No doubt about it, musicians are considered cool no matter what time period they live. Those who performed in the 1920’s were considered cool at that time. Musicians from the 1950’s were largely considered cool. Our day gives us more artists thought by most young fans as cool. However, once those years have passed by the cool points fade a bit. The young music fan of today does not gravitate toward music of yesterday, even if it was considered classic. Every once in a while a musician comes along and creates a bridge between the times, and the cool points flow again. That is the case with this weeks’ featured artist. His name is Barron Ryan and he is a pianist ready to introduce the music fan of today to the music of yesterday.
Barron Ryan, like many of today’s young musicians received a well-rounded musical education. The training allowed him the ability to follow any musical path he desired. The son of two musicians, he grew up in a house filled with the sounds of artists ranging from Chopin to James Brown. So when it comes to his own performing, he’s not content drawing on just one influence. He combines them all into a musical adventure that’s vintage yet fresh, historical yet hip, classic yet cool.
When I think about Barron Ryan’s childhood, I’m forced to think back to growing up with my father. As I have written many times, my father was a jazz trumpeter who worked from the late 1940’s till the late 1990’s. He and I sat down many times and discussed all the jazz musicians of his time. Listening to Barron Ryan, I remember my father speaking about the great Oscar Peterson, Earl “Fatha” Hines, Art Tatum, Erroll Garner and Fats Waller. My dad would tell me little things about each one of them. In speaking about Oscar Peterson, my father said when he played he would breathe deeply, much like a horn player playing musical phrases. Art Tatum, according to my father and many other fans, was the ultimate piano technician. A true superstar of his time.
Barron Ryan’s formative years seemed to prepare him for a long career in the music industry. He excelled in performing throughout his middle and high school years in Tulsa, OK, then continued to impress his peers and instructors as a piano performance major at The University of Oklahoma. Then, Ryan hit a road block on his trip toward musical greatness. Barron was rejected from all the major music conservatories. Disheartened and a little annoyed, he briefly gave up on the piano in pursuit of a satirical hip-hop career.
When I first heard about Ryan’s pursuit of a career in hip-hop, I did not have negative thoughts. There are talented instrumental musicians making hip-hop music today. Right away I think about the members of the hip-hop band The Roots, and the duo Black Violin. At the least Barron Ryan could become a very good music producer, but “satirical” hip-hop is different. It says that Ryan might not have been serious about making hip-hop music. Going in disheartened meant hip-hop was not what he wanted to do. Barron Ryan’s move toward hip-hop was nothing like Herbie Hancock’s Rockit, which established him as the defacto inventor of hip-hop music. Ryan’s musical story would not end here.
After Barron Ryan’s favorable showing in a piano competition that sent its winner to perform in Israel, that hip-hop project was graciously short-lived. He would finally find his musical “voice”. He discovered the joy of jazz and ragtime-inspired concert music and is learning from great jazz pianists by replaying their solos. Barron Ryan is not just copying what the jazz masters did before him. No, he has found a way to bring the music of yesterday to the audience of today. The young pianist offers his personal touch on some modern pieces as well. I got a chance to hear him play his rendition of the Jackson Five song “I want you back”. Ryan is delivering great piano music to an audience wanting even more.
When you go to Barron Ryan’s website, right at the very top are the descriptive words, “Classic Meets Cool”. That stuck with me and I incorporated the phrase into the title of this post. It definitely helps one to understand what Ryan is trying to accomplish with his music. I’m not the only one who appreciates the description or the music itself. Tiffiney Harms, Professor of Vocal & Choral Music, Central Christian College of Kansas said of Ryan, “A professional both on and off the stage, he was a pleasure to host in our community. Barron’s talent and personality are sure to shine on every stage, delighting audiences everywhere.” Yes, Barron Ryan has become more than just another pianist; he has become an ambassador of classic jazz music.
Barron Ryan has really delivered with a display of his keyboard talent. The album is an endeavor to bring something extraordinary to music listeners: music from the jazz piano greats. Again, his website explains everything better than I can. “Solos by jazz pianos legends enjoy new life on pianist Barron Ryan’s second album. Seeking to learn from some of the world’s greatest artists, Ryan listened to eleven of their recorded improvisations, meticulously transcribed the recordings as sheet music, and learned to perform them.” Thus we now have The Master’s Apprentice.
The album is worthy of a download or stream, if you are a fan of jazz music or not. Barron Ryan would like you to hear a fresh way to hear classic jazz music. Give The Master’s Apprentice a listen and hear the place where classic meets cool.