Julius Rodriguez

Suit by Vaquera. Vintage shirt by Claude Montana.

Live from New York: Julius Rodriguez

In April 2020, less than a month into lockdown, the jazz pianist and drummer Julius Rodriguez uploaded two live tracks to a Soundcloud playlist with a title that evoked a commonly shared sentiment at the time: "I miss playing shows." It was another fourteen months before he finally returned to the stage, but he made up for lost time with a flurry of shows in New York and nationwide last summer and fall, including his first two nights at Manhattan's legendary Blue Note Jazz Club. Tomorrow night, he's scheduled to start a tour across North America with Cautious Clay, but like the rest of us, he's learned to temper his expectations. "That energy of what just happened and is going on has been at the back of our minds," he says about the continuing turbulence in the live music scene. "As grateful as we are to be back, we're just wondering how long it's going to last or if it's going to last or what's going to happen with it—but there's no other feeling like being onstage with a crowd watching."

Still, no one could accuse the 23-year-old Rodriguez of taking his time away from the stage for granted. A prodigy from Westchester who studied at the Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard as a teenager, he says he appreciated the opportunity to focus on recording two EPs, the second of which marked his début with Verve Records, the celebrated label that is home to the largest jazz catalogue in the world. Rodriguez also worked on sharpening and refining a new approach to his music, one he describes as "less perfectionist" and that has been reflected in his recent performances with more robust production. "We're trying to do things that are more centered towards the music rather than showcasing people," he explains, "and add elements to the moment that aren't normally added in the kind of music that I play."

As he looks ahead to an uncertain year, Rodriguez reflects on the last two with refreshing and surprising equanimity. Despite all the challenges, he is quick to insist that having time to himself has both refocused his attention and also served to clarify his perspective as he embarks on the next act in his flourishing career. With live performance available as an outlet again, he's making sure to take full advantage. "The way I've viewed my original music has changed—it's almost taken on a different meaning—so I'm excited to bring that to the stage in a new way," he says. "I'm ready to go."

The Karma & Friends tour begins tomorrow at the Mod Club Theatre, Toronto. Read this story and many more in print by preordering our third issue here. See the full Live in New York series here.

Hair by Tina Outen at Streeters. Makeup by Andrew Colvin at Streeters. Photographer's assistant: Kyrre Kristoffersen. Stylist's assistant: Claire Sullivan. Hairstylist's assistant: Amesha Alston. Makeup artist's assistant: Crisdanil Hidalgo. Set designer's assistant: Casilda Garcia Lopez. Digital technician: Leslie Knott. Production by Heather Robbins at CLM.

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