SALT LAKE CITY — Although Jason Lyle Black attended Brigham Young University to study business and went on to work at various accounting firms after graduating, the now-professional piano player is very glad he made a career switch — even if from a business perspective, Black admits, music isn’t the soundest of financial decisions.
“As anybody who's been in music knows, it's an incredibly challenging profession to make a living in," Black said in an interview with the Deseret News. "It's really hard to break in. The music industry is a huge part of our economy right now — there's plenty of opportunity there, but it's just very difficult to get into it and to get in at a level you can sustain.”
Black — who will perform at Orem's SCERA Center for the Arts on Feb. 10 — has been playing music since he was young. As a student at his California high school, Black self-published an album of all original work. It was around this time he also learned to play the piano behind his back, setting the stage for his future nickname: “Backwards Piano Man.”
Black released three more albums during his college days, connecting, along the way, with The Piano Guys' Jon Schmidt. The two became friends and have performed together many times over the years.
“The reality is Jon is a good friend and a mentor and a role model,” Black said. “I would really credit him as the first person that showed me kind of the way and helped me see the opportunities that were there.”
That encouragement helped Black stay involved in music, even as he pursued another profession. After earning a master's degree from BYU and working for nearly three years at KPMG, a consulting firm in downtown Salt Lake, Black decided to return to what he loved most.
“I got to this point where I basically said, ‘You know, as great as it is being in corporate America, this is not my passion. This is not where I want to be,’" he remembered. "So I made the decision to leave, quit my job and pursue the dream.”
Although Black no longer worked in big business, his experiences there have helped him be smart about his music career. Using familiar terms, yet thoroughly earnest, Black described his what he called his "vision statement."
“That's really the goal — to give people the chance both to laugh and to have something to ponder in the same night … to be inspired and to be entertained," he said, "because that's really how you can make the greatest impact.”
Black’s opportunities have continued to grow as he recently settled down in his new Tennessee home. Black is already in talks with new management for a national tour, and he expects dates will be announced this fall. But even with locations now vying for his attention, Black still sees Utah as his state.
“I kind of feel like Utah's sort of the home market,” he said. “Coming to Orem, to the SCERA theater, really is kind of like coming back to perform at home.”
Fans of Black’s performances know what to expect: plenty of audience interaction, beautiful medleys and a piano set rich with clean humor. Black will — quite literally — bend over backward for his audience.
Not content to only give through his performances, Black is active in philanthropic activities and often works as a motivational speaker. In that role, he hopes to motivate others to lead and maybe even change their perspective. It's a way he can give back after all of the help he has had, and continues to have, in his music career.
“The fact that I put out four albums before most people had ever heard of my music,” he said before stopping short. “I think the way they would say it is it takes 20 years to make an overnight success.Comment on this story
"I want to relay that message of encouragement to those who feel strongly that they have a gift that they need to share with the world, to pursue that and to not let yourself get stuck in the comparison — because that's an easy thing for us to fall into."
If you go ...
What: "Jason Lyle Black: The Backwards Piano Man"
When: Feb. 10, 4 and 7 p.m.
Where: SCERA Center for the Arts, 745 S. State, Orem
How much: $12 for seniors and children, $14 for adults
Note: A pre-show dinner is at 6 p.m. and costs $15. Black's new book, "Distinctive Piano Solos," will be available for purchase at the show.