Arts Preview: Maroon 5 Keyboardist PJ Morton Brings Soulful Sounds to Bethesda

Arts Preview: Maroon 5 Keyboardist PJ Morton Brings Soulful Sounds to Bethesda

Plus: Pianist Brian Gantz at Strathmore; interactive play for kids at Imagination Stage

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PJ Morton

Via PJ Morton

Chances are you've heard PJ Morton's music, although you may not know it. He wrote and produced a Grammy Award-winning song with India.Arie, sang vocals and played the keyboard on Maroon 5's last two albums and even contributed a song to the soundtrack for a Vince Vaughn movie.

This week, the multi-talented Morton performs his original songs Thursday night at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club.

As a singer, songwriter, producer and pianist, Morton spent more than a decade garnering accolades and success for his collaborations with others. Now, Morton hopes to launch the careers of more musicians by starting his own record label, even as he focuses on his own solo career.

A native of New Orleans, Morton, 34, grew up surrounded by gospel music. His father, Paul S. Morton, is a pastor and gospel singer. His church upbringing had a heavy influence on his sound, but so did his favorite secular artists, including Prince and Stevie Wonder. Those influences are obvious in Morton's keyboard-driven jazzy R&B and his soulful vocals.

"I started very early as a musician," said Morton, who started playing piano at age 8 and wrote his first songs around age 14. "I grew up a preacher's kid, so I always had a lot of music around in the church."

Morton shifted from gospel to a more mainstream R&B sound after moving to Atlanta to attend Morehouse College.

"It wasn't until I got away from home that I was able to really explore my own music," he said. "The rest was history."

As a solo artist, he released three studio albums and two live albums, and along the way collaborated  with several pop music superstars. He won a Grammy for songwriting and production of India.Arie's 2002 song “Interested” and went on to work with artists including Jermaine Dupri, Erykah Badu and LL Cool J. He worked with Slumdog Millionaire composer A.R. Rahman on the song “Sajna” for the 2009 comedy Couples Retreat. In 2010 he auditioned to be a touring keyboard player with Maroon 5 and got the job, which eventually turned into a full-time gig. The collaboration isn't just one way. Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine and guitarist James Valentine were featured in Morton's 2012 single “Heavy” and rapper Lil Wayne (whose record label Morton was formerly signed to) rapped on 2012's “Lover.” Morton even got a chance to work with his idol Stevie Wonder who played harmonica on the Grammy-nominated 2013 track “Only One.”

While Morton said his solo career is always an underlying focus, he's looking forward to working with others as a writer and producer. He recently moved from Los Angeles back to his hometown of New Orleans to start his label, Morton Records.

"I really want to get that scene going," he said. "There's so much talent there. I want to bring the industry to New Orleans, kind of like a Detroit Motown thing."

A self-proclaimed workaholic, Morton will have to find the time to build his label between touring with Maroon 5, promoting his own music and doing his most important job, being a dad to his three children, ages 11, 5 and 3.

"It's been a crazy life," he said. "It's amazing to actually be doing what I always wanted to be doing."

8 p.m. Jan. 7, Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club, $25-$30, www.bethesdabluesandjazz.com

Brian Ganz plays sixth all-Chopin recital at Strathmore

Pianist Brian Ganz is in the middle of an ambitious 10-year project to play the complete works of Chopin —approximately 250 pieces. He will perform his sixth recital in his quest, Chopin: Bel Canto of the Piano, on Saturday at The Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda. Polish soprano Iwona Sobotka will join him to perform 10 seldom heard bel canto-style pieces. The songs are set to Polish poems mostly written by Chopin's contemporaries, including a bawdy drinking song. Ganz will also perform works that highlight Chopin's bel canto style, including a selection of Nocturnes, the Impromptu No. 1 in A-flat Major, Op. 29, and the monumental Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58. The concert is presented by the National Philharmonic.

8 p.m. Jan. 9, The Music Center at Strathmore, tickets start at $29, www.strathmore.org

Wake Up, Brother Bear

Wake Up, Brother Bear is an interactive show for the youngest theater-goers at Bethesda’s Imagination Stage. The play, best for children ages 1 to 5, follows Brother and Sister Bear through the seasons of the year. Kids can get in on the action and follow along with their own small bag of props that helps bring the story to life. Rex Daugherty, who co-wrote and originated the title role in 2010, returns to direct the production, which runs through the end of January.

Performances at 10 and 11:15 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays, $14, Imagination Stage, www.imaginationstage.org.

Washington ArtWorks exhibition opening

Washington ArtWorks in Rockville will host an opening reception Friday for two gallery exhibitions. The exhibition Figure shows works by local artists across a variety of media that feature figure and form. The show was juried by Mario Henri Chakkour, a creative director, music and multimedia producer who created a reference series for drawing the human figure.

An exhibition of work by the Gaithersburg Camera Club displays nature, landscape, architectural and abstract photography by club members.

Reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Jan. 8, Washington ArtWorks, free, www.washingtonartworks.com

Botony Bay Blues by Judy MacArthur

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