Meet the pianist who played solo for 27 hours

Chilly Gonzales broke a world record. He tells Rob Collins why

September 2, 2010
Gonzales: “I’m not against artists. Some of my best friends are artists”

Gonzales: “I’m not against artists. Some of my best friends are artists”

For a performer whose work can be so funny, Chilly Gonzales can come across as taking himself a little too seriously. Gonzales, real name Jason Beck, is the Canadian whose big breakthrough was the 2001 electro-rap hit, Take Me To Broadway.

A virtuoso pianist, his best-selling album remains 2004's all-instrumental Solo Piano. His latest album, Ivory Tower, is partnered by a forthcoming movie of the same name, which from the trailer would appear to resemble Rocky as set in the world of tournament chess. He has come a long way since launching himself as the sole Berlin-based Jewish-Canadian rapper.

"Calling myself a Jewish rapper had a nice ring to it," he explains. "It carries with it a lot of cultural weight. We can argue about whether it's appropriate, or funny or poetic, but it gets a reaction. It's not my job to argue one way or another. It's my job to start arguments."

Perhaps Gonzales's most striking argument is that what he is doing is not art, but entertainment. He is proud of playing around 150 concerts every year, but even prouder of his bold self-marketing moves, whether it is setting a world record for the longest solo performance in May 2009 or challenging American instrumentalist Andrew WK to a well-publicised piano battle later that year.

"To me, being competitive is the most dramatic way to differentiate my approach from most other people. I look for things to make me different. I'm a Guinness world record holder. That tells people I'm competitive, and I have a prodigious musical memory. I played 222 songs in 27 hours, and I got better as time went on."

The paradox of being a brilliant musician who is also a talented self-marketer is not lost of Gonzales. It is all part of the entertainment process, he says. "The act of marketing, which is a creative fun thing, is a way to pre-emptively say things that people could say about you. Anything an audience can think about me, I've already thought of it. No one can ever accuse me of being self-indulgent or doing it for myself. That's what defines an entertainer rather than an artist.

"I'm not against artists. Some of my best friends are artists! But you haven't heard of them. And the reason is, they don't care. The reason I'm talking to you is because I care what people think. Someone who doesn't care what people think wouldn't bother doing an interview or a concert. That's a real artist, the real deal. People become entertainers the minute they try to communicate."

'Ivory Tower' is out now on Gentle Threat records. Chilly Gonzales plays Bestival on the Isle of Wight on September 10

Last updated: 10:29am, September 2 2010