Not the Sound, But the Spirit of Jazz

Lafayette Gilchrist. Photo by Leo H. Lubow. i i

Lafayette Gilchrist started playing piano as a freshman in college after he stumbled into a recital hall. Leo H. Lubow hide caption

itoggle caption Leo H. Lubow
Lafayette Gilchrist. Photo by Leo H. Lubow.

Lafayette Gilchrist started playing piano as a freshman in college after he stumbled into a recital hall.

Leo H. Lubow

Gilchrist in Studio 4A

Hear the Music, Skip the Talk

Lafayette Gilchrist Performs i i

Lafayette Gilchrist performs in Studio 4A. Coburn Dukehart, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Coburn Dukehart, NPR
Lafayette Gilchrist Performs

Lafayette Gilchrist performs in Studio 4A.

Coburn Dukehart, NPR

The standard canon for up-and-coming jazz pianists has traditionally included Art Tatum, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans and maybe some early Herbie Hancock. But Lafayette Gilchrist did not start playing the piano until college after a childhood listening to much more funk, hip hop and go-go than jazz.

Gilchrist's new album, 3, on Hyena Records is a product of his upbringing: beat-driven compositions with special attention to improvisation. He follows a similar line of other jazz pianists' hip-hop experiments like Matthew Shipp and Jason Moran, but loses the drum machine and instead focuses on the percussive aspects of hip hop.

Gilchrist grew up in Washington, D.C., and his aunt lived down the street from the Godfather of Go-Go, Chuck Brown. He would listen to Brown rehearse in his house and sneaked into go-go clubs like Club U. The music instilled a rhythm in Gilchrist, one that recognized "A Train" first as a go-go track by Brown and not as a jazz standard.

In the summer of 1986, Gilchrist, then 18, was attending a remedial English class at UMBC's Fine Arts Building and stumbled into the recital hall. A nine-foot Steinway piano sat on the stage and he began to play. He liked what he heard despite never having played the piano in his life.

Encouraged by friends and eventually by established jazz musicians like David Murray and Andrew Hill, Gilchrist has been refining his craft for 22 years. He has played in ensembles with David Murray, but has also done session work for the Basement Boys, the Baltimore-based house music trio.

Gilchrist has released albums in various configurations, but most effectively with his octet on The Music According to Lafayette Gilchrist produced by Living Color guitarist Vernon Reid. On tour, Gilchrist takes one of those tunes originally written for octet, "Assume the Position," and transposes it for his trio comprised of Anthony "Blue" Jenkins on electric bass and Nate Reynolds on drums.

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