Danny Pravder’s parents bought a baby grand piano as “a piece of furniture.” But when the 9-year-old plunked the keys, he loved the sound.
Danny badgered his parents for lessons. Teacher Margie Katz gave him a couple of pieces to work on. He practiced — and did even more than she assigned. He was hooked.
As a Staples freshman, Danny discovered jazz. He loved the music’s complexity, and its spur-of-the-moment mindset.
“You’re not just reading notes. You’re really involved,” Danny explains. “Especially when you’re playing and improvising with other people.”
Last year he began studying with Chris Coogan. Danny is a member of Staples’ jazz band, and and plays in a trio with Austin Alianiello and Mike Ljungberg. (On April 13 they’ll be at Town Hall, raising funds for Japan relief.)
When Staples jazz teacher Nick Mariconda told Danny about a Stamford Center for the Arts Emerging Artists competition, he applied. The arduous process included CD demos. Danny chose 3 different styles: samba, swing and ballad.
Judges sifted through over 100 entries — and chose Danny. He’ll use the $2,000 scholarship for piano and voice lessons, in preparation for college auditions next fall.
Even better than the money (and a handsome glass trophy), though, was the chance to be honored by one of his jazz heroes, Dave Brubeck, at SCA’s gala last month. He also earned a shout-out from the event’s star, Diana Ross, during her performance there.
In handing Danny his award — before a sellout crowd of 1,700 — SCA executive director Elissa Getto quoted Brubeck himself:
At an early age Danny has “done it all” — studied classical piano and jazz, composed and recorded original music, played various styles from jazz to show tunes to alternative rock.
What I admire most of all, he has shared that talent with others by performing for the elderly, teaching younger children, and participating in all kinds of musical activities in his school. I can’t imagine a more deserving recipient of the Brubeck scholarship.
Danny called the event “overwhelming. It’s like having Fitzgerald or Salinger read your writing, and compliment you on it. ”
There was a lot for Brubeck to compliment. Danny has attended Berklee College of Music’s summer program. He composed a score for Staples’ radio production of “Dracula,” as well as solo piano compositions and music for his alternative rock band, Daywalker. He recorded, mixed and released an album of original compositions in 2009, and is working on another.
Danny — who in a non-music endeavor took part in the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth as an engineering student — understands the power of education. And of music, to change lives.
At Staples he’s taken 2 music theory courses, and audio production. He sings in the choir and Orphenians. This summer he’ll play in Chris Coogan’s pit for the Staples Players Summer Theater production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
“The music program is incredible,” he says. “There are so many talented kids. I always learn something new.”
He also praises Coogan, Margie Katz and another instructor, Dr. Joe Utterback, for teaching and inspiring him.
After college he may try for a career in film scoring or music education. He is also interested in cognitive psychology. And environmental science is not out of the question.
For now though, he’s still on a high after receiving the Dave Brubeck award.
The only downside: He didn’t get to play with the 90-year-old legend.
“I’m writing him a thank-you note,” Danny says. “My dad asked, ‘What will you do if he invites you over?’
“I just thought, that would be so cool!”
(Click here for Danny Pravder’s website, including videos. A sample video is below. His email is: firstname.lastname@example.org)