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Chilly Gonzales: Pianist, Rapper, Provocateur

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The musician known as Chilly Gonzales is difficult to introduce, if only because no one aspect of his career defines him. The Canadian-born performer has shown there's very little he's afraid to try.

To wit: Gonzales has collaborated with Iggy Pop, Daft Punk, Peaches, Feist and Drake. In Montreal, he led a string-quartet mash-up of "Another One Bites the Dust" and the theme to the TV show Knight Rider, while wearing a bathrobe and slippers on stage. His song "Never Stop" became the ubiquitous soundtrack to the launch of the iPad. He's recorded an orchestral rap album.

"Rap is my only modern love," Gonzales tells NPR's Laura Sullivan. "I think it's the only real game in town. I want to be a man of my time, and being a pianist, it was a bit hard to find my way in. And then I discovered rap and realized that the rapper's attitude can be applied to almost anything, including being a virtuoso pianist."

Speaking of which: In 2009, Gonzales shattered the Guinness World Record for longest solo piano performance, pulling off a concert that lasted 27 hours, 3 minutes and 44 seconds.

"I wanted to do 29, 30 hours — just go a bit over so it was even more extreme," he says. "But at some point, my body just gave out. It's as if my body made a deal with me, and as soon as I broke the existing 26-hour record, my body was like, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's done.'"

Born Jason Charles Beck, and known to his friends as Gonzo, Chilly Gonzales is frank about the ways his ego plays into his art. (Case in point: He often likes to be introduced as "Chilly Gonzales, the Musical Genius.")

His latest endeavor is an album of solo piano compositions, titled Solo Piano II. The pieces are short — less than three minutes each, for the most part. Gonzales says that's a reaction to what he perceives as a staid attitude among jazz and classical pianists.

"They like to hide behind the idea that they're preserving something," he says. "I don't believe in that. I think you have to adapt things. I make two-and-a-half-minute songs on the piano with the attitude of a pop musician or a rapper — occasionally actually rapping, even.

"I didn't want to be one of these people trying to preserve something," Gonzales adds, "because when you preserve something, you kind of admit it's dead. But if you adapt it, it has a chance to survive."

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