Justin Salisbury is the latest piano phenomenon from the U.S.A. to visit Kampot for a run of live performances at Equinox. On the eve of his Cambodian debut, Leng Pleng caught up with Justin to find out some background on this prodigiously talented Berklee College of Music scholarship winner.
Hi Justin, welcome to Cambodia! There is something fabulously intimate and ‘old school’ about the piano-bar set up at Equinox Kampot: just a room and an upright acoustic piano and a performer (and a convex mirror for him to see his audience). How does this setting compare to your regular gigs back home?
Hi Leng Pleng, thank you for the welcome. It is incredibly beautiful here and I am so grateful for Frank, Anthony, Tim and the rest of the staff for treating me so well here in Kampot. The Equinox is pretty similar in some ways to a regular gig that I do in Boston. I used to play four nights a week at this seafood restaurant called Ostra. Since moving to New York in September I commute back and forth and I just play on Sundays now. There is a piano there that I play while people sit and listen. The main difference is that this place is quite upscale with everyone wearing suits and nice dresses. I love the laid back vibe here as a contrast to the east coast uptightness.
You will be performing a one month residency in Kampot ? Do you have a plan for the set list or are you just going to ‘feel it out’ as you go along ?
I never prepare a setlist although it may be a good idea. Solo piano is interesting because there is no one else to feed off of musically. I find the more that I can keep myself interested the more it translates to the audience. If I play slow for a while then I will play fast afterwards to balance it out. I try to play many different tempos and feels to keep it from falling into one area. People are always coming in and out of the room so I absorb their energy as well. Sometimes I will see people in the audience and then make up a story about them and try to play it on the piano. I just do whatever I can to stay focused.
Outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia is a very rural and naturally beautiful country. How long are you planning to stay and will you have the chance to travel and explore the Kingdom of Wonder during your trip?
On the 27th I will be done with my residency here and I have until March 6th to explore. During this time I definitely will make it over to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. Aside from that I don’t have any plans I usually like to keep things open.
Seattle Washington…. is a long way from Berklee! We’re intrigued with the SEACATS/Justin Fisk connection. Was there a musical journey for you from rock to jazz… classical to rock?
I started studying classical piano in kindergarten. My freshman year of high school I started taking jazz piano lessons. Shortly after that I met my good buddy and SEACATS co-founder Josh Davis. I started playing keys in the band and band and we worked on a full-length, self -titled album with Steve Fisk. Steve was a great mentor to all of us, having working with many different bands over the years. Playing in SEACATS was a very special experience. The band is still active and I still play on stuff they are working on from time to time. The two brothers and founders of the band recently produced a great record by the band Special Explosion. You can find it on the internet. It has generated some nice attention.
Which Jazz Standard has haunted your dreams/inspired you/made you smile more than any other?
One of my favorite standards is “Darn That Dream”. It has a great melody, lyrics and harmony. What more can you ask for! For sure I will end up playing it here in Kampot a lot.
Being an alumni of Berklee College of Music adds a certain cachet to your musical profile. Can you tell us a little about how you came to study at Berklee and how did you enjoy your experience there?
I was fortunate enough to receive a full tuition scholarship to Berklee in 2012. It was my dream to study there since I learned about it as a kid. There I had the opportunity to play and study with some of the best musicians from around the world. Studying with trombonist Hal Crook was the highlight of my experience there. Hal is one of the leading teachers of improvisation and his approach influenced me greatly. He always played with us in class which is different than many of the teachers. He has a great sense of humor. He is caring yet brutally honest with his evaluation of his students. He recently retired but I was lucky enough to catch him at the end of his long career at Berklee.
If you could suggest a dress code for your Cambodian gigs which would fit your music, what would it be? Hipster cool… retro chic… 20’s speakeasy or…. anything goes ?
I will be wearing pretty laid-back clothes at the gig as compared to what I wear on the east coast. I would hope that people would just come out and have a nice time. I’m not at all concerned about what they wear maybe just to tune into the music from time to time.
“Justin Salisbury is a Brooklyn-based jazz pianist, keyboard player and electronic musician.
While growing up in the small town of Clatskanie, Oregon, Justin studied and played with many of the Pacific Northwest’s finest musicians including Clay Giberson, Derek Sims and Alan Jones.
He worked with Seattle grunge legend Steve Fisk and toured with the regionally acclaimed pop/rock band, SEACATS. In 2013, Justin had the honor of playing under the direction of NEA Jazz Master Gerald Wilson at the Portland Jazz Festival. He has also performed internationally in the Netherlands and France. In addition to his jazz work, he produces electronic music for a variety of different projects.
Justin received the Jimmy Lyons Scholarship at the 2013 Monterey Jazz Festival. The award included a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to the Berklee College of Music as well as the opportunity to perform at the Monterey Jazz Festival with the Berklee Global Jazz Ambassadors.
Justin graduated Berklee College of Music in 2017 and resides in Brooklyn, NY where he plays frequently with some of the world’s top musicians.”