While most pianists embrace a dry, reclusive and austere lifestyle of study, practice, and self-discipline, Canadian-born Chilly Gonzales has chosen a more extravagant and joyful path to achieve greatness.
His career started in Toronto with formal training in classical and jazz music, a foundation he built on with rap beats and synths to become a pop music superhero of sorts. A “total entertainer” keen on improvisation, bathrobes, rapping, and piano recitals that come across as half stadium rock extravaganza and half contemporary art gallery performance.
He has an experimental groove that is both critically acclaimed and widely popular. His instrumental album Piano Solo (2004), with its technical mastery and melancholic tunes, led him to be international recognized as an accomplished musician.
We caught up with Chilly Gonzales in his Parisian studio to learn more about his influences, his insights into pop music, his working methods, and learned how to play disco on a Bechstein piano. Even though Gonzo confesses to being a “musical genius” he has a pretty sane, but passionate, relationship with his craft—he refuses to be a fetishist, instead describing himself as a “scientist of music," whether on a traditional grand piano or a CASIO keyboard.
In 2010 he swapped the piano for a chess board—taking inspiration from the cinematic aspect of his album Ivory Tower, and turned it into a movie. With the help of friend and director Adam Traynor he made the film Ivory Tower, where he plays a chess purist who’s obsessed with the game, using it to try to win the affections of his childhood sweetheart.
Below is a selection of some of his work:
“You Can Dance”
“I Am Europe”
“Take Me to Broadway”