Arts and Entertainment
|Harvey Cummings’ boogie|
|Charlotte musician loves playing, teaching music|
|Published Thursday, November 15, 2012 9:01 am|
When Harvey Cummings describes his childhood, it sounds much like the tale of a musical whiz kid.
|COURTESY HARVEY CUMMINGS|
|Charlotte musician Harvey Cummings shares his music gifts on stage and in classrooms.|
Cummings says his inclination for music came naturally. He started playing his grandparents’ piano when he was a toddler.
“I started at age 3 or 4 figuring out music,” he says. “By 5 or 6, I was playing for real.”
He says his family took note of his proclivity for music and did what they could to foster his interest. His grandparents, who lived in Raleigh, brought their piano to Cummings’ home in Charlotte. His mother, who played piano in the church choir, taught him what she knew. His parents also enrolled him in formal lessons.
“I was always the kid that when the other kids were outside, I was inside practicing or trying to learn piano,” Cummings said. “I knew music was my calling.”
At age 9, Cummings, a jazz enthusiast, picked up the saxophone.
“My first week after getting my horn, I was already playing songs,” he said. “I didn’t know notes or anything, but I could just play. I can’t explain it. It’s just God.”
Cummings started composing. He performed his first original song at a school band concert in fourth grade. The piece was titled “Harvey’s Boogie.”
“My parents were crying,” he says, adding they had no idea he would be performing his own song that night. “That’s when they knew that this is what I do. They saw that I was good at it and kept me focused on it.”
Cummings started submitting his music in song-writing competitions and did everything he could to enhance his craft. A Charlotte native, Cummings attended Northwest School of the Arts where he studied art, photography, dance, ballet and drama.
“I took it all in,” he says. “I knew that I was different, and I wanted to learn everything that I could.”
By the time he was 12, Cummings was performing in front of audiences. His first big concert was playing at Independence Park for the Sunset Jazz Festival when he was 14.
“I just felt free,” he says. “I felt like myself. I didn’t see the big deal of it, like everyone else. It was just normal to me.”
Sharing the gift
While in college at North Carolina Central University, Cummings briefly considered a career in law, but came to the conclusion it was something that just was not in his heart to do. Music was his passion.
“I just couldn’t walk away from music,” he says. “I couldn’t waste my talent.”
In addition to playing with various bands and musical collectives, Cummings also teaches band for KIPP Charlotte. It is his way of giving back.
“The reason I am teaching now is because I know the benefits of having mentors who are in your corner to root you on and help you,” he said. “It’s a good feeling to know that I am changing lives. I am introducing these kids to music and continuing the legacy by giving back and paying it forward.”
Over the years, Cummings had several mentors who encouraged him along the way including Branford Marsalis, Jimmy Heath, Fred Wesley and Charlotte’s prominent jazz musicians Gary Muffler and Michael Porter.
Above all else, he says the unwavering support of his parents made all the difference in his life and that the death of his father three years ago during the Thanksgiving holiday was the single most motivating factor in his life.
Paid to play
“My dad was my best friend,” says Cummings. “When he died, it was a big motivational push.”
Cummings said he became more determined than ever to be a success and make his family proud.
Like many other young artists, Cummings says he had dreamed of being discovered by a big label that would sign him and propel his career to the next level, but he realized that his success was in his hands.
“I went from having this mentality that I always had to wait on others to do for me to starting to do things for myself,” he says.
He created a mixtape that consisted of a variety of cover songs he played adding his unique soulful twist. He released the recordings online and says the response was phenomenal.
“It was a big buzz,” he says. “I started getting calls.”
He says a few of those calls came from the office of Charlotte’s Mayor Anthony Foxx, who requested that Cummings play at a few events he was sponsoring. Cummings also booked gigs with UNCF, National Forum for Black Public Administrators, NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus.
When his old college buddy, Grammy Award winning producer 9th Wonder, was hired to complete the score for the hit animated series “The Boondocks,” he tapped Cummings to play piano.
Cummings has high hopes for his future. He aspires to win a Grammy. He says he is also on a mission to bring back the popularity of live music and help put North Carolina on the map in the music industry.
“North Carolina has a good music scene,” he says. “There are a lot of artists who are not getting their [due] recognition. But I think if we all band together, we will be a great force to be reckoned with.”
You can catch Cummings playing with his band, The Harvey Cummings Project, every Friday at Apostrophe Lounge (1440 South Tryon St.) from 9 p.m. until midnight.
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