International award-winning organist Alcee Chriss III is coming to Parksville to perform a combo of classical and jazz-styled pieces at Knox United Church on Saturday, June 16.
The winner of the 2017 Canadian International Organ Competition, Chriss said he’ll be bringing an exciting, boundary-defying performance of jazz-styled pieces (both jazz works, some transcriptions of jazz improvisations, and classical work in a jazz style). Presented through local concert series OrganWORX, the performance takes place June 16 at 7 p.m. at Knox United Church (345 Pym St.).
While an accomplished classical performer, Chriss said that, for the past several years, he’s been experimenting with jazz and the pipe organ (Knox has a digital organ, but is meant to be similar to a pipe organ, as opposed to the Hammond and other electronic organs which were conceived for jazz and pop music, said Chriss).
Chriss is innovating when it comes to the pipe organ, built into churches for the playing of classical and sacred music (or digital approximations such as the Knox’s Rodgers 599 Artist), and known as the king of instruments.
Chriss credits this innovation between jazz and pipe organs with his 2017 Canadian International Organ Competition win.
“I think the CIOC was looking to choose someone who represented the future of the organ, and I certainly can’t say that I’m that, but I can say that I’m trying to do things that haven’t been done before,” he said, while lamenting that he seems to be the only one putting jazz and pipe organs together.
“For some odd reason, jazz players are just not attracted to the pipe organ, and vice versa, pipe organists are just not interested in playing jazz. So I’m doing the best I can to make these camps a little bit more synthesized.”
While Chriss grew up in a church-going family (his father is a United Methodist minister), their church did not have an organ, and instead Chriss grew up with the gospel tradition.
He began playing piano at church, and learned classical and jazz music. But everything changed with the organ.
“I don’t know how I came across pipe organ recordings, but once I heard one, I kind of got obsessed with it; but still had not played one.
“Eventually I just asked my piano teacher to show me an organ and pretty much since I saw one, I haven’t stopped playing, and I think that was at 16 years old.
“I sort of gave up my hopes of being a concert pianist for being a concert organist. I’m glad I did because I really do prefer my instrument now.”
Also a conductor, organs such as the one in Parksville offers Chriss the chance to function as both a conductor and an orchestra, as it’s designed to replicate the sounds of an orchestra. The key to accomplishing that feat is feet. Well, really the co-ordination between the player’s feet and hands.
With its many inputs (multiple keyboards, stops and pedalboard), there is a lot to keep track of, said Chriss. “I think co-ordination is the biggest thing you learn on the organ,” he said.
For Chriss’ concert at Knox, he’ll be performing Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, Op. 50, Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D major, as well as his own arrangement of the jazz standard Tea for Two and more.
Chriss said, with his performance, he hopes to break preconceived notions about what an organ can sound like, and break barriers for the instrument.
The performance is Saturday, June 16 at 7 p.m. at Knox church. Tickets are $20 each and are available at Mulberry Bush bookstores in Parksville and Qualicum, and at Knox. For more info, go to www.organworx.ca.