A Word With Jazz Pianist Christian Sands


Christian Sands is currently one of the most in-demand pianists working in jazz. A native of New Haven, Connecticut, Sands was exposed to a wide range of music from a young age. By his early teens, he was a protégé of the eminent jazz educator Dr. Billy Taylor, and took lessons from Dave Brubeck. Most jazz observers know him as a dazzling presence in bands led by bassist Christian McBride, who had a similar trajectory as a rising talent around the time Sands was busy being born.

Already the recipient of five Grammy® award nominations and since 2012, joining the auspicious list of Steinway endorsed artists, Sands released his Mack Avenue Records début Reach in April 2017.

The Christian Sands Trio will be appearing at the Kahilu Theatre on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019, at 7 p.m. You can find tickets at http://kahilutheatre.org.

Where does this interview reach you?
I’m home in New York. If you had called in me two days from now, I’d be in China.

I understand this your first visit to Hawaii.
Yes, it is! We’re looking forward to it.

What can folks look forward to at your upcoming shows here?
Just to have a good time. I’m an artist and entertainer and love to present great music for people to enjoy. We want people to just be open… have an open heart, an open mind, and then we’re going to take them on a musical journey.

Did you want to say a few words about your current release Facing Dragons?
The album is about self-exploration. The title came from a self-reflection while trying to find answers that I needed to have answers to. I always put myself into my music and then hope it reaches other people and they do the same. I wanted to spark questions, not only for just myself but also for the listener. Like, know who you are, and who you are you today. What obstacles are you getting ready to face? Whether it’s a new job, a new relationship… a new anything. What’s going to happen in the future for you? At the same time, recapping and reflecting on the past and where you come from and what makes you who you are at this very moment. So, that’s what the entire album was about.

Can you talk about your new record that’s coming out in the spring?

I can’t really talk about it too much – I mean, in detail, because we just finished recording it yesterday. However, it’s fresh! It’s a good one! I think people will be very surprised, in a good way, once they hear it. It’s going to spark a lot of different ideas. I really pushed myself artistically.  Like I said before, I’m always putting my experiences into the music. Since the last record, I’ve traveled more and met more people. This album is the next step. I’ve expanded the band and the sound, while still keeping it consistent with my last two records. People will really like the variety and music on it.

There are several guest appearances like trumpeter Sean Jones, and saxophonist  Marcus Strickland. He’s been on my last two records. Marvin Sewell is on guitar. He’s absolutely a favorite of mine. Steve Davis plays the trombone. Fans of Davis know he’s worked with Chick Corea for years. Clarence Penn is on drums. There’s a lot of fun and familiar names and faces on this record!

What was it like playing the mainstage at the Newport Jazz Festival this year?
Amazing! Absolutely amazing. I was very honored and very privileged to do that. It definitely makes you feel good as an artist. It was not my first time, but always great to be on the main stage, overlooking the harbor, with the breeze coming in so was not too hot on stage! (laughs) You appreciate that.

You were also the Music Director for the Monterey Jazz Festival tour this year.
It was great and different because each artist was in the same age bracket, but we’re all working on different things. I like to say that we were coming from different branches of the jazz tree. Some more traditional. Some were more contemporary. Some were right in the middle. We had different “flavors” on the “plate” that we were serving people! (laughs) We were on the road for a month, so it was great to bond and be a part of this group, in this generation, coming together, making music.

What are your thoughts on the current state of jazz music?
I think it’s constantly changing, like it always has. I believe that jazz is a reflection of people and all the interactions we have with one another. Jazz tells that story. So, at this moment, we are all connected on multiple levels, whether it’s social media, whether it’s our neighbors. If I want to hear Hawaiian music, all I have to do is type it on my phone, and there it is. Jazz reflects all of that. There are countless versions of jazz and it constantly changes every day because life, society, and people change every day too. At the moment there are multiple flavors of jazz. I like to cook, if you couldn’t tell! (laughs) Musicians have to eat too.

Can you tell me about the trio you’re bringing with you to Hawai’i?
Yasushi Nakamura will be on bass. He was on Facing Dragons, and he’s worked with countless musicians. He’s the top-call bassist in New York City – a very special musician! He’s my brother in arms, as I like to call him. John Davis will be on drums, and this will be John’s third appearance with us. John is very special as well. For those that are fans of Cassandra Wilson, he worked with Cassandra Wilson for many years. We’ve also recorded together with the great young bassist Ben Williams. And worked with his band a lot, so, we’ve known each other for a long time, and he’s very special and very dynamic musician and a lot of fun to work with.

Is there anything you’d like to add before we go?
I’m trying to work on my Hawaiian and there’s a phrase I learned… Maui Nō Ka ʻOi [Maui is the best].

That will work when you’re on Maui, but not so much here on the Big Island.
I’m learning. I’m learning. I’ve never been! (laughs) I dig it. I’m really looking forward to coming to the Big Island and learn as much as I can and tell the stories of the people I meet. I want to find out who cooks the best fish! (laughs)

If You Go… Have A Good Show!

The Christian Sands Trio will perform at the Kahilu Theatre on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $50/$25 and can be purchased at kahilutheatre.org, (808) 885-6868 or at the Kahilu Theatre Box Office located at 67-1186 Lindsey Road, Kamuela (Waimea).

There’s more information on Christian Sands at: Mack Avenue Records Artist Website

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