Charlie Albright: The journey behind the music

Charlie Albright is a classical pianist, composer and improviser. An official Steinway artist, Albright graduated from Harvard College, New England Conservatory, as the first classical pianist in the schools’ five-year BA/MM joint program. He also received a post-graduate artist diploma in 2014.

How long have you been playing piano, and why did you start?

“I started when I was three and a half, we had a little clunky-junky upright piano in our house, I think we got it from a garage sale… I guess I climbed up when I was three and a half on the piano and began pecking out ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ by ear. My mom heard me from the kitchen and she came out and asked who taught me that. And — I don’t remember any of it, this is what I’m told — I guess I said that nobody taught me. She saw that I had a knack for it and so she taught me the little [piano] that she knew. Then I went to several teachers who taught me exclusively how to play only by ear. It wasn’t until I was about seven or eight that the jazz teacher I was learning from at that point told my parents that ‘Charlie should have a year’s worth of classical music training to develop his technique.’ He recommended me to my first serious teacher, Nancy Adsit. I was with her until college, for 12 years or so.”

How did you realize you wanted to be a professional pianist?

“It was a long process coming. I’ve been playing piano for as long as I can remember, and I’ve always loved — well you hate it sometimes — but overall you love it, for me at least … The music career, and arts in general, I think for a lot of people, it’s so risky. How do you get to Carnegie Hall?  Practice, practice, practice? No, no — know the manager, that’s how. It’s kind of along those lines. You can practice and work your hardest and do your best, but that will only get you so far. A lot of the success in a music career is a blessing, luck, knowing the right people, having the right audience at the right time, a lot of it is out your control.”

What’s your favorite genre of music to play, and do you ever perform your own music?

“I don’t have a favorite. I play a lot of classical … but I do a lot of other stuff. Depending on the tours I’m on, I’ll throw in ‘Great Balls of Fire.’ I love jazz and rock and roll and boogie woogie.t’s just fun. That’s the kind of stuff that I’ve played … before I started learning how to play music when I was seven or eight. In terms of [playing] my own music — absolutely! I love improvising. Sometimes I’ll even give an entire concert just purely improvised.”

Is there a performance that you’ve done that was particularly memorable?
Let’s see. I have to pick one. One of the coolest ones I remember doing was, I think I was a sophomore in college. I got an email one morning from the director of the office of the arts at school, and he said, ‘Charlie, Senator Ted Kennedy is having a special honorary degree ceremony here, and we wanted to know if you’d be interested in performing for the ceremony with Yo Yo Ma.’ And I was like, ‘Well of course!’ So we did that, and that was my first time ever performing with Yo Yo Ma, and that was amazing.”

What would you tell someone who is hoping to accomplish what you have in their future?

“Oh my goodness … too much to tell. First of all, you need to keep loving it. Of course you have times where it’s up and down. Nobody likes their job 100 percent of the time, that’s called life. No matter how passionate you are about something, there’s times when it sucks. That’s with anything. For music, you have to maintain that love.”

Albright will be having a Salon Concert on Feb. 16 from 6 to 9 p.m., and an Interview/Masterclass on Feb. 17 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. in the Performance Theater of the Don Taft University Center.

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