Owen York (11) plays Sign In Stranger

(Update February 2, 2016: Owen plays another Steely tune! and an article in Jambase.com: http://www.jambase.com/article/12-year-old-pianist-plays-impromptu-show-for-umphreys-fans )

Last week, we received an email which included a link to the video above. Owen’s dad, Harlan York, figured his son’s piano version of this classic Steely Dan tune belonged on Mizar6 -formerly known as Mizar5-. We couldn’t agree more! Of course we were curious and asked Harlan a few questions he was happy to answer:

M6: Owen most likely has been introduced to the music of Steely Dan by you, his father?

HY: I started playing everything from Dylan to Miles for him at a young age. When his aptitude for piano began to present itself, I wanted him to hear music that had a great deal of emphasis on that instrument. Steely Dan just made sense. He learned the whole catalog quickly.

M6: Can you share some of your own history with SD music, perhaps?

HY: I have been to about 600 live shows in more than 30 years. Started listening to Steely (not counting hearing Peg on the radio as a child, when it was a big hit) at some point in my teens. Really got into Dan in college. I’m an avid fan of jambands – Dead, Phish, Radiators, Umphrey’s McGee, but also everything from jazz to punk to hip hop, really most genres as long as I enjoy the artists. But I can’t play a note. My first SD show was about 20 years ago in NYC. I also saw a Beacon show with my wife and kids in 2013 and we already have tickets for Royal Scam in Oct at Beacon.

M6: I found this info about the video channel https://www.youtube.com/user/pianopanther1/about and there’s a lot of videos in there already. I also saw something about a medley combining the music of Frank Zappa among others?

HY: Yup. I have played FZ for Owen as well as so many other acts. That video was featured on a jambands site when he was 9. Owen figured out how to arrange the segues himself after making a list of songs he knew both from his teacher and by ear. The 21 songs in 17 minutes medley was a nice example of how Owen has certain understanding of piano.

M6: When did you notice he was good on the piano, it’s described he started at age 6? Did he spontaneously started to play songs he heard when they were being played from CD or album?

HY: His older sister was taking piano lessons. She eventually moved to violin and now sings in Chorus. Owen immediately showed aptitude. He sight reads, has perfect pitch, can identify what key a piece is in, and so he can play anything he hears. He also benefitted greatly from the last 3 and a half years working with the incredible John Lampkin. A lot about John is noted in the new Chick Corea Spain video that I posted on June 7. You can read the full description to learn more about it and watch the 4 minute video.

M6: Does Owen transcribe the music by himself, by ear?

HY: He has songbooks, but as his teacher told him, the transcriptions are often wrong. So with SD he typically plays by ear. He has plenty of sheet music that his teacher gave him to learn many of the jazz standards and classical in his repertoire.

M6: You must be a very proud parent!

HY: Indeed. My wife and I are proud of both of our kids!! The band Umphrey’s McGee has been so nice to Owen – they posted a number of his videos – ironically they have a series of Dan covers that they play from time to time – if you haven’t heard those yet, you will enjoy them.

M6: How about Owen’s near future, is he going to play music or perform at school?

HY: Owen is supposed to join a county jazz ensemble in the fall in which he will be significantly younger than most if not all of the musicians.

M6: Thank you once again for sharing Owen’s talent with the world, and encouraging him to keep real music alive, that’s quite an accomplishment these days.