Jacob Jeffries on Still Playing Piano, Front and Center Stage
Most 26-year-olds who grew up playing piano haven't tickled the ivories in more than a decade. The ones who still perform have likely joined bands and given up the keys for guitars and drums, and those most "progressive" instrumentalists have gone the way of Chromeo.
There are not too many front wo/men in their 20s making rock and getting gigs that still play straight piano, sing, and get the crowd's arms flapping with pleasure. Fort Lauderdale native Jacob Jeffries, however, is one of the few sticking with his singer/songwriter, bluesy, pop-rock piano thing, and still continues to gain a following.
"There aren't a lot of front guys that just play piano," Jeffries admitted when we ran into him at a Blackbird Ordinary show last week in Miami, raising money for Philanthrofest, a group that supports and strengthens local nonprofits. "Sometimes I think it's an obsolete, out-of-date instrument -- just the piano, not the keys -- people are using synthesizers and organs. They're instrumental in the kind of the accompaniment sense."
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Jeffries' concerns are real in the sense that everyone is plugged in nowadays. But on Thursday night, in the backyard area of Blackbird, it was clear there's still a healthy number of folks excited to see Jeffries sing enthusiastically and play skillfully.
"A lot of people are going with the wave of technology," he continued on the matter of "future." "You know, people can set up a computer onstage and a couple of synth mods and simulators and synthesizers that sound great and people can move their feet to it... It's hard to be the guy who doesn't explore that zone. Sometimes I wake up, and I'm like, 'I should learn how to rig a computer synth thing.' And then I think, 'I don't know how to patch a cable together.'"
He sees this as a conflict with which a lot of musicians have to contend -- remaining authentic and also adjusting to modernity. "Like even the best of the best, like Paul McCartney," Jeffries explained. "He made a record with Mark Ronson; he leaned this way. It's every artist's dilemma: When and how much time do I devote to keeping up with the Joneses? I haven't done any of that. I don't know if that's something to be proud of or ashamed of."
And though he's worried that the piano is a "thing of the past," he's hopeful that "everything is retroactive, so hopefully it comes back soon."
As we were speaking on the street, one of Jeffries' fans walked by. He'd driven down from Boca to see him perform. "Jacob Jeffries has stayed true since I knew him in '06. He's never sold out," Kiel Von Minden told us. "He has produced something from his heart, and it gets better and better every year, and I can't wait to see what he makes in the future."
These days, Jeffries is sans band. He's living in Brooklyn and traveling between there, here, and next playing a few shows in Los Angeles and wineries in Northern California. "I'm in a personal mini-limbo now," he explained. He's not sure about much except he'll be here for a bit, then back in New York for CMJ.
Even though he's bandless, his longtime guitarist Jimmy Powers enthusiastically accompanied him onstage. His gusto and commitment to the songs added a lot to the show. Jeffries said, "He helps us lean jam band-y -- which I think in Miami, and in a lot of places where people like to move their booties, is a good thing."
Jeffries is glad to be where he is right now, still getting shows, meeting people, expanding his catalog. And if you don't believe us, catch him tomorrow night, front and center with his trusty keyboard at Sunset Tavern in South Miami.
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