An Interview with Christian Sands

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Christian Sands Trio Concert - JazzTimes

If you’re a fan of Jazz, then this is a wonderful time to be alive. A wave of young, talented and vibrant Jazz musicians is sweeping across the scene and Christian Sands is one of them. In just a few short years, Christian Sands has accomplished more than some do in a lifetime, and he’s not even close to done yet.

Today, we’ve got the talented pianist, Christian Sands with us for a chat. We talk about his early influences, working with some of the greats, his love for vinyl and his occasional dreams of becoming a race car driver.

If you would like to learn more about the music of Christian Sands, you can head over to his website here. Once you’ve gotten through with that, dig into this interview with Christian. Cheers.

Andrew:
Christian, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. It’s been a weird year, hasn’t it? What have you been doing to pass the time?

Christian:
That’s a loaded question. Funny enough, I feel like I’m busier than ever. I won’t list everything, but I’ve been doing more “personality” work than playing the piano which actually has been very different for me. Usually, I let my music speak for me, but in this case, I’ve had to get in front of cameras, use my voice to host tv shows and web series’, using online platforms like Instagram and Facebook to engage MORE with fans across the world. It’s been an adventure to say the least but very rewarding. 

Andrew:
Tell us a bit about your backstory. What are your musical origins so to speak?

Christian:
I grew up in New Haven, CT studying Classical piano from the age of 4, but I’ve grown up with multiple styles of music either played or listened to in the home. From Beethoven to Barry White, Charlie Pride to Charlie Parker, and everything in between, I’ve been surrounded by music my entire life. I started improvising when I was about that young or younger and it sort of was the backbone of me being a Jazz musician. I started formal studies at age 7.

Andrew:
As an artist, and pianist, who have been some of your most important influences? How did you develop your signature style?

Christian:
Growing up, both of my parents played many different pianists in the house. Them being an amateur pianist, my father loved listening to piano based songs and artists like, Joe Sample, Ahmad Jamal, Herbie Hancock, Dave Brubeck to name a few. My mother loved Classical music, Mozart in particular and Country music like Ray Charles and Charlie Pride. But throughout my life, I’ve also been exposed and influenced by multiple artists, branching beyond music, like Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Tinker Hatfield (Jordan Brand), Ferdinand Porsche (you can tell I like design), and Bruce Lee which has helped with my latest project, Be Water.

Andrew:
Early on, you were mentored by pianist, Billy Taylor. My understanding is he even allowed you to close one of sets when you were a teen. Tell us more about working and learning under Billy.

Christian:
Working with Dr. Taylor was truly the experience of all experiences. It was indeed working with a master, one who has been involved in music and American history since the 40s when he moved to NY. He taught me so many useful tools, from performance, to how one conducts themselves during business meetings, how to lead a band. He also shared wisdom that he had learned when he was coming from legends like the great Art Tatum, Duke Ellington, Erroll Garner and so on. But above all, he truly taught me about how kind and grateful we should all be. He was a truly remarkable human being with a warm heart and an open mind.

Andrew:
After you graduated from the Manhattan School of Music, you joined bassist, Christian McBride’s band, Inside Straight. How did you end up getting that gig? What is like working with Christian McBride?

Christian:
I had met Christian [McBride] a few times before, back when I was an undergrad at the Manhattan School of Music and each meeting was good, nothing remarkable on my end, definitely not one that would lead to getting a gig, but all just good. He was a nice guy, very warm and welcoming, but nothing eluded to, “Hey, lets play together” until I received a phone call from the great Marian McPartland. She had asked me to be a guest on her show, “Piano Jazz” which I more than gladly accepted. A few weeks leading to the taping, my parents (who were my managers at the time) received a phone call saying that Ms. McPartland was ill and couldn’t make the show but assured us that it would still go on with a substitute, Mr. Christian McBride. Fast forward to after the show, I’m in a practice room at MSM and preparing for a lesson I had with my private instructor at the time, Vijay Iyer, when I got a phone call from Christian’s manager, Andre Guess. “Hey Brother Sands! McB wants to know what you’re doing on X&Y date, he’s got a week at the Jazz Standard (in NY) and wants you to play with him.” The rest is history…

Andrew:
As a side man, you’ve had the opportunity to work with the likes of Bobby SANABRIA, Ulysses Owens, Christian McBride, Gregory Porter and more. What’s it been like working with such wonderful and talented musicians?

Christian:
Working with so many different artists in the supporting role is great. I’ve been fortunate of being more than just a “side” musician, but a collaborator of the music. Making decisions with another artist, putting our minds together, it’s a great feeling. You learn more that way, you hear more that way. In my earlier years, being in bands is how I learned how to play the music like how to swing, how to play in different styles and in different spaces. I think it’s important for artists to have been in bands because it gives you a great foundation in your musicality and also teaches you how to lead generously as well.

