Pianist and composer Kevin Hays has been making a mark on the New York jazz scene for the better part of three decades. He's currently leading a myriad of different ensembles, as well as touring with the legendary drummer Steve Gadd. Get to know our TALENT SCOUT Artist of the week.

NAME: Kevin Hays

HOMETOWN: Greenwich, CT

MUSICAL TRAINING: I started private piano lessons around the age of five. Then in my early teens, I went to the Interlochen Music Camp. I also studied with the jazz pianists Lou Stein and Jack Reilly, ending with Eleanor Hancock who was a great teacher and helped me with my technique, musicality and sound production.

FIRST GIGS: In high school, I played around Connecticut at restaurants and then at a soul food place on 17th Street and 10th Avenue in New York City called West Boondock. I was around 16 years old and it was a six-hour gig for $60! Then the pianist Bill Charlap recommended me for a solo gig that he had been doing for a while at The Knickerbocker in Greenwich Village.

MUSICAL INFLUENCES: Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Wynton Kelly, Jimmy Smith, Wayne Shorter, Led Zeppelin, Rush, Santana.

WHAT I’M LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW: D’Angelo (Voodoo), Larry Grenadier (The Gleaners), Aretha Franklin (Amazing Grace), Eva Cassidy (Simply Eva), Paul Simon (Stranger to Stranger). 

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MY BIG BREAK: Landing a record contract with Blue Note Records in the early 1990s. I recorded three albums for them. 

LATEST PROJECTS: The last couple of years have been really fun and quite varied. I released the trio album North, recorded a duo album with the great guitarist Lionel Loueke, and I’ve been recording and touring with the drummer Steve Gadd and his band.

FAVORITE KEYBOARDS AND WHY? Besides being a tried and true Steinway guy (I recently purchased a vintage Model C and had it rebuilt), I’ve always loved and played Fender Rhodes as my main electric instrument. It’s the first type of electric piano I ever owned and it continues to be on the rider for any gig that I’m not just playing acoustic piano on. I tend to like the "Suitcase" model, and I will most often mute the speaker and put it through a good fender twin as it gives it the grit and power I need, along with more EQ options.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU? I’m currently working on a full vocal album of original songs and a few covers which should be completed and released by the end of the year.

ADVICE TO THE NEXT GENERATION: I think the best advice I can give is to do your homework (i.e. technical work, harmony, transcribing, lots of listening and playing with your peers). Then stay true to yourself and play what you hear. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. We need you!

For more information visit www.kevinhays.com