On The Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

Chilly Gonzales, aka Jason Beck (March 20, 1972 – )
Pianist, Singer/Songwriter/Producer, Rapper

Sept. 30, 2020 – By DAVID EISENSTADT

Classical piano compositions with a pop music sensibility. That only begins to describe Jason Beck’s musical contributions.

“After making his name as an average alt-rocker and a rather awful comic rapper, the Canadian eccentric now dresses in a smoking jacket and serves as a one-man cheerleader for the piano,” wrote John Lewis in The Guardian.

The son of Ashkenazi Jews who fled Hungary to Toronto during the Second World War, Beck began playing the piano at age 3. As a classical piano student at McGill University, he co-composed several musicals with his brother, billing himself as a jazz pianist.

“Growing up, I had a complex relationship with studying music,” Gonzales told completemusicupdate.com in 2017. “I wanted to be inspired and challenged, not ‘taught.’”

After leading the alternative rock band Son in the 1990s, he was signed by Warner Music Canada to a three-album contract in 1995. But, as The Montreal Mirror reported, his dealings with the Canadian music industry’s expectations were “difficult,” so he moved to Berlin in 1999.

Beck spoke no German, “but declared himself the President of the Berlin Underground and adopted the name Chilly Gonzales,” reported Neil McCormick in The Telegraph.

The moniker is a brand, not a persona, he told The New Yorker’s Alex Wilkinson. “At a certain moment, Jason Beck didn’t sound so good. There was Beck and there was [guitarist] Jeff Beck. I wanted a name that dared people to underestimate me. To be a classical musician and an amateur rapper isn’t that much of a stretch if your name is Chilly Gonzalez.”

He sometimes introduces himself as “Chilly Gonzalez, musical genius.”

“Take a classically-trained pianist with a depth of knowledge in musical theory and harmony, add the comprehension of pop/rock with the ability to rap, and you have Chilly Gonzalez,” summarized the CBC.

His most notable works are contained on Solo Piano, his best-selling album produced in 2004, and Solo Piano II in 2013, widely known for the song Never Stop, some of which was used by Apple in the first iPad commercial. Gonzales released Solo Piano III in 2018.

His talent for producing and writing songs for other artists led to work with singer Jane Birkin, indie rocker Leslie Feist, and Peaches. He collaborated with Feist on her 2003 album Let It Die and her 2007 album The Reminder, which was nominated for four Grammy Awards and won five Juno Awards. He also worked closely with Jhene Aiko and on Drake’s third album Nothing Was The Same.

He also collaborated with Daft Punk to produce Random Access Memories, which won a Grammy Award in for 2013’s Album of The Year.

Gonzo, as he is known to close friends, signed a contract with Mercury in 2008 and released a pop recording, Soft Power, which listeners likened to the styles of Billy Joel and the Bee Gees.

In 2009, Gonzales set a new world record for the longest solo-artist performance, with a total time of 27 hours, 3 minutes and 44 seconds, playing over 300 songs.

In 2018, he launched The Gonzervatory, a groundbreaking music school “where freedom and fun coexist with discipline and reverence,” as his website described the initiative.

Open to every musician 18 and older from all parts of the globe, students, together with their professors, explore what Gonzales calls “Musical Humanism, audience psychology and what it means to be a performing musician in 2019.”

Those chosen as finalists hone their skills in preparation for a final concert led by Gonzales himself.

He expects to be back on tour in Europe in December to play all his shows that were cancelled by COVID.

Anyone who has seen him live cannot but note that Gonzales is deeply talented and has a lot of fun on stage. Musicians “shouldn’t have to choose between fun and knowledge,” he believes. “It’s a false choice.”

David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is Founding Partner of tcgpr.com and is a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.