WRITTEN BY DEANNA WEEDEN
Think innovation. Think effortless rhythm changes. Think refined chord structures. Think masterful maneuvering amongst all 88 keys. Think Louis Heriveaux.
Early Musical Beginnings
Born in Queens, New York, only 25 minutes away from Harlem, which was once known as America’s Jazz Mecca, one might suspect that Louis would have gotten his early beginnings in Jazz, as a youngster, dipping and dodging in and out of Jazz clubs in the big apple. However, the road Heriveaux traveled to reach his current degree of skillfully handling Jazz – America’s classical music, is a journey definitely worth traveling and even more intriguing to read about.
As a toddler, Louis’ mother would play the piano and sing nursery rhymes to him. Climbing onto the piano bench at a mere three years old, it became obvious to his mother that she should enroll him in lessons. So at age five, Louis began formal piano lessons.
Louis’ family relocated to Tampa, Florida when he was seven years old. Knowing that it was time for Louis to expand his piano skills, his mother sought out the well-known college professor Dr. Judith Edberg of Tampa University. Louis became the youngest student to ever be accepted by a college instructor of her magnitude. Under her tutelage, he mastered Haydn’s Piano Concerto in D major, and played his first recital at age 8.
Louis recalls hearing Jazz as a child. “I use to hear music, on television shows such as Charlie Brown and Mr. Rogers, and tell my parents I want to play music that sounds like that kind of stuff. They didn’t purposely keep me from it, there was just nobody in our world that had contact with Jazz. I went to a private, church school so there was no Jazz…my early exposure was primarily classical music.” Louis also listened to Jazz music on public radio, when H. Johnson would play recordings by great Jazz artists. Louis would try to copy what he heard on the radio. However, for him, Jazz music still remained somewhat of a phenomenon.
Louis’ family relocated to Griffin, Georgia, just in time for him to begin ninth grade at Griffin High School. He fit right into the music program, taking the seat of accompanist for the school chorus. The chorus director was so impressed by Louis’ playing that he entered him into various piano competitions. For two years consecutively he won first place honors. During the summer of his freshman and sophomore years, he won scholarship competitions held at the University of Georgia, Athens.
Then Came Jazz!
The summer after his junior year of high school, Louis was selected to attend The Georgia Governors Honors Program, where they take the top 10% of students in every academic field to Valdosta College for six weeks of intense studies in their respected fields. Built in to the program, was a Jazz division and that’s where Louis was first exposed to Jazz. Louis shared this about his early introduction to Jazz music, “I was exposed to charts and improvisation…what was going on in the music and how a pianist could make their own choices about what to play - from chord voicings to musical lines. In spite of the fact that I was really good in classical, I never planned to be a musician for a living. I planned to be a pharmacist. At the camp, I fell in love with Jazz. When I went home, back to Atlanta, where no Jazz was going on, I practiced and studied on my own. That year I made first chair in Jazz All State, which is a competition for Jazz musicians.” With these honors under his belt, Louis began honing his skills, being primarily self-taught.
Let the Gigs Begin!
After graduating from Griffin High School in 1992, Louis settled in Atlanta, Georgia. Louis began playing Jazz on Atlanta’s Jazz scene, at age 17. Heads began to turn and fellow musicians and club owners began to take notice of his early signs of professionalism and confidence at the piano.
At age 19, a prominent Jazz guitarist began frequenting jam sessions in Atlanta, where Louis often sat in. After several visits to the jam session, it was Russell Malone that hand-picked Louis to join his world-class quartet. Louis graciously accepted the invitation and became an international Jazz musician, performing with Russell Malone for two years, on some of the most famous stages Jazz music has ever known. From Carnegie Hall, to the Leone Jazz Festival in France, Louis was having the time of his life, not to mention, being introduced to life as a musician on the road as well as being mentored by Russell Malone and the two other sidemen, bassist Paul Keller and drummer Pete Siers. Louis recalls, “We played on the same bills as some of the greatest musicians. I got to meet in person, a lot of the Jazz heroes that I been introduced to only on records before that.”
Louis’ time spent with Russell Malone was a pivotal move in his budding career as a Jazz musician. That gig opened doors for other opportunities for this young, gifted musician. Jazz vocalists began to seek Louis out for his ability to accompany them with an innate ability to assess their needs during a performance and at rehearsals. Vocalist Jeanie Bryson invited Louis to do a Southeast tour with her and he once again hit the road! His finesse on the piano also caught the attention of Nnenna Freelon, who sought him out as an accompanist for one of her engagements as well.
