Mozart is the archetype of the child musical genius. Over the centuries, many successors have been proclaimed. In the long run, few have qualified. The current child-genius nominee is Joey Alexander, a pianist from the Indian Ocean Island of Bali. Whether it is accurate—indeed whether it is fair to a 12-year-old—to declare him a genius, is now beside the point. The publicity machinery is in full, inexorable, motion. Last night, CBS Television’s 60 Minutes featured young Mr. Alexander. Coverage by that venerable news program is the 21st century counterpart of being on the cover of TIME Magazine. The campaign is underway.
Videos of Joey Alexander have attracted tens of thousands of YouTube viewers. In one of them he plays John Coltrane’s harmonic obstacle course “Giant Steps.” Larry Grenadier is the bassist, Ulysses Owens, Jr. the drummer, in this take from a date for Motéma Records.
Joey Alexander can play; there’s no question about that. Does his precocious talent, as Wynton Marsalis asserted at Town Hall in the 60 Minutes piece, constitute genius? Will it ultimately bear the fruits of genius? Some day we’ll know. To see the 60 Minutes story reported by Anderson Cooper, go here. Fair warning: commercials are part of the package, but so are the interesting sidebars.