The circumstances of Brian Havey’s upbringing don’t exactly mirror the urban influences expected of the average hip young jazz pianist. But Havey, the recipient of Cal State Northridge’s Wolfson Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Scholar of the Class of 2009, is not your average hip young jazz pianist. He has been called “a brilliant, virtuosic piano player with a modern creative outlook.”
Raised near Quail Lake, a 50-minute haul from Lancaster and a good 40 miles from the nearest gas station, Havey was homeschooled with his sisters and brother through high school. “I had all this free time,” he said, “to work on things which happened to involve a lot of discipline.”
Drawing became the first of these “things.” Starting at age six, Havey worked his way up from cartoons to still lifes and portraits. Then it was chess. He read every chess book he could find and rapidly climbed to the top 15 of his age group in national chess competition.
Havey was 14 when his parents separated and his passion for chess waned. His perceptive mother signed him up with a keyboard orchestra at the local park.
“We all had these little Casio keyboards,” Havey said, “and we played the big fat notes in these little music books.” By the second lesson, he had learned all the pieces. With characteristic focus, he read theory books, taught himself to play by ear and to transcribe music. Later, a jazz improvisation class at Antelope Valley College (AVC) was—as the old jazz standard says—the start of something big.
And the end of something precious. It was about then that Havey’s father died. “It was a pretty terrible ordeal for me,” said Havey, but their shared love of music kept him going. Enrolling at AVC, he earned a berth in its big band and began building a reputation in the Lancaster area as a rising young jazz pianist.
“Then I came to CSUN and I heard all these guys in the Jazz ‘A’ Band, and I was thinking, ‘Wow, these guys are so killin’, “ said Havey. He hurled himself into constant practice. “I said, ‘I’ve gotta get better!’ ”
That work ethic produced his perfect 4.0 g.p.a. and sustains a busy schedule of performance and composing. Havey, who also teaches piano, sees a future in teaching and plans to earn his master’s at Cal Arts, on the way to a doctorate in musical arts.
“A lot of what I like about jazz is the intellectual stuff behind it,” he said. “Reading music on a page is one thing, but understanding how music works and being able to manipulate that in the moment is another thing. That’s really cool.”
Visit www.csun.edu/amc/ for information on CSUN’s Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication.
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