GREAT BARRINGTON -- It’s not easy to be a full-time musician in the Berkshires. Zack Cross is about as close as one can get.
The Arlington, Va., native, a pianist, plays assorted gigs for assorted bands, as well as a solo performer. He also gives music lessons and teaches music at a local school.
Cross is a 2010 graduate of Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music with a degree in Jazz Piano Performance.
During his time at IU, Cross was selected to participate in the prestigious Stearns Institute for Young Artists in Jazz at the Ravina Festival outside Chicago.
Cross takes the stage with a variety of bands, in a variety of genres. He will perform next (locally) at Third Thursday in Pittsfield with his group, Mammal Dap.
In a recent interview, he spoke of his influences, his roots and why, at first, he wasn’t wild about being a piano player.
Q: When did you start playing piano?
A: I was 6 or 7. And honestly, I got started the way a lot of musicians started: My mother wanted me to take lessons. I wouldn’t say I was super-interested in it at that point. It was something she was interested in more than me.
Q: But obviously, you got into it, right?
A: Oh yeah. I think at some point, I realized it was a kind of unique skill. And I began to enjoy playing.
Q: Do you play any other instrument besides piano?
A: Besides piano, I play keyboards. But mostly piano.
Q:When did you start playing front of people?
A: In eighth grade, I started playing in community jazz bands, and in my local high school jazz bands.
Q: Growing up, what did you listen to on the radio?
A: Well, not so much the radio. I can remember listening in the car to the tapes my father had made: The Beatles, the Beach Boys and Michael Jackson.
Q: Wow. a mix tape, something I forgot all about. But you made a transition to jazz?
A: Yes, pretty much, although I listened to a lot of stuff.
Q: So the assumption is that you had influences in that area. Who were they?
A: I think pretty much the standard jazz influences: You know, Art Blakey, Miles Davis. Neal Jackson has had an impact on me.
Q: Looking at your Facebook page, you play a wide variety of gigs with a wide variety of musicians.
A: You have to be flexible. I’m pretty open-minded when it comes to the gigs I play. I enjoy all kinds of music. I play hymns at a local church. I play with a jazz trio. I play with a funkier group, as well.
Q: So are there pianists you listen to these days that you enjoy?
A: Bill Evans, Winton Kelly, Herbie Hancock. I really enjoy some of Herbie Hancock’s stuff.
Q:You play all over Western Mass. and beyond. What are some of the local venues you enjoy?
A: The last gig I played was at the Brick House in Housatonic. That’s a pretty cool place, and we had a great time. I also enjoy playing on Mondays with a great group of musisicans at Mission in Pittsfield. The Castle Street Cafe in Great Barrington is a nice place to play.
Listen to Zack Cross on his CD, "Up/Under", available on iTunes and at Amazon.com. For more information on Zack Cross, go to Zack Cross Music on Facebook. In addition, he has a website, www.
zackcrosstrio.bandcamp.com and one on MySpace at zackcrossjazz.
To reach Derek Gentile:
or (413) 496-6251.
On Twitter: @DerekGentile