Jerod Sarlo: Infinite Possibilities With 88 Keys

Jerod Sarlo’s musicianship is best described as multidimensional, seamlessly traversing genres as disparate as classical and jazz. In addition to impressing audiences as an extraordinary pianist, Sarlo is a gifted teacher, an accomplished producer, and much to my surprise, a pathfinding beatmaker. An invaluable faculty member, Sarlo has a knack for unlocking students’ inner creativity by employing refreshingly innovative pedagogical techniques.

Sarlo began playing the piano at age 4, and by age 14, he was teaching his first students. As a result of his prodigious gift, Sarlo attended the Denver School of the Arts Middle and High School Magnet Program, and continued his piano studies on scholarship at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston and The New School Jazz and Contemporary Music Program in New York City. While on the East Coast, Sarlo had the opportunity to study under legendary jazz masters including Andy Milne, Joanne Brakeen, Danilo Perez, Reggie Workman, and Andrew Cyrille. A combination of innate talent and fervent study has led to Sarlo’s long list of recent honors including being recognized as an “Outstanding Soloist” by Downbeat Magazine.

Though Sarlo’s initial entrée to the music world was via classical music, a genre that still captivates him, it was an appreciation for improvisation that ignited his passion for jazz. According to Sarlo, “Improvisation has always been a large part of my playing and I like to make sure that a part of me can be inside each song and make it different each time I play. My goal has always been to be able to let the music speak through me, and to have the technical ability to make that possible.” In addition to Jazz, Sarlo has performed nearly every style of music ranging from Afro-Cuban to Reggae, Salsa to Blues, Funk to Hip-Hop, and Musical Theatre to Avant-Garde.

While Sarlo is forging his own melodious path, he will be the first to acknowledge his influences. These include Oscar Peterson, dubbed the “Maharaja of the Keyboard” by none other than Duke Ellington, and Art Tatum, acclaimed for his technical ability despite near blindness. In addition, Sarlo admires Herbie Hancock and Bill Evans for their innovative interpretations of jazz repertoire and imaginative techniques of composition and building chords. Finally, legendary pioneer of “Free Jazz” Cecil Taylor known for his polyrhythmic improvisations and energetic approach is another of Sarlo’s idols.

This newcomer to our community has already contributed immensely to Louisville’s soundscape. Last November, attendees of the Louisville Arts District’s inaugural Rhythm and Hues event may recall the finale, when Sarlo’s moving performance of his original composition “Improvisation on Wind and Water” provided inspiration for collaborating visual artists. Sarlo has also been encouraging his students to play diverse styles as well as explore composition. In his words, “I hope to bring a new approach and balance to learning the things we need to learn at any given piano lesson in a fun and creative way.” Exemplifying Sarlo’s playful approach, one of his writing exercises involves asking his up-and-coming composers to use the musical letters of their names (A through G as the musical alphabet stops there) as foundational notes for a new song. Such teaching methods serve to create a personalized repertoire for young pianists as well as the occasional giggle.

In addition to contributing to the Louisville art scene, Sarlo also performs at popular Denver venues with bands BigWheel Electrosoul and Lamp! under his show name Qknox. This January Qknox released a self-titled album that features a breathtaking blend of Sarlo’s virtuosic instrumental repartee, hip-hop beats, and operatic vocal samples. Critics are applauding; one aptly describing Sarlo’s album as “crushingly creative.” My favorite track entitled “All the Gray and Rainy Days” conjures a comforting mirage of showers falling from the sky punctuated by smooth beats, unexpected tonalities, and magical pauses in between.

Sarlo’s artist-philosophy is simple yet powerful; “I’m a proponent of letting people do the things they want to do. In performance this means thinking of music as all the sounds around us instead of just the notes on the page.” Fueled by this progressive approach, Sarlo is destined to cultivate the musical tastes of downtown Louisville.