danilo Perez.
O'Doherty- a recipient of two DownBeat awards and an ASCAP Foundation Young Jazz Composer Award in 2009-has accomplished much in a short time. Her CD "Padme" (which stands for lotus flower) was inspired by her mentors and informed by her extensive travels to Africa, Central and South America, and Europe. "The lotus flower begins growing at the bottom of a muddy pool, emerges and blooms on the surface of the water during daylight, and then closes and sinks below the surface each night, to bloom clean the next day. To me, it embodies the idea that each person, despite the conditions they start from, can hope to realize their dreams."
Caili O'Doherty will be in Brattleboro on Saturday, Oct. 1 at 8 p.m. at The Vermont Jazz Center, 74 Cotton Mill Hill, #222. Sliding Scale ticket fee: $20 to $40 atvtjazz.org or 802-254-9088.
Dave Madeloni may be reached at email@example.com