Back in 2016, when Joey Alexander played Seattle’s Jazz Alley at the remarkable age of 13, his piano playing was so intricate, swinging and engaging that it was easy to forget the music was flowing from a child.

In a way, that was good. The whole child prodigy business can be a paralyzing distraction for young artists, who often find it difficult to grow up naturally. Happily, Alexander’s inspiring sixth album (yes, you read that right), “Origin,” out this month on Mack Avenue Records, suggests that Alexander, now 18, has managed to grow up just fine, thank you. He has blossomed into an even more exciting and original player than he was as a kid.

Alexander will perform material from “Origin” at Jazz Alley on May 3-4, with a trio that includes Kris Funn (bass) and John Davis (drums).

His first album with all his own compositions, “Origin” features complex new tunes with long lines and challenging time feels as well as some snappy electric jazz with Alexander playing the Fender Rhodes keyboard, which he’ll bring to Seattle.

“I tried to write longer tunes and to really push myself,” explained Alexander in a phone interview earlier this year.

Born and raised in Bali, Alexander taught himself to play jazz piano by listening to his father’s record collection and at age 9 won the grand prize at an international competition in Odesa, Ukraine. An appearance the following year at the annual gala for Jazz at Lincoln Center prompted its artistic director, Wynton Marsalis, to say, “There has never been anyone that you can think of who could play like that at his age.”


Alexander’s family promptly moved to the U.S. to support their son’s career.

Since then, he has received three Grammy nominations. His debut album, “My Favorite Things,” came out in 2015, and sailed to No. 1 on the Billboard jazz charts. He has performed at the Obama White House, the Grand Old Opry, the Apollo Theater, Carnegie Hall and at major jazz festivals and nightclubs around the world, and has been profiled by “60 Minutes” and The New York Times.

For all that acclaim, Alexander comes across as a modest, thoughtful young man with a humble message of optimism and hope. It’s no accident, he says, that two of the titles on his new album include the words “rise” and “rising” or, he explains further, that the Latin root of the word “origin” is “orire” “to rise.”

“During this pandemic,” he says, “I think the first thing we should do is to start with being hopeful. Instead of making it a source of frustration, make it a source of inspiration.”

Most of his new tunes were written in New York and four of them call out the passing of stateside seasons, but the fluttering and soothing “Midnight Waves” was inspired by the sound of the ocean lapping on the shore near his childhood home, which he paid an extended visit to during the height of the pandemic.

“Sometimes when things don’t go the way you want them to, you have to be still, be patient,” he said. “I think that’s what this song is about. The waves really can be something powerful.”


Though Alexander is a technically powerful player who can execute lickety-split, two-handed unison octave figures and pull McCoy Tyner-like thunder from his instrument, his playing is also warm, direct and approachable, which surely accounts for his broad popularity. It’s no accident that along with a list of usual suspects like John Coltrane, Bill Evans and Horace Silver, he also admires songwriter Burt Bacharach, composer of such evergreens as “What the World Needs Now Is Love” and “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.”

“He has written so many songs we’re still listening to today,” says the pianist. “That’s the kind of thing I’m aiming for. I play instrumental music but I want to get to that level of composing, to bring songs to the mainstream audience. I hope this music I’m presenting will help bring that sense of joy.”     

Chances are, it will.

Joey Alexander

7:30 May 3-4; Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley, 2033 Sixth Ave., Seattle; $36.50; 206-441-9729,