What do Beyonce Knoweles, Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, American Idol, John Mayer, Jennifer Hudson and the Apollo Theater in New York City’s Harlem section have in common? Hint: It is more than you might think. Beside music all of them are connected to the Onree Gill, who I recently had the privilege of interviewing.
Gill is the Musical Director for Grammy Winning recording artist Alicia Keys. He has worked with all of the artists mentioned above as well as recently accepted the position of Amateur Night Musical Director at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York, which was vacated by Ray Chew. American Idol fans may recognize Ray Chew as the popular show’s current Musical Director. Among the other famous faces Onree Gill has worked with are Bono, Usher, Gwen Stefani and David Bowie.
A multi-talented, self-taught man, Gill is also an accomplished drummer, keyboardist, bass guitarist, songwriter, producer, musical composer and arranger in his own right. This week he also graciously took time out of his hectic schedule to speak with me about his career, his take on the future of the music industry as well as the inside scoop on a few of his famous associates.
Gonzalez: How did you get started in the music industry?
Gill: I got my start when a relative referred me to Al B Sure and my first gig was being his drummer on the Arsenio Hall Show.
Gonzalez: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the music industry?
Gill: My advice to someone starting out in the music industry is to Stay passionate, Believe in yourself, Never stop learning and perfecting your craft. Most importantly, NETWORKING. Building relationships and connecting with the right people are crucial.
Gonzalez: How often to you practice?
Gill: I honestly don’t get to practice as much as I would like. I used to practice four times a week but with my schedule now, I try to get in at least a few hours a week.
Gonzalez: How has the music industry changed since you first started?
Gill: Technology has really changed the game. It has made things easier. We have State of the art Equipment that allows us to perform, record and play better. When I started, there was a lot more of developing an artist and production. Now I see and hear more formulas being used instead of creativity.
Gonzalez: Where do you see the music industry headed in 5 years? 10 years?
Gill: I see the music industry being driven more towards technology. Most record companies will be electronic, you will only be able to download records and experience a virtual concert from your own home.
Gonzalez: Now that Ray Chew has left the Apollo Theater and moved on to American Idol you have some pretty big shoes to fill. What task are you looking forward to tackling first and why?
Gill: Ray Chew has done such a tremendous job at the Apollo over the years. I’m not here to try and fill his shoes. I’m just going to do my thing. I ‘m going to evolve the musical arrangements and give it a whole new fresh sound.
Gonzalez: The Apollo Theater is such an iconic piece of New York City’s heritage that it just exudes music history. What does it feel like to go to work every day in such a historic and venerable venue?
Gill: It’s an honor to come to the Apollo to work every week. I always dreamt of being a part of the Apollo staff. Emotionally it’s a reality I can’t believe I have accomplished. It’s an opportunity for me to musically take new talent to an elevated level.
Gonzalez: How did you become the Musical Director for Grammy Award winning artist Alicia Keys and what has that experience been like for you?
Gill: Actually it kind of landed in my lap. My good friend Ray Chew had the account at J Records, and asked me if I would be interested in meeting, and working with the new young artist. The rest is history. It’s been 11 years and it’s one of the greatest elements of my career.
Gonzalez: Other than your Musical Director’s job with the Apollo Theater and your work with Alicia Keys, what other projects are you currently working on?
Gill: I’ve been doing a lot of writing and producing. I’ve also been busy working on developing my own artist.
Gonzalez: In addition to Alicia Keys you have worked with an impressive array of musical artists. Is there one particular artist that you hit if off really well with and if so please elaborate?
Gill: So Many of them have become friends that I adore. One of my favorite artists to work with is John Mayer. He’s so charismatic and talented. He’s also very down to earth. While on tour, we would go to the movies, the mall, and even Wal-Mart together. And on days off, he would invite us to his parent’s house for dinner. Oh, and we were both video game junkies!
Gonzalez: What artists do you especially look forward to in the future?
Gill: Well my dream list is Sir Paul McCartney, Sting, Phil Collins, Aretha Franklin, and Tina Turner. I missed James Brown and I almost got to work with Michael Jackson.
Gonzalez: What has been your most memorable music industry experience thus far and why?
Gill: I have so many. One that comes to mind is performing at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony With Alicia Keys and a 76 piece orchestra. It was electrifying and unforgettable.
Gonzalez: What accomplishment are you most proud of and why?
Gill: One of my favorite accomplishments is conducting my band and an orchestra for the 50th Grammy Awards for Alicia Keys and John Mayer. Words can’t express the feeling!
Gonzalez: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
Gill: Hopefully I will be scoring films, producing television shows, and still rocking hard at the Apollo Theater!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Gonzalez: If you could only be remembered for one thing what would it be and why?
Gill: I want to be remembered for my talent and gifts. I have tried to do my best my whole career. I want to set a level of excellence and hopefully it will inspire generations to come.
I am a native New Yorker who has worked in the travel and tourism industry for many years as a special event planner, tour planner, marketer, pr specialist and freelance writer. Over those years I have come in contact with various people in the entertainment business.
More from this contributor:
Felipe Lima Interview: My conversation with a skate film maker
Plan an Apollo centric, arts and entertainment getaway in Harlem, NY
John Ellison (singer): Meeting the man behind the song Some Kind of Wonderful
How I met actress Shelley Winters and singer Deborah Harry (Blondie)