2009-05-15 / Neighbors

Just 21, Simi native is touring globe alongside jazz legend

Gifted pianist finding the keys to success
By Carissa Marsh cmarsh@theacorn.com

STARTED IN THE CHURCH—Gifted  jazz  pianist and Simi  native  Victor Gould graduated last week from Berklee School of Music in Boston. The 21-year-old says he found his passion for music while performing at Simi Valley Second Missionary Baptist Church. "I started writing my own songs and improvising," he said. STARTED IN THE CHURCH—Gifted jazz pianist and Simi native Victor Gould graduated last week from Berklee School of Music in Boston. The 21-year-old says he found his passion for music while performing at Simi Valley Second Missionary Baptist Church. "I started writing my own songs and improvising," he said. When New Orleans jazz legend Donald Harrison Jr., "The King of Nouveau Swing," calls you a "phenomenal talent," it's akin to putting the seal of approval on your musicianship.

Simi Valley native turned East Coast transplant Victor Gould, just 21, was the recipient of Harrison Jr.'s praise.

Having graduated last Saturday with a degree in professional music from Berklee College of Music in Boston—whose alumni include John Mayer, Melissa Etheridge, Quincy Jones, Steve Vai and Diana Krall—Gould has the makings of a jazz star.

Just this summer, the 21yearold pianist will be playing all over the country, as well as in Morocco, with the Donald Harrison Quartet.

Gould has recorded three CDs and a DVD and has toured the U.S. and Europe with Harrison's quartet.

Gould said he he might not be where he is now if it hadn't been for his mother making him take piano lessons at the age of 4.

"My dad plays flute and he's always listened to jazz, and my mom, she would say that she always wanted her children to play the piano," Gould said. "She didn't want me to make a career out of it . . . she didn't really know I would take it so seriously."

He admitted that his parents had to force him to practice until he was 11—about the time he started learning jazz and performing at Simi Valley Second Missionary Baptist Church.

"The combination of playing in the church and playing jazz really got me hooked on actually studying, and I started writing my own songs and improvising," he said.

Gould became so committed to the instrument that after two years at Simi High he transferred to Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, even though it meant waking up at 5:15 a.m. and enduring an hour-long commute to school.

At the arts school Gould learned about Berklee, and following his junior year he attended a summer program at the college, during which he auditioned for a full scholarship. It was the first year Berklee awarded the Herbie Hancock Presidential Scholarship and Gould received it.

"You get tuition, they pay for housing, they buy your laptop; everything is paid for," he said. "It was a true blessing."

Gould said he wanted to go to Berklee because of its reputation and its faculty.

"People that are pretty famous accomplished musicians are teaching at the school and just seeing them walking around is pretty cool," he said. "I just wanted to be associated with them."

Gould's excitement over graduating was accompanied by a tinge of sadness at leaving. But he will undoubtedly be back to visit since his sister, Vanisha, a vocalist, will be attending Berklee in the fall.

After his summer jazz festival tour, the young pianist will be going back to school—at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance, which is affiliated with Loyola University in New Orleans. Gould is one of six musicians selected to receive a fullride scholarship for the twoyear graduate level program, which allows musicians from around the world the chance to study with living jazz masters.

Gould said he's always wanted to participate in the program.

"There's a lot to learn about the business aspect and I want to learn more about composing and writing for an orchestra or big band or any large ensemble," he said.

The 2011 class will be studying under acclaimed trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard, someone Gould has played with before and actually met through his mentor, Harrison.

Gould first met Harrison, whom he calls "the most influential person" in his career, while he was a visiting professor at Berklee. There was a chance to play with the jazz great and a teacher recommended then-freshman Gould.

"I thought he was very talented," said Harrison, 48, who is known for bringing up young musicians. "At the time I was searching for pianists, so I asked him, would he consider playing some engagements with me. He's been playing with me ever since."

Citing Gould's accelerated learning curve, dedication, musical intuition and ability to "play so fast it looks like you're wiping the piano, with precision," Harrison said the young man is on his way to becoming a master of jazz.

"It's a special calling to be one of the guys to help maintain jazz music in these times when we don't get mainstream press and no one really realizes how great the guys who play this music are," Harrison said.

Gould can only hope for the kind of longevity and influence Harrison has had.

Right now he said he sees a future living in New York and performing as much as possible.

Return to top