It's not exactly easy to get a 7-year-old to sit at a piano and practice.
But Lawrence High School senior Addison Frei kept with it. He took lessons, rehearsed, dabbled in other instruments and blossomed into an award-winning pianist.
"I enjoyed it, and it was a challenge for me," Frei says. "I wasn't thinking too far into the future thinking that this would be a career path or anything like that."
But in middle school, Frei discovered jazz. The musical stylings of the genre fine-tuned his desire to become a professional pianist.
"(Jazz) is a really unique style of music. It's unlike anything else," Frei says. "Everyone you're playing with is improvising and using their own creativity and their own unique ideas to fuel the drive of the group."
Frei is the ArtStar for November. The award is sponsored by Jayhawk Dental and The World Company.
But piano isn't the only music strength Frei has. He was a member of the Marching Lions snare drum line, plays in the symphonic band and in the orchestra.
Mike Jones, LHS band director, says Frei is one of the best musicians to come through the school.
"He's an incredible, blow-you-away jazz pianist," Jones says. "It is amazing what he can do on the jazz piano. He's also a very nice person and just one of those gems."
Frei has been performing on the piano since the age of 10, when he was the pianist at the Eldridge Hotel for Sunday brunch, which he did for two years. Tickling the ivories in front of an audience is an added thrill.
"For me, it's always more fun to be playing for people who are listening intently and really checking out everything you're doing," Frei says.
During a Marching Lions trip to Orlando, Fla., last March, Frei was named Outstanding Soloist at Festival Disney during his performance with the jazz band.
"That's a really big deal," Jones says. "He's truly one of the best in the country."
He also flexes his wind pipes and sings in the A Capella Choir and Chorale at LHS.
"He is such a fine musician as an independent music maker, but he also is someone who makes a huge contribution to the department," says choral teacher Cathy Crispino. "(Frei) loves to make music with his friends and with the other kids."
Eyes on Texas
Frei spent a few summers at jazz workshops at Kansas University, but this summer, he traveled to Denton, Texas, home of the University of North Texas, to study under Stefan Karlsson. He's hoping to matriculate there but first has to ace an audition.
"(Karlsson) was the biggest exciting draw for me that's pulling me there and making me think it would be great to study under him for a while," Frei says.
Both Jones and Crispino think the music program there would be a great fit.
"He'll have a lot of competition here, and he wants that," Crispino says. "He's hungry for that. He's hungry to be pushed and to have others around him who are also really working to improve."
Frei wants to make a career out of playing the piano, and he's already well on his way, performing at gigs at jazz clubs and other venues in Manhattan, Topeka, Kansas City and Lawrence.
"That's a difficult thing to become established in," Frei says. "It's very competitive. It's not that easy to make it as a working musician."
But his teachers believe he'll be playing for a long time.
"We'll be hearing about Addison Frei later on," Jones says. "I know it for sure."
On top of making music, Frei maintains a 4.0 GPA and was named a National Merit Semi-Finalist. His next performance is at the LHS Orchestra concert at 7 p.m. Dec. 9. He'll be playing Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20.
Frei says it's not about the size of the audience or the money you make after a gig, but getting the music through to those who hear it.
"It's really, in the end, about having people listen to you carefully and really appreciate what you're doing," Frei says.