Elijah Gee is a distinguished pianist, producer, and musical director who impeccably balances teaching music by day and performing live on weekends and evenings.
Throughout his illustrious 13-year career, he has mastered many musical genres, especially jazz and classical, reggae, salsa, and rock. He has been credited to his influences, including soul legends like Brian McKnight and Andre 3000. He is the quintessential Floridian musician, born in Sunrise and earning his BA in Commercial Music and Jazz Studies from Florida State University.
Gee currently flourishes as a pianist and piano instructor at All That Jazz Café, a celebrated title that is demonstrably the culmination of over a decade of achievements. His earliest role began in 2009 at the record label Roman Empire Music. He was the producer who had composed instrumental tracks for artist The Deal and eventually completed the single “Phone Tag.” Next, he expanded his career outlook to teaching, excelling at such duties as instructing Oak Grove AME Church’s gospel choir and providing Sawgrass Springs Middle School’s choir accompaniment. Finally, he advanced to directing musical theatre productions, teaching essentials like rhythm and tempo to the casts of “The Life” and “I Love You, You’re Perfect Now Change,” and leading the drummer, bassist, and singers the 2015 Mahalia Jackson Gospel Play. Amidst these successes, Gee has devoted time to his live performances, including playing alongside The Flip Flop Boys and substituting as a pianist for the dinner show “Laughing Matterz.”
South Florida Theater Magazine has been granted the privilege of speaking with Gee, who in turn has given insight about his creative processes and the lessons he has learned from his years of stellar contributions to the region’s musical scene. In addition, his fascinating answers to the following questions inspire musical innovation within the community that he strives to uplift.
Did you always know that you wanted to be an entertainer? When was the moment you officially began pursuing a career as an entertainer?
No, I didn’t think I would. I just needed an outlet, and I enjoyed playing the piano. I often listened to musical soundtracks like Disney and Broadway, and I began performing those songs for friends and family. The next thing I knew, I started getting paid gigs.
Which musical production has resonated with you most profoundly, both emotionally and stylistically?
Sister Act: musically, because of its fusion of disco and classical, and emotionally because of its theme of opening yourself up to new experiences. The nuns are getting out of their religious bubble and becoming free mirrors my own experience as a sheltered private school kid who became exposed to new things.
What was the biggest challenge or obstacle of your career, and how have you overcome it?
I was assigned to a ship called Seaborne Odyssey, where I was warned that it’d be challenging to lead a band, sight-read, learn music in an hour, play it that same night, and perform different musical styles. I solved this problem by becoming more immersed in music and sharpening my memory skills.
Do you have other passions outside of music? If you weren’t in show business, would you have chosen either of them as a career?
I love cooking, my second passion, and traveling, my third passion. Because of cruise gigs, I’ve been to places like Japan, the Caribbean, and most of Europe—especially London, since half of my family is from there. So I definitely would’ve been a chef or travel agent.
How do you balance teaching music with being a performer yourself? What has succeeding in both endeavors taught you about your skills as a pianist?
So, for the most part, I teach during the day. However, because I also perform, my coworkers understand my schedule, letting me call out if need be. Eventually, doing teaching and performing simultaneously has taught me how to balance them.
I’ve also learned about patience and providing because, in music, patience is crucial for listening and collaborating with others. Without harmony, there is no music, so you have to trust the people you work with. I’ve done a lot of accompaniment, and therefore I’ve worked with all kinds of people. You especially have to be patient with students when teaching them the knowledge they need to know.
What have you learned from your students, and have you applied any of this knowledge to your musical style?
I’ve learned how to think outside of the box. My students come up with things that I never would’ve thought of, and I see many viewpoints when creating music.
What are your career goals and plans?
Right now, I’m working to be a producer, arranger, and musical director for a nonprofit organization that allows all children to learn music.
What was the best advice you have ever received about your career? Would you impart this same advice to the next generation of entertainers? Do you have your own words of wisdom to share with your readers?
Learn to say no. (laughs) I’m a very benevolent guy who wants to help, which can be overwhelming and drown you out. Know what you can handle and balance it. I was swamped before the pandemic, and at that rate, your job becomes work instead of passion. I tell my students, “Don’t make the same mistake I did!” Value your worth and your time because life is too short not to enjoy it.