Louis is the first-call pianist for many notable musicians such as Jimmy Heath and Ralph Peterson, to name a few. After being impressed by Louis’ musical integrity in his approach to Jazz piano, Donald Brown immediately called Kenny Garrett, and referred Louis to him, for upcoming, gigs. Louis has appeared as a member of The Russell Gunn Quartet, featuring vocalist Dionne Farris. Louis’ name is becoming more and more familiar to the top names in Jazz as he continues to appear on the local Jazz scene in Atlanta, as well as on the national and international Jazz scene.
Recordings & Such
Louis is no newcomer to the recording studio. His expert approach to Jazz piano during live performances is what leads many instrumentalists to select him as the featured pianist on their recordings. In 2003, Louis appeared on saxophonist Bob Miles’ CD entitled, ‘Ancestral Spirits.’ During 2006, Louis joined The Christain Tamburr Quartet, on their CD titled, ‘Arrivals.’ In 2011, Louis joined forces with a musical peer from Atlanta, trumpeter Melvin Jones, to play piano on Jones’ debut CD release entitled, ‘Pivot.’ One of Louis’ most recent recording endeavors is his contribution on the CD by Joe Gransden and Russell Gunn titled, ‘Jazz Contrast - Tribute to Kenny Dorham.’ Also in 2013, Louis had the pleasure of playing with The Russell Gunn Quartet for the live recording of Dionne Farris’ CD titled, ‘Dionne Get Your Gun.’ Keeping busy in 2013 is an understatement for Heriveaux, who was the pianist on Miguel Alvarado’s CD titled ‘Frankly Speaking.” His list of recordings continues to grow, as he is requested for studio sessions on a steady basis. Louis has gained an immeasurable amount of knowledge and experience while working as a sideman, but he also has a strong desire to work on a solo project, which is already underway. Louis also captured the listening ear of renowned bassist Curtis Lundy. Lundy plans to assist Louis with a space to record his project once the time arrives for him to record.
Years ago, Louis grew to admire the musical style of pianist Johnny O’Neil. Louis would go and listen to Johnny O’Neil play at a familiar Jazz club in Atlanta called, ‘Just Jazz.’ As a mentor to Louis, O’Neil coined himself Louis’ ‘musical father.’ Among Louis’ influences are Mulgrew Miller, Kenney Kirkland, Cedar Walton, Chick Corea. Another renowned musician that took a liking to Louis’ style of playing piano,is pianist Freddy Cole. Mr. Cole has been known to attend Louis’ standing engagements, for weeks at a time. Louis shared that, “Freddy feels like I am one of the few cats in town, really dealing with swinging at a high level and speaking the true language of Jazz, through my playing.”
Aside From Jazz...
The talents and ingenuity of Louis Heriveaux reach further than the wide world of Jazz. Louis is also a writer and music producer in his own right. He has written and produced music for many artists in such genres as R & B and Hip Hop. In 2002, Louis was signed to DARP - Dallas Austin Recording Projects, as one of their key producers. While with DARP, he worked with TLC and Spyse. He also joined forces with Timbaland on his Beat Club Records label. Louis wrote and produced tracks for 112, Genuwine, Jeezy, Jazze Pha, and Rick Ross. He worked with rapper Snoop Dog as well. Louis is very proud of his accomplishments on the production side of the music. If given another opportunity to work in this capacity, he would accept it in a heartbeat.
Louis Heriveaux has made waves in the Jazz world and continues to make them every week on the Atlanta Jazz scene. His long standing gig at Houston’s Restaurant in Buckhead, allows him the opportunity to build a following and show that he can command the piano in a mellow tone, just as magnificently as he can swing things in a grand venues such as Carnegie Hall. On Sundays, Louis can be heard playing for the guests at Georgia’s Juke Joint, in downtown Atlanta during their Sunday afternoon brunch. Whether he is lending his musical talents with David Potter and Friends, at ‘The Music of Miles,’ a fundraiser for WRFG 89.3, doing an exclusive interview for The City Café segment of All Things Considered, on NPR, during a recent engagement at The Velvet Note, or sitting in on a jam session at Churchill Grounds, it is highly likely that you will find Louis Heriveaux sitting behind the piano.
Louis holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music with a concentration in Jazz studies, from Georgia State University. Heriveaux has so much to offer the world of Jazz. He remains true to the authentic art form, while infusing his own personal style. Whether through a high level of delicacy when approaching ballads or a hard, effective swing, when the moment requires, the effect he has on his audience is captivating and full of surprises, rendering earful after earful of good, pure, real Jazz.
The next time you think Jazz. Think Louis Heriveaux.
Written by DeAnna V. Weeden