12-year-old Matt Williams enjoys the same things as many people his age. Williams, who will be in the seventh grade in the fall, hopefully at Bayou View Middle School, said he enjoys riding his bike, singing in the church choir and playing basketball with his friends. But not every middle school student is a passionate student of the piano, well-versed in the music of Chopin, Billy Joel and Simon and Garfunkel.
Matt has been playing since he was 6, when he first started taking lessons. At almost seven years later, he continues to engage in weekly piano instruction.
“My mom thought it was something I should do,” Matt said. “I enjoy taking lessons because it has exposed me to classical music — I really like the music of Chopin.”
It should come as no surprise that Matt was introduced to music at a very young age. Matt’s father, Jeff Williams, is a guitarist who has been in and out of numerous bands over the last 30 or so years.
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“I’ve been listening to music all of my life,” he said. “My dad was always performing at different places and I liked to watch him play — he did pretty cool music.
It’s not hard to see the influence Jeff Williams has had on his son, especially when it comes to his musical tastes.
“I like pop a lot, you know stuff like Billy Joel and the Eagles,” Matt said. “But I really love how technical classical music is and pop is more about playing chords.”
Jeff Williams said he started playing guitar when he was about 14 and continued to play in college and beyond. He said he sees something special in Matt.
“I say this not because he’s my son, but the kid amazes me,” Jeff Williams said. “I’ve been around a lot of good musicians all of my life and he’s just got ‘it’ — some people got ‘it’ and some people don’t.”
And occasionally, the Williams get together for an informal jam session.
“It’s incredible,” Jeff Williams said. “He’s still learning to play with other musicians.”
(Playing the piano) is very soothing for me. It’s like getting lost in another world.
He said his wife and Matt’s mother, Agnes, also comes from a musical family.
“He doesn’t get all of this from me,” Jeff Williams said.
Agnes Williams said she heard her son singing when he was a small child and that inspired her to find him a piano instructor.
“I was telling my sister how much he liked to sing and how much he loved music and when he turned six, I knew I wanted him to be an entertainer and all of his piano teachers have said he’s a prodigy,” Agnes Williams said.
Although Matt didn’t start piano lessons until he turned six, Jeff Williams said he saw something special in his son from an early age.
“We were playing somewhere when Matt was about four and he grabbed a harmonica and jumped on stage with and started playing it and dancing,” she said.
Devoted to the craft
Matt said he practices his instrument for at least two hours every day,
“I work on the techniques for each song and working on my vocals,” he said.
Matt participated in the Rock U2 program in Ocean Springs. The program places children together in a band and gets them a gig at places such as the Hard Rock Live in Biloxi.
“It was a good experience,” Matt said.
I was telling my sister how much he liked to sing and how much he loved music and when he turned six, I knew I wanted him to be an entertainer and all of his piano teachers have said he’s a prodigy.
He is now a solo act and he said the next phase of his musical development is to find more ways to play live in front of an audience. He’s already had the honor of opening up for the legendary Jimmy Hall during a fundraiser at the IP Casino Resort. His performance of Joel’s “Piano Man” at the benefit was very well-received by the audience.
“I would like to start playing live,” he said. “I’ve played at the Crawfish Festival and some other places and I would like to play some other places.”
While finding steady gigs may be too much for a 12-year-old prodigy, Matt said he will passionately continue to pursue and develop his craft.
“(Playing the piano) is very soothing for me,” he said. “It’s like getting lost in another world.”