How Jacob Collier is Blowing Minds With Help From YouTube & Quincy Jones

(Photo: Tatiana Gorilovsky)
Jacob Collier live with three of his vocals visually and sonically sampled.

The 21-year-old music prodigy's debut album, 'In My Room,' drops today.

Jacob Collier is a virtuoso multi-instrumentalist wunderkind from London whose break out performance last week at Los Angeles' cavernous YouTube Space left a profusion of dropped jaws strewn about the tech company's venue, production facility and offices.

The 21-year-old's one-man show defied both natural and long-established music laws, as he conjured any sound his imagination fancied on a variety of live-sampled percussion, keyboard and stringed instruments which were looped sonically and visually. This was topped by he multiplied vocals across a four-and-a-half octaverange from bass to mezzo soprano creating a thick wall of layered rhythmic and melodic sound and images that swirled together to form an electrifying symphonic stew of breathless jazz, funk, pop, electronic, a cappella and more.

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"I've been waiting for a young one like him for a long time man, he's an absolute genius," his beaming manager said after the show, which was also something of preview of Collier's new album, In My Room, which was released Friday (July 1) on Membran Music. His manager should know, because he is a towering music icon himself who knows a thing or two about brilliant musicians. Indeed Quincy Jones has worked with a slew of luminaries over the course of a stunning 70-year career including Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson and many, many other stone cold legends. "I've never heard anybody like that before," Jones says, "his talent is just frightening."  

There is something terrifying about a baby-faced Brit who can single-handedly swerve between interpolations of Stevie Wonder, George Gershwin and the Beach Boys while live beatboxing, re-creating a 14-part a cappella group and channeling the improvisational chops of a multitude of jazz greats. "Herbie Hancock says he's an incredible pianist, Nathan East says he's a fantastic bassist and Quincy says he's a amazing singer who can it high notes like Michael Jackson but also has an incredible deep bass," says Adam Fell, VP of Quincy Jones Global Network who first heard Collier two-and-a-half years ago via YouTube.

"He he did a cover of Stevie Wonder's classic 'Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing' on YouTube and literally seven or eight people emailed the link to Quincy and me," Fell recalls. "Quincy absolutely lost his mind, he didn't believe it. He was just like, 'Holy cow! This kid is just next level.' So we emailed him cold through his website."

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Collier has connected to legions via YouTube with his homespun videos initially created on his sister's iPad. His total video views on his YouTube page is more than 7 million views, including "Don't You Worry," which now has 1.5 million views and his take on Gershwin's "Fascinating Rhythm" which is up to 800,000. Indeed the video platform, which in recent years has been pilloried by major artists and a wide-swath of the music industry for what has been termed its "value gap" in what is said to inadequately compensate artists, is indispensable to up-and-coming artists like Collier.

"It's great man," says Jones about YouTube. "I'm not sure Jacob and I would have found each other without it. You can't imagine how many times I've shown Jacob's YouTube videos to guests who come through my home." Collier is a part of the video platform's Music Foundry Program which supports up and coming artists with tools and workshops to create videos, maximize exposure and perform live showcases.

Mentor Manager: Jacob Collier with Quincy Jones at the YouTube Space in Los Angeles on June 22, 2016 (Photo courtesy Betsy Newman) 

"YouTube is how his fans know him," says Fell who explains how Collier has monetized his video presence on the crowd-funding site Patreon to the tune of nearly $22,000 per video. Here the musician offers pledge packages ranging from $2.00 ("Free mp3 downloads of every single the day before it drops and downloads of all YouTube videos, past and future") to $10,000 ("I come to your house and play a private concert for you and your family and friends on a mutually approved date subject to location," among other goodies).   

Fell and Jones manage a stable of primarily young and preternaturally gifted musicians including Eli Teplin a 24-year singer-songwriter, Andreas Varady, an 18-year old Slovak Hungarian jazz guitarist and 14 year old pianist Emily Bear. When asked if managing these so-called geniuses is difficult, Jones explains that he's been down this path many times before. "After Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Basie and Duke -- give me a break, I've worked with them all. I worked with Billie Holiday when I was 14 years old," he says. "We give them all an environment where they can grow."

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After an initial Skype call with Collier and his mother (Susan Collier is an accomplished violinist and teacher at the Royal Academy of music where Collier studied—he's been playing music since he was two-years old.), Fell and Jones invited the young musician to come to the Montreux Jazz Festival where Jones is an artist ambassador. "He hung out with us every day for four or five days," recalls Fell. "Every night there was a jazz jam session and for the first time we got to actually see him perform with just piano and vocals. I'll never forget he played a cover Stevie Wonder's "Lately." Quincy and I were screaming we were so blown away by him." 

Fell and Jones have since assembled a team around Collier that includes Michael Peha on day-to-day management, Membran Records (which put out albums by Gregory Porter and Anderson .Paak) whose CEO Manlio Celotti signed him; agents James Wright and Noah Simon at UTA (everywhere except France); lawyer James Harmon (with help from Don Passman in the U.S.); Groov Marketing's Mark Rini and Josh Ellman for radio; and Carleen Donovan for U.S. press and Joe Baxter covering Europe.

For his fantastical live show Collier replicated his bedroom, which is featured on the cover of In My Room, where he is surrounded by an array of instruments. Live that includes a full trap set, a grand piano, synthesizer, upright bass, a harmonium, all manners of percussion, and a floor full of effect pedals and triggers. Augmenting the live experience is a vocal harmonizer that enables Collier to create an immense wall of vocal sounds courtesy of MIT's Ben Bloomberg, whom Fell calls a "gift from heaven." Bloomberg also collaborated with Artists and Engineers' Louis Mustill, Jose Ortega and Will Young on a visual sampler using 3D technology which can isolate Collier's skeleton to capture and loop images of him playing instruments and project them on a screen behind him. Collier's animated likeness is in similar vein to the characters in Richard Linketter's Waking Life and more than a little surreal.

Since April, Collier has releaesd a new single and video a month leading up to today's album launch, which coincided with a release of video for the song "Hajanga." Fell believes that track and others on In My Room has the potential to cross-over beyond jazz (his album has already topped 22 international iTunes Jazz charts). Starting today Collier is taking his fantastical show on the road through Europe, playing primarly jazz festivals, including North Sea, Umbria and Marseille, and making a stop in Monterey before a fall U.S. tour of major cities. 

After his well-received showcase at the YouTube Space, Collier was beaming. Herbie Hancock was in the audience as was Jones and there was a line of fans with their minds freshly blown eagerly awaiting the chance to meet and/or take selfless with the music prodigy. "Tonight was the most special I've ever felt," Collier said. "There was so many people I loved here and I've been waiting to play this music live," he says. "After tonight, I can't wait to take this show on tour."