Artscene: Not-so-still life, with piano
Seventh-grader making a mark in the music world
Shane Turner of Portola Valley is a typical 12-year-old boy bursting with just-can't-sit-still energy. Until, that is, he sits down at a piano. Then, the fidgety energy of a child turns to something else entirely: a creative force channeled into sound that belies the age of its creator.
When that happens, the transformation is something to behold — and to hear. That's something local music lovers will have a chance to do when the young jazz pianist and composer sits in with the pros of the Charged Particles ensemble on Thursday, Feb. 28, at the Parkside Grille in Portola Valley.
"This will be a wonderful moment for Portola Valley, because it will mark the bringing together of the town's jazz fusion trio with the town's rising keyboard star," says Portola Valley resident Jon Krosnick, Charged Particles' leader and percussionist.
A student of the piano since age 4 and enthralled by jazz since age 7, Shane has been making his mark on the local music scene for some time. Last summer, he was accepted into the Stanford Jazz residency program, typically limited to musicians 18 and older. The year before, at the Stanford Jazz summer camp, he met another home-grown musical sensation who was teaching there, and the two have formed a sort of mutual admiration society in addition to a student/mentor relationship.
"Shane is a special talent and a ray of light," says Taylor Eigsti, the nationally acclaimed jazz pianist and composer who grew up in Menlo Park and is now based in New York City. "He grows as a musician at lightening speed, and I can't wait to see what he can achieve in a career in music, especially given what he's already achieved in 12 years."
Impressive words coming from a musician who 16 years ago, at age 12, impressed the likes of the great jazz pianist Dave Brubeck.
The son of Brad and Michele Turner and a seventh-grader at Corte Madera School, Shane has been active in his school's music programs since his arrival. "I have had the pleasure of working with Shane since he came to Corte Madera in fourth grade," music teacher Juliet Green said in an email.
"From the first time I met him and heard him play, I knew he was going to be unlike any student I had ever had in my 20-plus years of teaching. He has a musical sensibility and knowledge that most people have to work so hard at, and it just seems completely effortless, and natural to him."
Ms. Green leads the Corte Madera "Panache" ensembles, award-winning vocal jazz groups typically for sixth- through eighth-graders, with one group at each of those grade levels. But when Shane arrived at Corte Madera, "we made sure that he was able to participate in the more advanced ensembles," she said.
Since fifth grade, he's also been the piano accompanist for all three ensembles, and this year, he's Ms. Green's teaching assistant for the sixth-grade Panache group, she said. "Shane doesn't need written sheet music, just a lead sheet and a great ear. He is very creative and intuitive in his jazz playing, and I think it's great experience for him to be featured in this way as well as singing in the groups."
Shane's schedule is peppered with music lessons in addition to practice and composing sessions. He takes classical piano and voice lessons, and performs with the Panhandlers steel drum band and occasionally with the local Desperate House Band, which includes his neighbor Andy Hewett on bass and singer/pianist Paige Bishop.
Asked about his interests in composing, Shane explains that he had no choice but to write music. "Nobody said, 'Oh, why don't you compose?'" he says. Inspiration strikes, he hears the notes in his head, "and I have to get it out" on paper, he adds.
He studies composition with noted jazz pianist Larry Dunlap, and is now working on the third part of "Anaconda," a piece originally intended to be an orchestral work, without brass. But the work has evolved into what will be a symphony, Shane says. He's able to hear the piece as an orchestral whole through the Sibelius computer program he works with.
He's also working on a keyboard piece, "War for Two Pianos," an intricate composition brimming with dissonant sound that justifies its title.
Mr. Eigsti, who with Mr. Dunlap helped Shane with the first movement of "Anaconda," says he believes Shane "will continue to create some amazing, memorable, legitimately great music. He is a joy to teach, and I always look forward to hearing whatever he's been writing."
With all his musical pursuits, does he have time for homework? "Admittedly, it can be hard," he says, but he manages. He also makes time for other activities he says he enjoys: skiing, soccer and baseball.
The Charged Particles jazz fusion trio will perform, with Shane Turner sitting in on several numbers, at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28, at the Parkside Grille, 884 Portola Road in Portola Valley.