The amazing Andrew Oliver

Although you might not have heard of him, Andrew Oliver is fast on his way to becoming another alumni that will give PSU future bragging rights.

Although you might not have heard of him, Andrew Oliver is fast on his way to becoming another alumni that will give PSU future bragging rights. The 23-year-old music and French major will graduate in June, well on his way to world domination via the 88 black and white keys.

A bit of history on Mr. Oliver: He started playing piano at age three–in other words, he’s been playing piano for longer than many of the Vanguard’s readers have been alive. He was soon enrolled in the Yamaha Music School, learning ear training and other fundamental music skills. He then moved on to taking private lessons and studying classical piano until high school, when, like many people, he grew tired of the music he was reared on.

His mind and his ears wanted something different, and that’s when he discovered ragtime and early jazz music. In fact, he still counts New Orleans jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton as his favorite all-around musician. Of this icon, Oliver said, “He claimed to invent jazz, and in a lot of ways he did,” by synthesizing the various genres of existing music and fusing them into a new, revolutionary beast we now take for granted as a musical style. He counts among his other influences Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bichet, Jaki Byard, Brad Mehldau and many more. From high school on, Oliver has taken private piano lessons from local legend Randy Porter, an adjunct piano instructor for PSU.

And those lessons from Porter have paid off, leading Oliver to play with some local and national luminaries like Glen Moore, Maurice Brown, Dick Titterington, Rob Scheps, Irvin Mayfield, Devin Phillips and others. As the pianist for Hurricane Katrina refugee Devin Phillips’ New Orleans Straight Ahead band, Oliver and the band have been selected to travel the globe as “jazz ambassadors,” representing part of the diversity of American music to other cultures. This fall, they’ll likely be heading to West Africa.

Not that this would be the first time Oliver has traversed the globe for music. He spent 2002 through 2005 in the honors program at Loyola University in New Orleans, studying jazz and leading and playing in several groups. Last fall, he spent the term in Angers, France, which helped with his French major, but also gave him a chance to play with some local French musicians and expand his cultural experience.

This July, he’ll be traveling to Italy and Bulgaria as music director for the Krebsic Orkestar, an 11-piece Serbian gypsy-folk brass band for which he plays trumpet. When he’s not playing trumpet or piano, Oliver finds time to play classical cello. He played with the Metro Youth Symphony and currently leads a cello trio bearing his name.

Not that a man as multi-talented as he could be restrained to one passion, but one main area of interest is the Andrew Oliver Sextet, a jazz ensemble featuring Dan Duval on guitar, Mary Sue Tobin on soprano and alto sax, Willie Mathias on tenor, Eric Gruber on bass, and Kevin Van Geem on drums. He hopes to record an album with this band late in the fall, after his globe-trekking settles down a bit. This band can be seen at Oliver’s senior recital on May 24, at 7 p.m. in Room 75 of Lincoln Hall. He also has a solo album out called Standing Still Mountain, which features musicians he played with in New Orleans, who moved out post-Katrina.

For the more experimentally-minded music fan, Oliver plays with an experimental ensemble called The Sound for the Organization of Society, a jazz/classical/avant-garde group whose members live all around the country now. He describes their music as “strictly composed music, but half free-jazz.” This band has an album due for imminent release called India and Africa, which was recorded in New Orleans last year. This band will play at the Red & Black Caf퀌� on July 21.

With his talented fingers in so goddamned many pies, the future is wide open for him.

“I’m starting to like teaching music,” he said. The more he does it, the better he gets at it and the more he can appreciate what it takes to be a good teacher. Touring with his own sextet and with Devin Phillips’ NOSA band also holds some promise for the future, but it’s hard to sustain a living on touring alone. After graduation, he said, “I’m going to live in Portland for a year, then either go to Chicago or graduate school at the New England Conservatory in Boston. Or move to Europe.”

Andrew plays with Krebsic Orkestar on May 12 at the Doug Fir, with Dan Schulte on May 14 at Kickin’ Back Lounge, and with his own quartet on May 17 at the Red & Black Cafe. Many more dates are listed on his MySpace page.