From Georgian Folk to Zeppelin’s Kashmir: Giorgi Mikadze Astonishes the US

Georgian Giorgi Mikadze, 26, is an emerging mega pianist in the US. Smart, organized, talented, intellectual, hard-working – he has it all! In his words, in the US, the tradition of producers fades and more self-management skills are required. At the age of 19, he applied to Berklee, the best music school in the world, and got a full scholarship, making him the third Georgian student there. Currently, he studies at the Manhattan School of Music, where he was the only one to obtain – believe it or not – a full scholarship out of the 3000 applicants worldwide. We are proud of him, and thankful that he chose to give an exclusive interview to Georgia Today.

How did you start on your road to success?

Eteri Anjaparidze, a Georgian/American pianist and the first Grammy Nominee from the Republic of Georgia, was holding a class in Tbilisi. I was a student at Tbilisi State Conservatoire back then. I played and she took me to  the International Festival-Institute at Round Top. I saw the American life and was pretty excited about it. Then I applied to the Berklee College of Music and got in.
Then followed the Jazz Performance Award; winning the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead Program at the Kennedy Center (directed by Jason Moran); the Emanuel Zambelli Scholarship; winning the “New Piano Music” composition and piano department competition as a composer and performer; the Berklee 2012 Berklee Symphony Orchestra Concerto Competition;  a scholarship from Giya Kancheli, a grant from Eteri Andjapharidze; winning National and International classical piano competitions; the 6th V. Horowitz International Piano Competition Kiev, Ukraine, to name just a few.

You must have unforgettable memories…
My biggest project that I shared with Roger Brown, President of Berklee, was to pay tribute to Quincy Jones. I chose all the musicians and arrangers. Among our participants were Patti Austin, a Grammy winning artist, and Siedah Garrett, Michael Jackson’s back vocalist.The concert took place at the Berklee Performance Center in February 2013. In America, dreams come true. After this gig, many doors opened up for me. I became a Berklee Face. Then I was selected for the Betty Carter annual jazz program. Those two weeks at the Kennedy Center for the performing arts were cool. We had amazing teachers and a mentor, Jason Moran. I’m so thankful to him. He is one of the greatest educators in the states, and an awesome person.
Then, the Tbilisi jazz and Black Sea Jazz Festivals followed. I really want to create something valuable for the next generation. Therefore, the awards do not matter so much. Prizes just give one the opportunity to move on a step. Berklee was and is still helping me a lot. While at Berklee, I had a meeting with famous Irish composer Bill Whelan. Before that, I’d never heard of Riverdance and Irish music and I never imagined that I’d meet the person who created it. He’s one of my most active supporters now, like a friend. We always share our new works with each other.
I used to have a teacher who worked with Beyonce. When graduation time came, Berklee asked me to be a co-director for its commencement concert. Each year Berklee awards four honorary doctorates. In 2014, Geri Allen, an American jazz pianist, was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Berklee. I became her musical director and had to arrange her music, as well as perform it. I was really excited. Then legendary Jimmy Page became a Berklee Honorary Doctorate. We had to pay a tribute to him, and therefore, we performed an extraordinary version of Kashmir arranged by Dave Fiuzcynski and students of the Planet MicroJam Institute. I had an opportunity to meet Jimmy Page, shake his hand, and talk about many things. Oh my god! It was amazing! And he also heard me play! I’ve been listening to Led Zeppelin since I was a teenager. Our Kashmir was different because our band was multicultural, with a violin player from Jordan, a Chinese ethno-instrument player, an American drummer and me, a Georgian guy on the microtonal keyboards. Page liked it. It was a nice gig.
I attended the New Port Jazz Festival in 2013, not as a participant but as a regular music lover. However, two years later I was in the line-up myself. This was an unbelievable event in my life – a dream come true!

So, it was your dream and aim?
Exactly. I met with John Hailer, CEO of Natixis global asset management and the main sponsor for New Port. He offered to introduce me to George Wein, who liked my music and included me in the 2015 jazz festival’s line up, which I gladly accepted. It is unbelievable what type of musicians have played there – Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, etc. George Wein is an American jazz promoter and producer and has been called “the most famous jazz impresario,” having organized the joint gig of Miles Davies and Thelonious Monk.
At Six String Theory Competition, I won first prize. One of the competition prizes was to perform at the Montreux Jazz Festival. On such occasions you meet a lot of great musicians, and also play with them at a jam-session. I met John McLaughlin. The show was packed.

What is the secret of your success?
I think the ability to see reality. I realize that now is not the best time commercially speaking for jazz or classical music. The most popular genre worldwide today is Hip-Hop. I had to study from Bach to the Pop period to come to understand what hip-hop really is. Pure jazz is outdated now, and if you are a contemporary musician, you have to accept the reality that jazz is developing and is often expressed in different genres.

Apart from being a splendid pianist, you’re also a composer. What inspires you most?
Musical information is what counts most for a musician to grow. I listen and listen endlessly. You have to know all the latest achievements in all genres. If you ask me how many hours I practice a day, I would say not many. In the past, I would practice the piano 10 hours a day, but nowadays I listen more than I play. Musically speaking, my main source of inspiration is Georgian folk music, African music and pretty much all the available musical material that exists in the world. Africa consists of many countries but each of them has different rhythms. In my opinion, the Georgian harmony mixes the best with the African rhythms. I listen to Georgian folklore 3-4 hours a day. You cannot surprise the motherland of jazz unless you respect and understand your own musical culture and tradition. 

Tell us about your latest achievement
I performed at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, playing my original music which was based on Georgian folk. At Kennedy the audience was mainly from the United States and I had no idea how they would take to the music. But I think the audience enjoyed the gig a lot. Very soon, I’m going to record an album that will include Jojo Mayer – my friend and the world’s most famous drummer, and Panaigotis Andreou – another very successful bass player.

Maka Lomadze

14 January 2016 19:25