‘I just like to play’
At 11 years old, Bradley Bartlett-Roche feels the pull of jazz
Bradley Bartlett-Roche of Athol displays one of the piano-playing skills he has used to wow judges.
Mike Phillips photo
Bradley Bartlett-Roche says he’s been playing piano ever since he could sit up.
Mike Phillips photo
This undated photograph shows Bradley Bartlett-Roche with soprano jazz saxophone player Wendell “Shine” Hayward of Bermuda.
“Every person has a special gift. It is up to each of us to find that gift and use it to make the world a better place.”
— Bradley Bartlett-Roche, 11
Bradley Bartlett-Roche of Athol is not your average 11-year-old. He is a jazz piano prodigy whose talent has taken him from his family’s grand piano at home, to a cruise ship ballroom, to a Bermuda night club owned by a prominent jazz musician, to first place in a statewide talent competition and many places in between.
“I’ve been playing the piano ever since I was old enough to sit up,” said Bartlett-Roche. “My mom tells me I would climb up onto her lap and play.”
Bartlett-Roche’s mother, Victoria, has a musical background. While hers is not so much in the performance arena like her son’s, she holds a degree in music therapy/education and is a music teacher in their hometown. She is also the owner of Musikids, which offers playtimes and activities geared toward young children to promote learning through music.
Although Bartlett-Roche was exposed to music early, it’s clear that his talent is more than a result of practice and lessons.
“I’ve really never had any formal lessons,” said Bartlett-Roche, explaining that he doesn’t usually even read music. “I never thought I had exceptional talent, I just like to play.”
Play he does. In 2013 alone he performed in benefit concerts for both the One Boston Fund and also a Maltese Blues Benefit Concert to raise awareness about efforts to stop puppy mills. As a result of the latter, he was asked to perform at the Animal Control Officers Association of Massachusetts annual conference. Bartlett-Roche composed an original piece for the occasion and was a hit.
His most memorable performances occurred while playing at the hotel where his family was vacationing in Bermuda. “The Fairmont Southampton Hotel was my favorite because I met a lot of people,” Bartlett-Roche says.
Bartlett-Roche describes the experience as one that became a daily routine during the vacation. He looked forward to playing at a regular time each day and people would come back to see him. One of those people, a sax player, was impressed, so much so that he contacted a friend of his who owned a jazz club, the well-known Bermuda soprano jazz saxophone player Wendell “Shine” Hayward. Hayward decided he had to see for himself and came to watch Bartlett-Roche’s performance.
Since then, Bartlett-Roche has played with Hayward a number of times. Hayward invited him to play a special show at his club this past year in celebration of Bartlett-Roche’s 11th birthday. He also joined Bartlett-Roche at his home in Athol for an outdoor performance over the summer.
“I really appreciated meeting him and jamming with him. It made me realize that I could play with other artists and create even more kinds of music that everyone can listen to,” said Bartlett-Roche. “He is a great guy and fun.”
Among Bartlett-Roche’s accomplishments are winning first place in Kids Got Talent, a music competition hosted by WXLO, a Worcester-based FM radio station, when he was 10 and becoming a finalist in the New England Community Auditions Talent Show. Up against an all-adult cast, Roche became a finalist on the WCVB’s Me-TV Boston show when he wowed judges by playing the keyboard upside down.
Bartlett-Roche says his musical influences include Billy Joel, Elton John, Carol King, Gene Harris, B.B. King and several others.
Ten years his senior, brother Nick is the one who showed Roche his first jazz chords on the piano. While Bartlett-Roche says his first love is piano, his second is an alto saxophone that first belonged to Nick. Recently, Bartlett-Roche has started playing a soprano saxophone given to him for Christmas. The two brothers jam together in various set-ups of piano and saxophone, as both can play either instrument.
“Nick showed Bradley a few jazz chords on the piano and literally that same day Bradley was playing,” says the boys’ father, Paul Roche. “It’s kind of surreal. I love to hear him play. There’s been a couple times where I heard him play and I cried.”
Bartlett-Roche is able to also just enjoy being an 11-year-old kid who admits math is not his favorite subject at school. He says other kids may be more engrossed in video games than he is, but he still enjoys gaming a bit.
“I only have three games on my Xbox that I play. When I play music though, I create something. I make something that can change people’s feelings and create a positive outlook.”
Bartlett-Roche takes part in a jazz band at school. One of the ways in which he introduced himself was to invite a bunch of classmates to his home for an informal jam session. He says it’s great when his friends ask him to show them something on the piano. He loves to teach them and has fun playing with his friends no matter their skill level. He views it as just another opportunity for him to create different music.
Bartlett-Roche hopes to continue playing in front of people any chance he gets and would love to enter other talent competitions if the opportunity arises. A current goal he has is to perform in every U.S. state and play on every continent.
“It’s unbelievable, not something that’s taught, and it comes from his soul,” said his mother. “
The advice I get from musicians all the time is not to push him, to let him create his music because that’s his unique style,” she added.
To see a video clip of Bartlett-Roche performing, go online to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7uby57VGhgQ
(Note, the video is sideways, but the audio of his playing is clear)
Tracey Prohaska Carroll is a freelance writer from Athol. You can reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out her latest articles at http://40byfortylist.blogspot.com/.
Mike Phillips is a freelance photographer who has taken photographs of the Quabbin Region for The Recorder since 2000. You can check out his work at www.mikesphotos77.com/mywebs.