He's toured with jazz legend Marcus Miller and now has his own Nord signature sound bank. Get to know Julian “J3PO” Pollack, our TALENT SCOUT Artist of the Week.
NAME: Julian “J3PO” Pollack
HOMETOWN: Berkeley, CA, New York City, and now living in Los Angeles, CA.
MUSICAL TRAINING: My mother Susan Waterfall, who is a concert pianist, started teaching me at age five. My folks then had me study with Susan Muscarella at the Jazzschool (now the California Jazz Conservatory) around the age of 10. She taught me essentially everything I know about harmony, voice-leading, and jazz piano. I went on to Berkeley High School and played in the jazz ensemble for four years, under the direction of Charles Hamilton. Lots of musicians came through that program including Joshua Redman, Peter Apfelbaum, Ambrose Akinmusire, Justin Brown, Billy Buss, Samora and Elena Pinderhughes, to name a few. I received a full ride scholarship to Berklee College of Music in Boston but ended up going to New York to study at NYU. I received both my undergraduate degree and my master’s degree in piano and composition there. While in New York I had the opportunity to do a master class with Brad Mehldau, which was really cool. I also studied with Kenny Werner and Jean-Michel Pilc.
FIRST GIGS: Hard to say what my “first gigs” were. At Berkeley High, and also at the music middle school I attended (The Crowden School), performances were taken so seriously by my peers and me that those “gigs” didn’t feel any different than the gigs I have today. There was the same pressure and desire to play great, and we had audiences. I make a living from it now, and getting paid to do music gradually increased year by year after arriving in New York. I definitely had to do my fair share of $50 gigs in New York and cut my teeth doing them.
MUSICAL INFLUENCES: I pull from a pretty vast selection of music from many different styles and genres as far as my influences are concerned. As a kid, my father introduced me to the music of Oscar Peterson. I think Oscar starts it for a lot of pianists. He swings so hard and his music is so joyful. And, he’s one helluva technician, which is very exciting, especially when you’re just getting introduced to the world of music. I’d say in terms of piano, I spent a lot of time with these artists: Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, and Brad Mehldau. And then, as far as my influences as a whole, here are some artists in no particular order: Zapp and Roger, John Mayer, John Adams, A Tribe Called Quest, Miles Davis, D’Angelo, Frank Sinatra, Robert Glasper, Tony Williams, Michael Brecker, Ravel, Aretha Franklin, J Dilla, Duke Ellington and on and on… and in the words of Duke [Ellington], "There’s only two kinds of music, good and bad."
WHAT I’M LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW: My peers. Mono-neon, Cory Henry, MXXWLL, Anomalie, Nicholas Semrad & Expansions of Q, Knower, S U R V I V E , Snarky Puppy, and honestly a lot of Spotify playlists like Synthwave From Space and the ever so popular Lush Lo-Fi. Playlists are cool because they allow you to discover people you may not have heard of before, and I really dig that. I’ve also been re-discovering late Miles because I just went on tour with Marcus Miller. And, Marcus’ records are all crazy, too.
MY BIG BREAK: I wouldn’t say I ever had one “big break.” A series of fortunate opportunities allowed me to have a career in music. Some things along the way that really helped me out were: when I was 18 I was featured on Marianne McPartland’s NPR show, Piano Jazz. When I was living in New York and I joined the Lesson GK, and that was paramount to my development as a musician. The Lesson GK hosts a jam session every Thursday night at Arlene’s Grocery on the Lower East Side in NYC, and being part of that band has really shaped my musical style. The music has been described as “experimental hip-hop” and “progressive soul” – but conceptually, it is jazz. Being able to play with some of the best musicians in the world every week and develop a musical style and language was truly incredible. And we’re still at it. Recently, I had the opportunity to tour with the legendary Marcus Miller and that has also been a truly gratifying experience.
LATEST PROJECTS: I just finished working with Nord Keyboards on my own signature sound bank (The J3PO Signature Sound Bank). That was really fun because not only did I design a bunch of sounds for the Nord Stage 3, but I also went to Sweden to Nord headquarters to record a bunch of videos using the patches in a performance setting. Recently, I put out a single called “The Crab” and am planning to drop a full album very soon. And, I’m always busy in my studio creating content for social media. I have found that putting my sketches and ideas on Instagram is a great way to connect with people and to try things out.
FAVORITE KEYBOARDS AND WHY? The Nord Stage 3. You can literally do everything with that board. And it sounds so great. With all the recent additions they’ve made to the OS, it’s a truly amazing instrument. I am also in love with my DSI/Sequential Prophet-6. It’s such a simple poly-synth but I have found that it is always just what I’m looking for. And this isn’t a keyboard, but I use it a LOT: the Red Panda Tensor pedal. It's a super amazing piece of gear that allows for a lot of cool glitchy, stutter-y, reverse-y, pitch-y, goodness.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU? Getting my record wrapped up. It’s been in the works for a while now.
ADVICE TO THE NEXT GENERATION: It’s a complicated world. Figure out what you love. Learn from other influences, people, friends, peers, teachers, etc, but stay true to what you really love. It’s very easy to get distracted by what other people think you should love. If you can stay true to what you love, then you’re on the road to success. To me, success is being part of musical experiences that are gratifying and creating media (records and stuff) that you’re proud of. That’s it.
For more information visit www.julianpollack.com