2: Jezrael Lucero
“My whiskey drink,” says Jezrael Lucero, leaning in close to his tall glass of whiskey-soda as he taps it with his plastic stirrer, “it’s in C”. The song his girlfriend is singing on the Marriot’s wine bar stage behind us, he says, is in E flat. This writer’s near-empty glass of orange juice: B flat.
Perfect pitch is just one of the many remarkable things about Lucero. According to his dad – who passed away a few years back – the musician was singing Sinatra’s Strangers in the Night at the age of 13 months; he was playing classical concertos on the piano at two; and he’s been gigging at hotels and appearing on TV shows since he was four. As well as being a tremendously gifted jazz pianist, whose fingers can prance like praying mantises or scramble like frenzied locusts on a keyboard, he’s a singer, arranger, drummer, bass-player, and guitarist; plus he’ll kick your assin NBA Live on the PlayStation.
One more thing – he has been utterly blind since his premature birth on May 1, 1985.
But he doesn’t see that as a handicap. “No!” he replies immediately at the suggestion. “No, never.”
“I would think blindness, it will help you develop your inner strength, which is the most important thing in your life as you grow up.”
Growing up is another thing Lucero has done exceedingly well. “For someone who’s 23 years old, he plays more like a 45 year old person, maturity wise,” says friend and mentor Skip Moy, a respected sound engineer and musician. “He also carries a certain charisma when he gets on a bandstand. I’ve worked with some fairly heavy duty artists, globally, and those guys have that charisma you can carry. Stevie Wonder has it, Ray Charles has it… This kid has it.”
Lucero calls it a gift, but it’s one that didn’t come easy. His father – “a real bad-assed teacher” – subjected the musician to smacks and cigarette burns from a young age as he honed his skill. “Most of the time he turned himself into a master, not a father,” says Lucero.
Despite some resentment, however, Lucero says he owes his success to his dad and God. “As you grow old, you understand that everything your father did for you is so you can be tough and live in this real world. It’s not a world of happiness and pleasure all the time.” Even when speaking of difficult subjects, the smile never fades from his face.
These days in Hong Kong, which has been his home for three years, Lucero dazzles Sunday afternoon guests in the lobby at the Four Seasons in Central, before heading over to the Martini Bar at Tsim Sha Tsui’s Royal Garden Hotel. He can often be found jamming at Peel Fresco after hours on Sundays, and he’s currently working on a project rearranging music from Duke Ellington with hip-hop beats.
“Disability is a disability if you think of it,” he says with characteristic defiance, adding that he doesn’t like the ‘I cannot do it’ attitude. “I really like adventure. I like to do things that everybody doesn’t think I can.”
Recommended listening: Catch Jezrael on Sundays, 3pm to 5.45pm in the Four Seasons’ lobby, Central, and from 9pm to midnight at the Martini Bar in the Royal Garden Hotel, Tsim Sha Tsui.
See Jezrael play at Grappa’s Cellar on Saturday 18 as part of Allen Youngblood’s jazz series.