November 27, 2012 - 1:46pm
BY RAY MALO
He was the son of Stacy Peralta, the world’s most famous skateboarder not named Tony. Barely out of high school, big pop stars such as Erykah Badu and Frank Ocean actively pursued musical collaborations with him. But please don’t discredit him as some celebrity’s kid: Austin Peralta just may have been the best living jazz pianist in the world. And on Nov. 21, he tragically died at age 22.
Signed as a kid to L.A.-based label Brainfeeder, Peralta’s name had floated around pop music spheres mostly as a contributor to the instrumental hip hop and electronica stylings of labelmates such as Thundercat and label founder Flying Lotus. I admittedly had thought little about his extraordinary playing until I heard of his passing, when NPR played a short clip of his technical wizardry with its grim announcement. Even in this tiny outburst, I could hear the innovation and fluidity beyond his years.
Ours is an impatient lot. YouTube videos over a minute or two rarely earn our attention. Frank Ocean loaded a video of Peralta’s trio performing in Japan on to his Tumblr page shortly after his death; if you’re still with me, I see it as mandatory that you check out all 13 and a half minutes of it. The performance is absolutely mesmerizing. Peralta’s bandmates are exceptional musicians, and still, it’s obvious that he was much, much more. A truly transcendent talent, with a goofy smile on his face that tells us he could hardly believe it either.
We mourn in an unsurprising way when our musical giants die. We find solace in the singles and beloved albums that take us back in time, and when that’s not enough, we explore their back catalogs of hidden treasures. And no matter where they are in their lives and careers at the time of their deaths, we always feel robbed of their future greatness.
Peralta wrote and recorded three albums, two of them as a teenager, that I’m looking forward to exploring deeper. But I’m certain that he was on a path to truly altering the musical landscape and growing into one of the new century’s most celebrated and progressive artists. He was uniquely positioned to do so, a once-in-a-generation virtuoso who was already in with the rising stars and hippest cats.
Take some time to listen to the cathartic Endless Planets, his final album, and may we all mourn the loss of a giant whose time was soon to come.