CHILLY GONZALES at the Winter Garden Theatre (189 Yonge), Thursday, November 8, 8 pm. $29.50-$39.50. RTH. See listing.
Chilly Gonzales is lounging in his trademark bathrobe and slippers in an ornate old-fashioned sitting room backstage at Convocation Hall, where he's just finished playing as part of a celebration of Glenn Gould's career.
He's cheerful and relaxed, but in keeping with his super-villain persona, he also gleefully complains and critiques the performances of the other musicians on the bill.
"I put a lot of work into preparing for this, but it seems like everyone else just saw it as an opportunity for self-promotion," Gonzales cracks.
This might seem less like joking if he didn't eagerly embrace self-promotion himself. This is, after all, the guy who set the world record for the longest solo piano performance and who legally changed his name from Jason Beck, all while happily admitting to doing it for the attention.
If he were all about stunts and jokes, though, we probably wouldn't care so much about a rapping piano wizard who's half comedian and half self-described "musical genius." But the contrast between his cartoonish character and the surprising sensitivity of the romantic instrumental piano pieces on his newest album, Solo Piano II (Arts & Crafts), works extremely well, especially in a live context.
"If I had my way, I would only play live. I don't enjoy being in the studio at all, actually."
It's strange to hear him admit that, since he's most famous for his production work with artists like Feist and Drake. He even displays a rare flash of modesty in refusing to take any credit for their successes, saying he's sure they would have been huge with or without his help.
It's often tough to figure out exactly where the theatre begins and ends with Gonzales, but when he grabs my arm as we're walking out the door to convey one last thought, about the flaws of the Canadian arts grant system, there's no doubt he's being genuine.
"It would be great if you didn't talk about my hatred of grant money without also mentioning that I think all the money that's given to artists should be given to music education instead. Then we would really raise the bar.
"Instead of giving all that money to adult artists who are just going to squander it, put it into music education and create a new generation of artists fixated on building an audience of real people."