So what do you think Vicente and Damion bring out of you?
Something different every day. Something different every night and every time we play. That's all I ask for-something different, something we didn't do last night. It might be one bass note that surprises you and takes the music into a different groove that you didn't play the night before. It's really open like that, because then everybody is having fun. You look at [Jason Moran's] the Bandstand and you see they're having fun. Hey, jazz is fun. I don't know why people take it so seriously. People come to hear you because they want to have a good time. People come out to jazz clubs to forget about their jobs and to forget everything that's mad, you know? They want to forget about the argument that they had. They come out to hear you play music and to listen. They don't come out to see you on stage being bored [laughs]. Jazz is fun.
Even with the Blue Note signing, and all the other big things you have going on, it sounds like you're keeping yourself in check.
If you look at the best piano players, if you look at Herbie [Hancock], every time he plays he's having fun. You look at Chick [Corea] -- always having fun. When I'm playing, I'm looking at my drummer and my bassist, smiling and having fun, keeping the music young and keeping it breathing.
It's like you're always solving a mystery together.
Yeah, exactly.
You mentioned Jason [Moran]. You attended the same school in Houston.
Same high school, but different times. When I got there, he left. He was the icon of the school [laughs]. I was "the next young black pianist," and you know, I would hear, "If you play your cards right, you could be the next Moran." It wasn't a bad thing.
That's amazing that both of you came from the High School for Performing Arts in Houston in such a short period of time. What was the scene like in Houston?
The school always had great musicians. A lot of the musicians on the scene today come from the same high school, either during my time or Jason's time. Eric Harlan [drums] went there the same time Jason did. Another great drummer, Chris Dave went there around the same time Jason did. Kendrick Scott, who plays drums with Terence Blanchard now, went there while I was there. And there's another really cool drummer, Jamire Williams, who went there after I left, who plays with Jackie Terrasson right now. We put out a pile of drummers [laughter]. A lot of good guitarists, too, like my friend Mike Moreno. He's playing with Joshua Redman now. A lot of talented musicians came out of that school. The scene wasn't really that good. Houston's jazz scene isn't that good, but there was a lot happening at that school [laughter].
That's the thing that I thought was really strange: you never really hear about the Houston jazz scene.
Well, that's the thing; it's a performing arts school, so we had jazz class and jazz bands and stuff like that. We had chances to play every day. People who come from other places might get a jazz gig here and there while they're in high school, but we had to play everyday. We had no choice but to get better.
What was the experience like leaving there and going to New York?
Amazing! It was totally different. There was no scene in Houston, and then you come up here and there's so many clubs, and on any given day, you can go into a club and see somebody killing it -- and that inspires you. It makes you go home and practice. I didn't play out my first two years that I lived in New York. I was scared to play out because so many people who were so good. It made me practice. It's a very humbling experience when you first come to New York.
Right, it makes you shake your head and say, "I have a lot of work to do."
Yeah, when I was at my high school, I was the best piano player. I had won some awards and whatever, so I was like, "Ha, ha, ha! I'm going to New York to clean up." Then you get to New York and you go, "Oh shit!" [laughter]
So what are some of the things going through your head now musically?
I'm writing. I'm writing a lot of stuff because I'm sick of all the stuff that's on Canvas [laughs]. So I'm writing some new tunes. I have a bad habit of, after I record music, I just don't like to play it anymore. It's like, "That chapter of my life is closed. Next!" So that's what I'm up to -- writing some new tunes to play out besides the stuff that's on Canvas.
Isn't that a little bit weird though? Like you said earlier, Canvas is the first thing that a lot of people are going to hear from you.
Right, they're going to want to hear that stuff. I'm going to give them most of it. Every set I'm going to give them two or three songs from the record and a few songs they haven't heard yet.
The stuff that is fresh.
Right, they want to hear stuff that is fresh, too. They don't want to come out and hear a bunch of shit they have at home. At the same time, you don't want to come out and hear all new stuff. You know, you might have a favorite song or something like that. So, I'm going to keep in balance.