Jazz pianist Austin Peralta died yesterday, at age 22.
The son of Venice Beach skateboarding legend Stacy Peralta, his iconoclastic lineage gave him a unique perspective, with his long blonde hair more reminiscent of the boardwalk than the practice room.
Nonetheless, Peralta was a regular presence on Southern Californian piano benches, popping up on short notice with his band in a Westside lounge, as part of Kamasi Washington's double-barreled ensemble in a well-amplified club or the occasional pick-up gig including an appearance the night he died.
He also worked with Flying Lotus, who announced Peralta's passing on his twitter account early this morning:
it kills me to type that we lost a member of our family, Austin Peralta. I don't really have the right words right now.
On Tuesday night, Peralta lent spiraling keyboards to vocalist Natasha Agrama's passionate performance at the Blue Whale, pulling off articulate runs and sensitive accompaniment behind a set list that ranged from Bjork to Mingus. He was often featured as the lone instrumental voice alongside Agrama, highlighting his deft touch with nary a note out of place as he worked his incomparable magic. He appeared joyous and playful that night, both on the bandstand and between sets.
Now, for most of us, that magic will be confined to the handful of albums he left behind. Last year, Flying Lotus' Brainfeeder label released Peralta's Endless Planets, a record we gladly placed on our top five jazz records of the year. It was a psychedelic trip through pulsating soul that, alongside Thundercat's the Golden Age of Apocalypse (on which Peralta also played) heralded something truly fantastic and new. Peralta had moved far beyond teenage phenom and into a sound that resonated with promise and originality, giving hope to the future of the Los Angeles jazz scene.
Now only great “what ifs” remain as he will always be preserved in boyish youth and limitless potential. A truly devastating loss.
That he died at only 22 is hard to believe; I first saw him leading a trio nearly ten years ago. Blessed with a devastating left hand, Peralta was driving the now-defunct Lunaria in Century City into a frenzy despite being a very young kid. I couldn't have been much older than 22 at the time and it drove me crazy because while I was trying to figure out what to do with a piano, he seemed to have a lot of it already figured out.
Rest in peace, Austin.
“Capricornus” from Endless Planets