Pianist Kavyesh Kaviraj Celebrates Birthday With Gig at KJ’s Hideaway

Jazz88 Morning Show host Peter Solomon spoke with Minneapolis-based pianist Kavyesh Kaviraj ahead of his December 30th birthday celebration at KJ’s Hideaway in St. Paul (Photo by Evin Rodriguez-Sosa).


PETER SOLOMON: Kavyesh, thanks for talking to me, I want to start out our interview by talking about your early musical experience, how you came to the piano and, where you grew up and how you found jazz?

KAVYESH KAVIRAJ: My parents are very musical and on my dad’s side of the family, they’ve been musicians for a few generations now. And I was so lucky to be around, both my parents are very, very involved in music. My Dad’s a music teacher, my mom’s a math teacher and when I was very young, I used to hang around my dad lot when he was teaching piano lessons. And one day I just started playing, so he was like, maybe this could go somewhere.

When I was very young, it was mostly Indian music. It was a lot of Carnatic music, which is South Indian, classical South Indian traditional, and then I got to learn Hindustani, which is North Indian music, a lot of like Indian film music. Eventually, I started learning some Western classical, you know, Beethoven, and all that good stuff, and a lot of pop music, a lot of good old hip hop and r and b. And then around 18 or 19, I discovered jazz on the interwebs. And that’s when I realized how incredible this art form is. And so eventually, I found my way to the US to study jazz. And that’s how I got to Minnesota.

SOLOMON: Can you talk about the program at Berklee that you studied with?

KAVIRAJ: So that program is called the Global Jazz Institute at Berklee, and I got my master’s degree in performance from there. And Danilo Perez is the artistic director at Berklee Global Jazz Institute. And I came in with the mission of understanding what Danilo’s part in music looks like and I came out fully prepared with all of the artillery that he possesses. You know, he’s so powerful and the way he writes music, and he performs music and even in his own work.

He’s done a lot of philanthropy through music, and he, you know, actively changes people’s hearts and minds, but every, every prominent teacher at Berklee, at the East Coast was there, and they all shared the same mission. You know, Kenny Werner was there, Joe Lovano, John Patitucci, you know, you name it, there’s just so many people, every week, we got to spend several hours with these artists and learning with them and talking with them. And so yes, it was a singular experience. It was probably the best educational experience I’ve ever had.

SOLOMON: Before we get to your gig on the 30th, your birthday celebration, could you talk a little bit about some of the different projects you’re involved with locally? First of all, the group Mississippi?

KAVIRAJ: Absolutely, sure. Mississippi is a jazz quartet here that’s comprised of Jeff Bailey, Kevin Washington, Pete Whitman, and I. So, we’re a quartet. We play jazz fusion music. Previously, we used to have Andres Prado, a Peruvian guitar player with us, but he lives in Peru now. So, it’s the four of us. And we all contribute tunes. And it’s sort of like melding the worlds there’s a lot of different influences.

There’s Afro Cuban, jazz, there’s r and b, there’s all sorts of influences. So, yeah, it’s very, very alive and very lively. A fantastic band of some of my teachers and mentors and some of the greatest musicians here.

SOLOMON: And could you tell me about Temple Beyond Sanctuary?

KAVIRAJ: Temple Beyond Sanctuary was an idea that I got at Berklee, because they, you know, the focus was for us to really represent what we believed in. And I’d never explored the melding of the worlds of jazz and Indian music from a lens that I felt really comfortable. And so, it’s this idea of being an immigrant and all the things that entails the influences, the life experience, you know.

SOLOMON: Tell me about the gig that’s coming up at KJ’S on December 30, of what you’re planning to play and who you’re going to be working with it that gig.

KAVIRAJ: Yes, absolutely. So, this is the Kavyesh Kaviraj Quintet. This is really my first original jazz quintet. So, Kevin Washington will be playing drums, Jeff Bailey will be playing bass, Omar Abdulkarim will be playing trumpet. Pete Whitman will be playing saxophone and yours truly will be playing piano. There’ll probably be a lot of special guests that evening. Because, you know, it’s a great time. It’s a one-of-a -kind-concert. I’ve never done a pre birthday concert ever. We’re planning to play a special concert at KJ’s. There’s a little special announcement that I’m waiting to make at the concert, there’s a project that we’re involved with that we’re very excited to embark on. So, we’ll make that announcement and we’re going to play music from my suite of music called “Fables,” from where it’s opportunity for me to do some storytelling through original songs. You know, stories as an immigrant stories about growing up as the child of two teachers and stories about helping the world and stories about being a teacher. So, all the things that I see through my lens, but also, it’ll be a greater fun and we’ll play some great unserious serious music, so yes.

SOLOMON: Kavyesh Kaviraj, pianist and Twin Cities jazz artist. He’s playing Kavi’s Fabled Birthday Bash, December 30 at 8 at KJ’s and he’ll be joined by bassist Jeff Bailey, drummer Kevin Washington. Omar Abdulkarim on trumpet and Pete Whitman on sax. I’m Peter Solomon for Jazz88.

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