On this week’s episode of Expansions in Jazz, Julian Booker is joined by pianist Christian Sands. The Connecticut native talks to Julian about what first sparked his interest in piano, recording with contemporary jazz icons Christian McBride and Gregory Porter, and his most recent studio album, Be Water, which was just nominated for a Grammy award.

Listen to the interview and check out some highlights from their conversation below; the text has been edited for length and clarity.

Expansions In Jazz – Christian Sands

On growing up in a creative household:

“I was always really involved in creativity. My parents are very creative people. My father did a lot of work in photography; he also loved music and was a martial arts instructor. My mother was always into literature, she loved poetry and short stories, she loved making up short stories. So we were always doing creative things: illustration, painting, drawing…music was a part because both my parents loved music and they both played a little bit. They kind of passed it on to their kids, myself and my brother, so we just were bitten by the bug of creativity, and we were able to use music as a tool.”

On his relationship with the late jazz musician and educator, Dr. Billy Taylor:

“This mentorship was happening…I would go with him to Washington D.C. when he was the artistic director of the Kennedy Center, I would go with him to New York when he was doing the Jazzmobile in Harlem. I was always with him, not just learning about music but also watching how the business works, watching how grace and elegance work. He was such an elegant and masterful person, and such a personable person as well. I learned a lot about life just being around him and being next to him.”

On recording the album Nat King Cole & Me with singer Gregory Porter:

“Nat just happened to be a singer. His playing was really incredible, especially how he accompanied and played behind himself, it’s really an art form, it’s something that people should study…that first day being in Air Studios [in London], was absolutely breathtaking. You’re in this space that looks like a giant church…they were getting the strings together first and there were these little steps right above where the string section was, and you just hear these strings swell around you, it was so incredible and inspiring just being in the room…[Gregory] has a very strong connection to Nat ‘King’ Cole, so I also want to make sure that when he listens to this he’s going to be like: ‘this sounds great, this feels good,’ this is another part of his memory, and it’s going to be a part of ours.”

On his song “Be Water II” being nominated for the Grammy for ‘Best Instrumental Composition’:

“It’s a really good feeling, it’s a reassuring feeling. Especially on composition, on writing. I kind of see myself as a composer more than just a pianist…being a creative, I just use the instrument to do what I want to do. Recently I found out that my fifth great grandfather [Christopher Christian Manuel] was a musician as well…he was a composer from Cape Verde, and then I found out that I was nominated for a Grammy in composition. Despite the pandemic there is some light here, so to be recognized in a time where chaos is happening, especially for composition, makes me feel good.”

On making music that addresses the wide spectrum of human emotion:

“Being a reflective musician, it’s not always pretty. Sometimes life happens and you have to deal with that. Sometimes there’s deeper meanings to it. I’ve always had an amazing relationship with my father, but I always had a tricky relationship with him. I didn’t realize that a lot of the albums that I put together were really just re-connections I was trying to have with him. Which is super personal…there’s moments where its amazing and there’s moments where heads are butting: how do we put these things together? You have to be as honest as you can as you make this music, and that’s what we try to do.”