Music is a language which has the capacity to bring magic, bridge connections, defy boundaries, create harmony, inspire grooviness and give soul to the people of the world.
It’s not all the time that the world encounters a creative soul who leaves deep marks in music evolution that generations would remember forever. There was Michael Jackson, the legendary pop king who revolutionized the meaning of entertainment through dance, lavish costume and innovative music videos; David Bowie, whose unique, theatrical style influenced more musical genres than any other rock star; the Beatles, Queen, and perhaps, the incomparable jazz Prince of Darkness Miles Davis. Then, in 2012, an incredible multi-vocal video of Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely exploded on YouTube, which today, has garnered over 1,845,000 views. The voices belonged to the young singer, arranger, composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Jacob Collier. Only 18 years old at that time, Jacob recorded six of his harmonic voices synchronized with instruments that he also played by himself. In the succeeding year, another one-man recording rocked media followers with another Stevie Wonder hit Don’t You Worry About a Thing, charged with more upbeat arrangement and more a cappella power that doubled to more than 3,600,000 YouTube views. Today, at 25, Jacob has surpassed all composers and arrangers who earned his first jazz award only four years after his debut and two Grammy awards at age 22, and has been touring all over the world in music festivals and concerts side by side, at a time, with Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Take 6, and more. Who is Jacob Collier? And, why is the world talking so much about him?
Raised in London, Jacob could never have escaped music as a child. The notes were carved in his veins, and the childhood influence served as the underlying backbone for his musical career. “I grew up in a family of musicians. Music was almost like a second language to me growing up,” Jacob comments. His maternal grandparents were professional violinists, and his mother, Susan Collier, is a music teacher, violinist, and conductor at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where Jacob also studied jazz piano. The family even sang Bach chorales together. Jacob, an autodidactic, started to teach himself every instrument he could pick up: piano, electric and double bass, drums, guitar, mandolin, bouzouki, autoharp, and more. However, voice harmony became Jacob’s catalyst to making a difference in music. Jacob says: “All I've ever wanted, or expected, from being a musician, is a way to be myself and share that with the world. I never minded too much about being well known, or rich, or successful. These things are fine, but are not priorities to me. I have always believed the human voice to be the most important instrument—both to me and to the world. Thus, the concept was born of singing multiple notes at once to create harmony. I was very inspired by English choral music as a boy, and also by the a cappella group Take 6 as a teenager. Those worlds collided.”
In addition to a potpourri of voices Jacob mixes in his recordings, his genre spreads across such a wide spectrum—jazz, a cappella, groove, folk, electronic , classical, gospel, soul and improvisation—that listeners always wait in suspense for what novel arrangement he would be coming up with next. Accelerating this further is his ingenuity of syncing musical hardware and software, real-time 3D-captured video projections, and the rest is avant-garde technology. So captivating and luminary were his concepts that multi-instrumentalist and record producer Quincy Jones decided to take Jacob under his wings. Jacob remembers his first encounter with Quincy. “Quincy Jones is an incredible human soul! I first met Quincy after he saw an early YouTube video of mine, an arrangement of a Stevie Wonder song Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing. He invited me to Montreux, Switzerland, and we hung out there. That was back in 2014! Since then we have become firm friends. I love to talk about music with him, but most of all I love to talk about life. He always has such incredible things to say. He is in charge of my management team, who are based in the USA. Since the day we met, he has always granted me ultimate freedom in the creative process, and encouraged me to make my own path. I respect and love him a lot.” It was also the Montreux Jazz Festival with Quincy, where he had been performing consecutively that introduced him to Herbie Hancock.
Only 21, Jacob embarked on his first album In My Room in 2016, plus a mega-production of 15-second video clips of 130 melodies from crowdfunded donations that he harmonized and uploaded to social media platforms all over the world. Even before the outcome of one of his biggest projects, Djesse, Jacob had already waved his flag of success, with a Jazz FM Award and MOBO Award in 2016 and two Grammy awards in 2017. “The making of Djesse has certainly been an undertaking! Djesse is a quadruple-album (four full-length albums), each of a separate musical world. Djesse Vol. 1 is music based on the world of the orchestra. Djesse Vol. 2, released last June, is based on the sounds and feeling of a smaller, more intimate feeling—entering into folk songs. Both have been released! Djesse Vol. 3 will be based on the world of electronic sound—digital, strange sounds and worlds—venturing in the realms of hip-hop, broken-beat, soul, funk and experimental stuff. Djesse Vol. 4 will be a culmination of all these worlds—focused around the power of the human voice. It's over 50 songs long, with more than 30 collaborators from around the world! I am so excited,” Jacob explains the vision behind one of his most important productions. The sold-out premiere of Djesse at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2018 was an enormous collaboration with MIT Orchestra and several jazz ensembles and choruses that no longer glued Jacob to his one-man band, but meshed him with excellent bands and performers internationally. Further, Djesse explodes with the Metropole Orkest from Amsterdam, the largest jazz and pop orchestra ensemble in the world, complete with a laser and LED lightshow spectacle and many great hits, including a wonderful a cappella arrangement of Moon River.
It is no surprise at all that Jacob’s full concert in Tokyo on September 13 at the Yebisu Garden Hall in Ebisu will be absolutely jam-packed. “I have played a total of thirteen concerts in Japan thus far—both with an orchestra and also with my one-man show. The audiences are unlike any audiences in the world; they are astoundingly good at listening. It is a privilege to make music in Japan,” Jacob remarks. After all, Japan is that one place very close to Jacob’s heart. “Japan is one of my most favorite places on planet Earth. The culture there is electric. It feels like walking into another world, and yet, with people who are so generous, giving, understanding, and kind, as well as wacky. I always feel most welcomed.”
Perhaps, it is not only the versatility of his talent wrapped around his youthful air, but more precisely the utmost positivity his pure energy and devotion brings to both the old and the young. Jacob says: “I don't think there has ever been a more exciting, explosive time to be a young creative person. There are so many ideas out there, and so many things to grasp. It takes a lot more courage to stick with an idea. I also think it's harder to find space of mind than it used to be. But if you're easily inspired, there is so much to grapple with. Everybody is free to be and do as they wish. All you need is a good idea—the rest will make itself.”
Indeed, the infinite world has come to Jacob to grapple with in a rich variety of tunes and language. Just as his song whispers, the future for this young, vivacious artist will certainly be an “Everlasting Motion”. “My goal is simply to be myself—to continue to grow as a human being. If I can create the music I want to create, share that with the people of the world, and I get to travel around and meet all sorts of people—then that's a great bonus! Since Djesse is such an enormous piece of work, I haven't planned too far ahead after that. I'm very excited for what the future holds.”
Special thanks to Sho Sakai, Live Nation Japan and Nikki Wright.