Giorgi Mikadze’s Calling: Georgia, Jazz & Freedom


“Georgian folk music is considered one of the world’s most advanced polyphonic folk music styles,” Giorgi Mikadze says.

(Photo: Jean-Baptiste Millot)

Giorgi Mikadze, a virtuosic pianist and composer, possesses an extraordinary talent shaped by his heritage and diverse musical experiences. Born in Tbilisi, Georgia, Mikadze’s formative years coincided with the collapse of the Soviet Union. In a discussion, he reflects on his youth, offering insights into how these experiences influenced his musical and personal journey.

“April 9, 1989, was one of the most devastating days in Georgia, when several people died in a massacre,” Mikadze says. “It’s considered the day in which the Soviet Union started collapsing. I was born right in those hard times. What’s happening now in Ukraine was a lot like what happened in the ’90s in Georgia.”

Despite the turbulent political environment, Mikadze was able to develop musically, his mother, a vocalist, ensuring that he had top-flight teaching.

Classically trained, the pianist has always had a curiosity for improvisation. “When I was a kid, my mother was making sure that I was practicing the music of composers like Beethoven or Mozart, but as soon as she would leave the room, I would start improvising, and she would scream, ‘Don’t change what’s in this score!’ Jazz music was considered taboo in the Soviet Union. I didn’t know jazz music until I met my composition teacher, who showed me recordings of Oscar Peterson, and I was like, ‘This sounds completely different from what I listen to every day.’ Then she showed me Ahmad Jamal. I was working on Beethoven while listening to Brad Mehldau. After graduating from the conservatory, I had to choose a classical or jazz path. I chose jazz, applied to Berklee and got a full scholarship.”

At Berklee, he met the likes of Charlie Puth, Dave Fiuczyski and others, then went on to hone his jazz skills at the Manhattan School of Music, but the music of his homeland still rang in his ears.

While Mikadze enjoyed the versatility of the many impressive projects he has been a part of, including tours and performances with Jack DeJohnette, Roy Hargrove, Dave Liebman, Lee Ritenour, Meshell Ndegeocello, Chris Potter and others, his true passion are projects in which he incorporates music from Georgia.

“Georgian folk music is considered one of the world’s most advanced polyphonic folk music styles, as it has a microtonal direction and is not tempered. When I became a student at Berklee, I started digging more into the music of my culture. The idea of incorporating Georgian folk music with jazz language began when I attended the Manhattan School of Music for my master’s degree.

“I would go to New York Jazz clubs and hear a lot of American jazz standards, and when I would go home to Georgia, I would listen to local musicians also playing American jazz standards. I eventually thought, ‘Why not use the Georgian melodies from my home?’”

Mikadze is particularly enthusiastic about his newest Gerorgian-inspired release, Face To Face (Vol. 1) on PeeWee! Records, and plans to create a second volume. The pianist reveals, “The new album was recorded in Paris with bassist François Moutin and drummer Raphaël Pannier. I have to say our connectivity in the studio was incredible. After the recording, we had some celebrated sold-out performances in Paris, and the French media is still talking about it.”

Mikadze is currently working as an associate professor at Berklee and contributing to projects for others. Still, his main focus is on continuing to bring elements of Georgian music to the masses.

“I would like to share more of my music with this current project and make Georgian music more popular. Georgia has much to offer, yet the world doesn’t know it. One of the most important things is the freedom that jazz gives to musicians, and Georgians love freedom.” DB

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