Christian Sands: Be Water (Mack Avenue) - JazzTimes

Andrew:
You put out a new record in 2020. It’s called Be Water. What can you tell us about the new album? What was the inspiration?

Christian:
This record is a very personal one for me. They all are, but this one in particular is special. I feel more myself as an artist on this record, I’m not trying to impress anyone or show how much piano I can play, I’m just simply expressing myself and am truly living in the moment. That’s what Be Water is about, being in the moment, not knowing what will happen in the future, not worrying about the past but truly being in the present and moving through with whatever is thrown at you. Not thinking that we’d all have to be like water this year for 2020, but it was something that I was feeling and wanted to capture as best I could. I was inspired by moments in my life, different pivotal moments and great memories. As a child, watching spaghetti westerns and Bruce Lee films with my father and younger brother was something we loved to do so film was definitely a big factor in this particular project. Film to me is a snapshot in time that tells a story about humanity and the possibilities, responsibilities, that come with it fact or fiction. And we immerse ourselves in those stories and sometimes find ourselves in the stories. That’s what I strive to do with music, to be a story teller but also give the listener a snapshot of my life in that moment. 

Andrew:
Let’s talk about current events. You’ve also been nominated for a Grammy this year for best instrumental composition. How gratifying is that for you?

Christian:
I’ve always used my life and life story as a way of moving through my music and I feel like it’s all lead here, to this moment. I’ve been nominated before, with groups but never for something that I lead, written or owned, so this is a very special moment. Fingers Crossed.

Andrew:
Aside from any potential possibilities musically, what are else are you passionate about? How do those passions inform your music, if at all?

Christian:
Like I’ve said before, I love film so I’m really interested in film scoring. One of these days, I’m sure it’ll happen. Acting is also on my bucket list, I don’t know if I’m any good, but you don’t know until you try it, right? [laughs]. I’m also into fashion/lifestyle, for those who follow me on my socials. All of these inform my music with how creative I can be and my music informs my hobbies and interests. I had thought about being a race car driver at a point in my life too so there’s that too! [laughs]. 

Christian Sands > Music Works International

Andrew:
Shifting gears now. In your opinion, COVID-19 aside, what’s the state of the industry? With the never-ending barrage of social media, and constant squeeze from big business, is it harder or easier for artists to succeed these days?

Christian:
THAT is a good question. I believe it is a split decision. There are moments for artists where they have grown accustomed to the system and relied on it to work. But on the other hand, there are many who haven’t and have been just as successful, so I think it really depends on the individual and where you’d like to be. The hustle is real and you have to do it to survive. But we can also look at it from a different angle. We’re in a time where new ideas and new opportunities are being created by ourselves, our generation, and the possibilities are endless. You just gotta be ready to move when it’s time.

Andrew:
What are a few albums that mean the most to you, and why?

Christian:
There are so many!! Some for sentimental reasons, making me think of my family and good times, others because the music is so incredible on vinyl. I’ll give you a few; Off the Wall, Michael Jackson (and Thriller), Abbey Road, The Beatles, Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd, Purple Rain, Prince and anything by Miles Davis.

Andrew:
Are you into vinyl? Tapes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? Where do you like to shop for music?

Christian:
I believe music sounds better on wax, so I’m definitely a vinyl-head. Unfortunately most of the record shops near me have closed at this point, but there are still a few left standing in America that I get records from whenever I’m on the road like Amoeba in LA, Newbury Comics in Boston, Easy Street Records in Seattle to name a few. 

Christian Sands, Scullers Jazz Club at Scullers Jazz Club, Boston MA, Music

Andrew:
This has been such an odd time, but we’ve still seen a lot of great music released in 2020 into early 2021. What are some of your must have albums of the last year or so?

Christian:
There are a lot of great releases across the board for this year. Some that have been in rotation for me and others that I still have to get to. Brandy’s B7 has been in heavy rotation for me, that shit is brilliant. Bad Bunny has had a year with YHLQMDLG. Young titan, Immanuel Wilkins’ record, Omega, has been in my ears for a while too. And of course the great Charles Lloyd with 8: Kindred Spirits, super killer! 

Andrew:
Last question. You’ve had a great career, with hopefully a long way to go yet. That said, looking back, what are some of your proudest and fondest memories as a musician? What advice would you have for young musicians trying to get their start today?

Christian:
There are so many to name, I’m just blessed and humbled that I get to be on this path and everyday is a better experience than the last. The advice I’d give to young musicians is to live in the moment, take in everything you can and don’t stop growing. Be open to knew things, absorb them and know that the sky is just the beginning. 

NEW RELEASE: Christian Sands 'Reach Further' EP - The Kurland Agency

Interested in learning more about the artistry of Christian Sands? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Andrew has always felt himself to be a "jack of all trades, master of none" type of person. With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found Vinyl Writer in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Stories from the Stacks. Over time, the column grew into a website which now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process.
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