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Coming ‘home’: Jazz pianist returns to Toledo

24-year-old will hold concert Thursday at Glass Pavilion

  • Guy-Mintus-3-9

    Jazz pianist Guy Mintus calls Toledo his ‘second home.’ He will perform Thursday at the Toledo Museum of Art’s Glass Pavilion.

  • Jon-Hendricks-and-Guy-Mintus

    Toledo is a special attraction for Guy Mintus, left, because it is the hometown of Art Tatum and another jazz icon, Jon Hendricks, right, whom Mintus performed with in 2014. Mintus will give a solo appearance Thursday at the art museum.

    Doug Swiatecki

  • Guy-Mintus

    Guy Mintus has performed at the Kennedy Center, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Apollo Theater, and others.

Guy-Mintus-3-9

Jazz pianist Guy Mintus calls Toledo his ‘second home.’ He will perform Thursday at the Toledo Museum of Art’s Glass Pavilion.

Enlarge

The first thing you need to know about 24-year-old jazz pianist Guy Mintus is he’s a brilliant musician, composer, and arranger who melds a multicultural vision with the passion and fury of jazz greats Art Tatum and Thelonious Monk, a world traveler who goes beyond soloing and embraces the art of improvisation as a soul-soothing and necessary form of communication.

The second thing you need to know is he has a deep and genuine affection for Toledo, a place he calls his “second home.”

That became obvious during a lengthy phone call last week all the way from Istanbul. More on that in a minute.

Mintus, who sometimes performs as part of a trio, will appear as a soloist at 6:30 p.m. Thursday inside the Toledo Museum of Art’s Glass Pavilion.

The show is sponsored by the Art Tatum Jazz Society. Tickets are $35 for members, $45 for nonmembers, and $15 for students; information: arttatumsociety.com.

IF YOU GO

Guy Mintus performs as a soloist at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Toledo Museum of Art’s Glass Pavilion. The show is sponsored by the Art Tatum Jazz Society. Tickets are $35 for members, $45 for nonmembers, and $15 for students.

Born and raised in Israel, Mintus comes from a family that also includes relatives from Morocco and Poland. His grandmothers emigrated to Israel from Iraq.

None are serious musicians. But Mintus grew up with more of a worldly view than most people and has carried that over to what he does on the keyboard.

“This mix is a part of who I am. I let it come out in the music,” the soft-spoken, somewhat shy Mintus said. “Ignoring it would be less than sincere.”

Mintus has performed at the Kennedy Center, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Apollo Theater, Symphony Space, Red Sea Jazz Festival, and the Israel Festival with Grammy-winning artists such as Howard Levy, Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra and jazz legends Sheila Jordan, Jon Hendricks, and Jimmy Owens.

His fascination with Thelonious Monk’s unorthodox style got him hooked on jazz at 13, after discovering Monk’s album, Thelonious Himself and his rendition of the classic, “’Round Midnight.”

Jon-Hendricks-and-Guy-Mintus

Toledo is a special attraction for Guy Mintus, left, because it is the hometown of Art Tatum and another jazz icon, Jon Hendricks, right, whom Mintus performed with in 2014. Mintus will give a solo appearance Thursday at the art museum.

Doug Swiatecki Enlarge

Eight years later, at age 21, Mintus accomplished his dream of moving to New York. He grew up determined to make the Big Apple his base of operations because of its jazz tradition. Mintus studied in Manhattan School of Music’s prestigious jazz program, but — equally as important — he caught the attention of famed pianist Johnny O’Neal.

That’s how the Toledo connection developed, in sort of a roundabout way.

O’Neal, who’s originally from Detroit, is no stranger to Toledo himself. He is so highly regarded in jazz circles that the great Oscar Peterson recommended him for the role of Art Tatum in the 2004 film, Ray, in which Jamie Foxx starred as the late Ray Charles.

Brad Berger, a Toledo freelance photographer who focuses on musicians for national publications, recalls O’Neal telling him about a kid “with monster chops and a real feeling for the music.”

Berger listened to Mintus in New York, then introduced him to Toledo’s Art Tatum Jazz Society.

The relationship took off from there, first with a 2013 concert and then another in 2014.

To get him to that first gig in Toledo, Berger — who by then had seen Mintus several times in New York — personally drove him nine hours here to play with bassist Clifford Murphy and drummer Nelson Overton II.

Berger said Mintus struck him as a “confident yet still somewhat shy young man who demonstrated an uncommon passion and joy for people and the music.”

“Each time his infectious enthusiasm and musical mastery whipped the diverse, all ages crowds into a frenzy,” Berger said. “Whether in New York, Toledo, Europe, or the Middle East, Guy’s on a mission to bring people together and make lives better through music. I’m a better person for knowing him.”

Like countless other musicians, Toledo was a special attraction for Mintus because it is the hometown of Tatum and another jazz icon, Jon Hendricks, whom Mintus performed with in 2014.

Guy-Mintus

Guy Mintus has performed at the Kennedy Center, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Apollo Theater, and others.

Enlarge

Mintus is back in the United States after a lengthy overseas tour.

His interview from Turkey came a day after he was in Switzerland.

He said Toledo “has a special place in my heart” because his 2013 concert was part of his first professional tour.

“Toledo is one of the spots I’m very much looking forward to now. It’s like a second home,” he said. “The response was very, very good. It was sort of love at first sight.”

He called Tatum “one of the best pianists to ever be on the face of the Earth,” and counts him with Monk on his short list of iconic inspirations.

The important thing to him isn’t to emulate their style, but their passion for improvisation — or, as Mintus said, their “spirit and depth.”

“It doesn’t mean you follow them in the same direction they went, but you see how far you can go in your direction,” he said.

Mintus said he sees a good future for jazz and said, as a musician, it’s “almost our job to find ways to invite people inside of it.”

Improvisation provides a special opportunity for musicians to connect with audiences, he said.

“It helps me communicate better with people,” Mintus said. “Jazz is about communication.”

He said he loves the warm response he gets in Toledo from people such as Kay Elliott, the jazz society’s executive director.

“From the first moment she heard me, she believed in me,” Mintus said. “She’s a real fighter for jazz and a real advocate. She works tirelessly.”

The American Composers Orchestra announced in March that Mintus is one of 16 jazz composers it has chosen for readings, workshops, and performances of new works by three orchestras in 2016.

Mintus was selected for focusing on music “as a gateway to cross-cultural understanding” and cited collaborations he has had with master musicians from Turkey, Greece, Iran, Morocco, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, and Mali.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com, 419-724-6079, or via Twitter @ecowriterohio.

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