Is This Jazz?: A black and white conversation with Jhony Keys

There are few keyboard players and pianists in Rhode Island who have the stylistic breadth and musical depth of local musician Jhony Keys. He’s played in a wide range of ensembles from reggae and funk bands to jazz trios and leading gospel choirs, and Jhony approaches every gig with a steadfast dedication to the music that has made him a go-to player throughout New England. Not only is he an excellent performer, but Jhony organizes and runs the Tuesday jazz jam at 10 Rocks in Pawtucket, which has consistently been one of the best jams the state has ever seen.

A little while ago, in the beginning weeks of the pandemic, I had the chance to ask Jhony a few questions, and get a taste of what makes him the great musician he is.

Ben Shaw (Motif): When did you start playing?

Jhony Keys: I started playing keyboards/piano at 9, then bass at around 15.

 BS: How did you first get into jazz?

JK: As a kid, I remember hearing Ray Charles on the radio and I knew I wanted to capture that sound, and then later I delved into all the other giants.

BS: When did you decide to pursue music as a career and how did you start?

JK: I’ve always played with churches and different groups, but I really started to take music seriously as a career around 2008, I think.

BS: How has a career in music lived up to your expectations? 

JK: It’s really tough. You have to wear a lot of hats. But for me, it’s definitely all worth it.

BS: How has it differed? Where do you usually play around town?

JK: One day I’m playing funk, the other I’m playing jazz and then reggae and of course gospel. When I’m not traveling or playing a private event, you can catch me at a local spot like Ten Rocks restaurant on Tuesday’s.

BS: Is there one thing you think aspiring musicians should think about or do when they consider a career in music?

JK: There’s a lot to consider, such as: Do I really wanna do this? Because you have to sacrifice a lot of personal time and resources to make it a career.

BS: What concepts (melodic, harmonic, etc) are you currently working on? 

JK: Lately I’ve been working on learning Indian melodies, it’s so beautiful! I’m a big fan of different cultures.

BS: Beyond music, what other activities do you enjoy?

JK: I love music, but I also enjoy skydiving, basketball, billiards, soccer and working out. Lately though, I’ve been really acquainted with sleep.

Keep up to date with Jhony Keys by finding him on Facebook and Instagram. If you want to hear a longer, more in-depth conversation with Jhony, check out his episode of the podcast “Where The Living Room Used To Be,” hosted by James Toomey, available on Apple Podcasts or at livingroomutb.com.