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Trey Henry
Ray Brinker

Image of pianist Christian Jacob © Michael Gottlieb
Musical beginnings and the Making of Styne & Mine - Christian

Musical Beginnings
The story goes like that: we had an old upright piano in our apartment and at 3 years old, I had to extend my body to reach the keyboard. I was obviously very attracted to this piano, and my parents were letting me fill their ears with a lot of musical noise when one day my mother recognized a then popular melody coming out of all the notes I was tapping. She realized I was trying to play this one tune. She then decided to find me a piano teacher; I was then 4 years old

I entered Metz conservatory at 6 (with a special permission because of my perfect pitch, since the minimal age was 7). My first piano teacher lived a block away from us, so I was walking there everyday to practice with her at 1PM, right before going to regular school

I worked on that old upright piano for a long time; I graduated from Metz conservatory with it. I was 12 then. Going to Paris Conservatory was the next step, but I then needed to own a Grand piano. The piano shop keeper in Metz asked me to try a Petrof he just received. Those were cheaper pianos and the quality was never a given with those pianos, but for some reasons, this one was a gem!, and the salesman knew it and he wanted me to have it; he even made a good price on it. It was still a lot of money for my parents, but they bought it. (My father saw that it was a very good instrument.)

I was raised in a wonderfully supportive family. If I wanted to study anything it would have been fine. However, my dad played the piano so he really liked that I did too. Actually, he would sit in the room while I tried to practice and it was a bit strange. He just loved to listen, but it's difficult to really work on something when your dad is sitting behind you. It makes me laugh to think of it now because he would try to act all casual, as if he was just going to sit and read the paper. But I knew he was really spying on me.

Were Your Friends Into Music?
All of my friends were out playing sports, and I had my rebellion time where I wanted to stop music for just that reason. My father who was always very strict suddenly turned very sweet and let me stop, and that freaked me out so much that I started again 2 weeks later.

How Did You End-Up Playing Jazz?
Well classical was all I did for the conservatory, but at around 9, my father gave me some piano music he had containing old songs from the 40s and 50s. I loved playing those and I could hear some difference in tone with some of the chords (those were jazzy). I then discovered Jazz with Dave Brubeck and then Oscar Peterson, but I always practiced classical first, and had jazz as a hobby.

From Student to Performer
The first band was actually a big band called “Jazz Swingers” with the best local musicians. I was about 12, it was great to be able to read those charts. That was the first time I saw those chord changes written in letters. The first real working band was a top 40 band, I was about 15, I played keyboard, some sax, and some real stupid music.

First "Break-Through" Gig
Going to The Berklee College of Music was the real breakthrough for me. I was better than I thought and I got all the best ensembles, then I even got to work on real gigs with people like Phil Wilson and Gary Burton. Within the school I played concerts with stars like Chick Corea, Michael Brecker, Peter Erskine, Eddie Gomez, Steve Gadd, etc.

Playing with Gary Burton
Gary always felt like a genius to me, he knows what he wants, he knows what guy is right for his band, he is also an excellent business man, and that is where I lose him.

Playing with Maynard Ferguson
Maynard is much more passive, and will adapt his band to the kind of musician he gets, he is the sweetest man, the worst business man ever, and the only thing he looks forward to is tonight’s performance.

This Trio
It is like being in a room with 2 guys you love and trust and having a great conversation. Not a conversation where everyone continually agrees to everything the other says, but a meaningful conversation where you sometimes disagree, show your point of view, learn something new, get excited, amused, etc. each tune we play is a different conversation, so the stream of feelings will vary.

"Styne and Mine"
I felt first that this trio recording was long overdue, since these are the guys I play with all the time, it had to be recorded. A dear friend of mine named Vic Lewis called me from England one day and said that he thought I should consider the music of Jule Styne for my trio recording and he offered to produce project. It was great to have his support and the music of Jule Styne turned out to be the perfect choice.

What Makes a Gig Great?
1. All the technicalities (piano quality, piano tuning, sound monitoring, general acoustics, etc.) are taken care of, so it doesn’t come and haunt you during the gig. Then I can be 100% in the music.
2. The audience has to be receptive (meaning they came to hear me/us) so there can be some kind of energy flowing.
3. I personally have to be in good health with no huge personal problem on my mind.
When all three components are there, it is called heaven! Yes, sometimes it actually happens!

What Blows Your Mind Musically?
What blows my mind musically is anything I am not able to do.

Oscar Peterson was the first pianist I heard that really blew my mind. Band-wise I loved big bands, and MF was the first big band that blew my mind.

What Pushes You to Improve?
I would have to say that what really inspires me to improve are the concert audiences. When they are receptive and really hearing what I am playing, I want to give them more. I can feel that they are open to more and I want to give it to them. More of myself, more of what is uniquely my own. If I feel I can impress my personality onto the listener (kind of like showing what I am about) I usually push myself more than usual; but I have to sense that the audience is capable of understanding.

What Events Made You Proud?
Herbie Hancock mentioning my name on a French radio interview. He just heard my demo and knowing I was French, he mentioned me as a great pianist. Nobody knew who he was talking about though...

The Strangest Gig
In Boston, Ray Santisi (my piano teacher at Berklee) got me that gig where each corner of the ballroom had a corner stage with a piano and a pianist in white tails playing (or attempting to) with the other 3. The idea probably looked much better than it sounded...

Current Projects
Touring with Tierney Sutton is taking up most of my time this year. If we aren't out on the road, then I am working on more string arrangements. It is a great band to be a part of and we are always getting something new out of it. Besides working with Tierney I would say that "Styne & Mine" is my main project. It is my first attempt at releasing my own CD and getting the word out is harder than I thought.