Seventeen-year-old soul/jazz keyboardist Cale Hawkins is an old pro at a young age. The high school senior from Bemus Point, New York, has played keyboards since age ten, records and markets his own indie releases, and has already performed at storied venues like Ohio’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and B.B. King’s in Memphis, Tennessee. He heads to Berklee College of Music in Boston next year, where he hopes to create an entirely new genre of music. Find out more at calehawkins.com and twitter.com/calehawkins.
First memory of hearing piano or keyboards and being intrigued: My grandparents and parents always had a wide variety of music playing on their stereos. The first time I heard keyboards must have been in Beatles tracks at around age two. “Good Day Sunshine” and the piano solo in “In My Life” always intrigued me.
Musical heroes: My biggest influence as a keyboardist would have to be Herbie Hancock, yet I draw from artists like Soulive, the Roots, Art Tatum, Thelonious Monk, Chick Corea, Donny Hathaway, and Stevie Wonder.
Why keyboards? Although I play guitar, bass, and drums, I focus on keyboards because so many aspects of them appeal to me. I love the freedom to play any note in an eight-octave range, and you don’t have to worry about timbre or embouchure as with other instruments. I also like how there are so many different keyboards that each have a unique sound— I enjoy playing Rhodes, Hammond B-3, and Clavinet in addition to piano.
Favorite style to play? I enjoy soul music the most, but jazz is definitely a close second.
How important is traditional music training? Extremely so, in my opinion. After studying theory for several years, it gives you a sixth sense about music. It’s great to hear chord changes in songs and be able to say, “Oh, that’s the minor five chord to the root seventh, to the fourth, then it’s heading to the five chord with a flat ninth.”
Read or play by ear? Although I can read music, I enjoy playing by ear more.
Keyboards owned/wanted: My favorite keyboard would have to be my Yamaha Motif. My dream keyboard? An original Fender Rhodes. I’d love to have that authentic ’70s sound.
Role technology plays in your music: I’m proficient in Pro Tools, Logic, and Reaper, and have produced, engineered, and marketed two all-original albums on which I play all the instruments. I constantly use these programs for demo ideas as well. Keyboard technology is also huge—my Motif provides several hundred tones, and I love my new Hammond XK-1’s emulation of the classic B-3 sound.