For Every emerging artist recalls that single moment of epiphany where the light shines, the musical spirit illuminates and the future crystallizes as if to tell the world, “This is what I’m here to do and now there’s no stopping me.”
New Jersey based Jonathon Furer, it came a few years ago in seventh grade, at a school talent show. The classically trained 15 year old singer, songwriter, pianist and saxophonist was already teaching piano to younger students. He first played Scott Joplin’s classic rag “The Entertainer” at age six and was introduced to the music of Billy Joel and Elton John by family members. He knew he liked all different kinds of music, but he wasn’t sure about his abilities as a performer. Furer took the stage and for the next five minutes captivated the audience with a powerhouse rendition of Joel’s classic “Piano Man,” even playing the trademark harmonica fills while playing the keys. The crowd gave him a rousing standing O—and nothing has ever been the same since.
“It was the greatest five minutes of my life,” Furer says. “I was in shock, and it’s hard to describe what it is about the experience that makes it so incredible. It’s not just the rush, but more about the deep connection with the audience. It just felt very liberating, like when I’m performing, that’s when I am most connected with the music. I knew I wanted to spend my life doing this.”
Furer is well on his way. In addition to performing with the Cranford High School jazz band and in other settings related to the academic setting, Furer has played gigs at numerous clubs and restaurants in his hometown of Cranford. Having entertained at such events as “Night With the Stars” for the local Ronald McDonald House and a talent show to benefit St. Jude’s Hospital, he has also become a true musical philanthropist. As a way of giving back to his community, he also enjoys playing and singing at senior citizen centers. While maintaining good grades, the high school sophomore has also built a clientele of 24 piano students, creating individual curriculums for children ranging in age from five to 17.
With the help of his own piano teacher, producer, Hammond B-3 master, composer and recording artist Joe Kurasz, Furer recently recorded a three track “calling card” EP that incorporates all of the musical loves of his life—classical, pop, rock and jazz. While conventional wisdom dictates that budding artists choose and master a single genre, Furer’s passions gleefully defy such pigeonholing and take listeners on an extraordinary and eclectic journey. While the elegant intro to his original “Pretty Woman” draws a bit on his classical training, the song becomes a playful, grooving, bass piano driven romp—and a perfect showcase for his skills as a pop singer, lyricist and saxophonist. The simple cathartic line “Pretty Woman, we are through” is one any young person who has been in a new relationship with a deceptive person can relate to.
Over the past few years, Furer has developed an incredible ear for jazz. As a saxophonist, he has been hugely influenced by Chris Potter (whom he first saw perform at the Village Vanguard in NYC) as well as legends like Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley. His tastes have diversified to include everyone from Gershwin, Miles Davis and Dave Grusin to fusion drum great Dave Weckl. Furer showcases his powerful abilities with melody and jazz improvisation on the densely percussive, playfully rolling Brazilian jazz classic “Blue Bossa,” a standard composed by Kenny Dorham which was first introduced in the early 60s by Joe Henderson. Furer blends his pop and jazz sensibilities perfectly on the infectious, groove driven swing-funk instrumental “Middle C.”
“The three songs are very diverse and I like tying together so many different musical nuances within the context of them,” says Furer. “An integral part of my philosophy about music and life is learning to draw on everything we are inspired by to better understand art. Music is simply an extension of our lives, and so it’s natural that I can draw from so many different influences as well as from other art forms like literature. The books I read teach me about stories and structure. Musically, I am really a melting pot, so I can tap into a little of everything I enjoy, from hip hop to pop, rock and jazz.
“I’ve been playing piano since I was five and while I learned classical pieces early on, I am continually amazed at the melodic and harmonic possibilities of the instrument,” he adds. “That’s why I love to teach, because it’s a way to pass on what I have learned and share what I love with others even as I eagerly embrace what comes next. I think true art is created when artists take the innate gifts they have and work hard to create a sound that’s new and original.”
Even as Furer takes time out once in a while to be a regular teenager, his eyes are always peeled for the next opportunity to share his music in as many ways possible. His time in the studio with Joe Kurasz has fueled his ambitions to be a recording artist, but that’s just the beginning of a career that can evolve in many directions. “I want to be involved in the business of recording, composing and performing,” he says. “That is the essence of my dream, but I would love to someday enjoy the kind of eclectic career Dave Grusin has had. He’s been a touring performer, recording artist, film and television composer and label owner. That’s a true inspiration to me.
Now that I’ve taken my first steps, I’m really excited to find out where my musical journey will take me next.”
- Jonathan Widran
MORE ON YOUNG TALENT SPOTLIGHT
Jazz Monthly.com is pleased to introduce a new feature spotlighting young talent. The focus of this debut article is Jonathon Furer, a young man who has been a student of mine for several years. Jonathon came to my attention through his music teacher Fran Engleman as well as my sister Donna Vaupel who had Joanthon as a student in her gifted and talented program in the Cranford NJ Schools. Jonathon is a great example of the type of student we want to spotlight in this segment as he is a quick learner, has a great deal of natural talent, but also the dedication and determination to develop his craft. If you know of a young person (under 21) who should be featured in this article, please send a photo, bio and mp3 of some of his/her music. Send to: firstname.lastname@example.org