British keyboard wizard Jason Rebello has been at the forefront of modern improvised music for over two decades. From fabled sideman gigs with Sting and Jeff Beck to his heralded work as a leader, Rebello’s live and recorded output continues to demonstrate why he is still one of the world’s most in-demand musicians. And that demand started before he even graduated music school.
“I was studying jazz and classical at the Guildhall School of Music in London,” Rebello tells me from his home in Southwest England, just days after returning from a summer tour with Jeff Beck. “I was playing jazz, and getting really into Herbie Hancock. I was obsessed with him. In fact, I went to see his electric Rockit band when I was around 14. He played the middle bit of ‘Chameleon’ on the Rhodes, and it completely blew me away. From then on I wanted to find out more about him, and I started tracing his history backwards, all from that concert.”
“In my last year at the Guildhall,” Rebello continues, “I was actually approached by the Novus label at BMG to do a jazz album as a leader. I felt I wasn’t really ready to do one just yet, so I told them ‘Give me a year.’ I spent the next year writing tunes and practicing hard, and very luckily, as soon as I finished college, I had a record deal. I ended up doing three albums for them.”
Rebello’s next big break would come by word of mouth, with a recommendation from one of his musical heroes, the late pianist Kenny Kirkland. “Kenny and I had met each other a few times,” Rebello says. “He was a great guy. Still to this day when I hear his playing it makes me smile. It’s got that joy in it. I think Kenny had said some good things about me to Sting, because one day I got an email from Sting, completely unexpectedly, asking me to come over to Italy and play. We ended up getting on well, and suddenly I was playing with him for the next six years. It was amazing.”
Rebello has been busy with a multitude of projects of late, playing with renowned drummer (and fellow Sting alum) Manu Katché, his cousin, classical percussionist Simone Rebello, his own band Actual Spoof (featuring bassist Pino Palladino, and brothers Jeremy and Paul Stacey on drums and guitar), and of course, guitar legend Jeff Beck. “The Jeff Beck gig is fun and challenging, especially playing with drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. He can do anything. He’s always completely on the money. It’s been great for me — I’ve learned so much.”
And what does this road-ready, U.K. keyboard master use these days for his touring rig? “A Korg Triton Extreme, an Apple MacBook Pro running Logic and Mainstage, Synthogy’s Ivory [grand piano] and Arturia vintage synth plug-ins, and a Korg CX-3 tonewheel organ.”