Spring 2008: Register
A Natural Gift
Musician Kevin Gift 95C has performed around the world, in both classical and hip-hop styles
By Mary J. Loftus
A very tall Albert Einstein, a.k.a. Kobe Bryant, dribbles the basketball through his legs and down the court as jazz piano plays jauntily in the background. The scene is from Bryant’s new “Genius” ad campaign for his Nike Zoom Kobe III shoe, and Kevin Gift 95C, jazz and classical pianist, provided the musical soundtrack for several of the commercials.
Gift, who lives in Baltimore and teaches piano and music lecture courses at Loyola College, also provided the music for the behind-the-scenes video that shows Bryant filming the commercials.
A prodigy who was playing piano publicly by age five, Gift had grown tired of performing by high school and stopped playing for a number of years. “I actually got over that at Emory,” he says. “Dr. [William] Ransom was instrumental in that whole process. I just wanted to be able to play for my own enjoyment, and he helped me get back to where I was before. Then I kept improving.”
Ransom says working with Gift was one of the most rewarding experiences he’s had as a professor. “When Kevin turned up out of the blue, I was astounded by his wonderful fluency at the keyboard and his natural musicianship,” Ransom recalls. “I knew his story from the beginning—how he had been very serious about his music very young and then burned out. I tried to nurture him back to his love of music without forcing him, to help him find his own way back.”
Gift received his master’s degree in piano performance from Northwestern University and has performed around the world, including at the Smithsonian Institution’s Piano 300 exhibition in 2000, commemorating the 300th anniversary of the piano. He also played at the 2003 opening celebrations of Emory’s Donna and Marvin Schwartz Center for Performing Arts.
In addition to his classical performing career, Gift produces electronic music under the name of his late twin brother, Wendel Patrick, who died when they were infants. He has performed with hip-hop artists Rakim, the PharCyde, Talib Kweli, and Ursula Rucker. “That music is very different from the Kevin Gift music, and people who knew me as a pianist were getting confused. It made sense to keep [the genres] separate,” Gift says. “My wife suggested using my brother’s name—now, it feels like an alterego. Some people who know me as Wendel Patrick have no idea who Kevin Gift is and vice versa.”
His recently released hip-hop CD, Sound, has received enthusiastic reviews: XLR8r magazine says his songs are “cinematic in many ways, from the meandering and accentuated synthesizer effects to deep, well-formed bass and occasional breaks. Most impressive is when he sits back on a solid groove.”
Gift and his wife, Bernice Pelea 95C, met at Emory and both worked at the Houston Mill House during college—returning to its gardens to get married in 2003. “I come back to Emory fairly often,” Gift says. “It’s always beautiful there.”