Joey Alexander is an unlikely jazz piano star. First, he's from Indonesia, not exactly the capital of the jazz universe (or even on the map). Second, he's entirely self-taught (unless YouTube counts as a teacher). And third, he won't be 15 until June 2018.
Alexander's full name is Josiah Alexander Sila and he grew up in Bali, where his only exposure to jazz was a handful of CDs that his dad brought home from his time as a college student in the United States. Alexander got his first keyboard when he was 6 and started picking out a Thelonious Monk tune by ear. His dad taught him some fundamentals, but the passion and dedication to jazz piano has been all Joey.
His family moved to Jakarta when Alexander was 8, by which time he was a big enough deal in Indonesian jazz circles to play for a visiting Herbie Hancock. At 9, he entered the Master-Jam Fest, an all-ages jazz competition in Ukraine, and took home the grand prize [source: Chinen].
But Alexander's big break came when famed jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, who's also the artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, caught some of Alexander's YouTube videos and invited the then 8-year-old ingenue to play at the 2014 Jazz at Lincoln Center Gala. When Alexander took the piano bench (feet dangling half a foot off the stage) few in the audience expected what came next, a masterful and soulful solo rendition of Monk's "Around Midnight." He got a standing ovation.
Alexander now lives in New York and released his first album, "My Favorite Things," in 2015 at the age of 12.