With the publication of this interview I'm completely confident my A&R chops will be recognized in written or verbal, but in all probability, not financial form. Unless you're Bostonian and attend ensembles, rehearsals, recitals and commencements at Berklee- or this year, attended the UK's Brecon Jazz Festival- you wouldn't know who Oliver Rockberger is, but as you continue to follow the music, you will. He's as much of a slam-dunk talent as any artist I've ever reviewed or interviewed, but I officially place readers on notice that it's not necessarily in the all about jazz vein.
No question he's a positively mind-blowing, ultra-emotive young jazz pianist; thing is, he also turns out to be a vocalist, possessing that well-known and well-loved Stingy, Gabrielly, Collinsy tenor rasp. At 23, he's proffering his own brand of feel-good melancholia in the jazz-pop, singer-songwriter category. He's a jazzy-R&B-laced pop whiz kid, who also happens upon the good fortune, at such an early juncture, of having the assistance of two ideally sympathetic and equally young brothers-in-arms, English bassist Tony Grey and Ecuadorian drummer Chris Farr .
The influences here are easily identifiable and recognizable- you know, biggies. Oliver's music sounds very much like the logical product of equal parts ECM and Motown, Keith Jarrett crossed up with Stevie, or the Yellowjackets hanging with David Foster. But here's a critical aspect and the link to the title of this piece - the kids fully recognize some of the obvious musical pitfalls of the genre, making sure to consistently navigate their course way 'round the seas of cheese.
Already the subject of some attention in his native London, Oli had played Royal Festival Hall and been identified by the London Times as a "Great British Hope" by age eighteen. While immersing himself in studies and a surfeit of projects at Berklee, his public "career" has been, quite cheerfully, on hold. Join us in marking his reemergence with an AAJ interview, conducted mostly from over-the-pond via email.
All About Jazz: How old you are and where you are from? Where's you home now?
Oliver Rockberger : I am 23 years old and am from London, England. I am currently living in Boston, USA.
AAJ: How did you first get into music?
OR: It was through the records which my parents used to play around the house when I was a little kid- Songs in the Key of Life (Stevie Wonder), Night Train (Oscar Peterson) and The Organ Grinder?s Swing (Jimmy Smith) had a major impact on me as well as recordings of James Taylor, Paul Simon, Carly Simon, The Crusaders and Randy Crawford. At the time we had an upright piano in the living room and I would sit down at it, before my legs could touch the pedals, and make up tunes. I tried classical lessons, but had to come to music in my own way, and just explored it on my own until I found jazz pianist/educator Leon Cohen at age 11. I studied privately with him right up until Berklee.
AAJ: So these were your first influences, then.
OR: Until I was about 10 years old. At 11, I heard Keith Jarrett's tune "Country" off a wonderful album with Jan Garbarek entitled My Song. I had never realized that a piano could sound like he made it sound in that song. I also saw Keith Jarrett perform live at age 11. In his encore he played "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" - I thought I had died and gone to heaven. James Taylor was also a seminal influence for me. I had a cassette tape with Sweet Baby James on one side, and Mud Slide Slim on the other, and I used to listen to it all the time, especially on family holidays - I would put it in my Walkman and listen over and over and over. James Taylor has such a soothing voice, and for me is one of the world's greatest storytellers.
Eric Clapton was also one of my first influences- I loved Journeyman and the Unplugged record also. Looking back on it, I think Eric Clapton inspired me a great deal because he showed me that it is possible to be great across many areas in music- as a singer, instrumentalist and songwriter. Clapton has achieved excellence for many years at the highest possible level in the pop world.
For similar reasons, I'd have to say that Stevie Wonder is quite possibly my greatest singer/songwriter influence. The depth of his musicality is constantly astounding to me. Songs in The Key of Life is a "Desert Island Disk." Sting was also one of my first major influences, specifically with the songs "Fields of Gold" and "Seven Days"- I own all his solo records. He has a voice like the sun shining, immense lyrical depth and compositional sophistication.