Alissa Musto’s poise and professionalism resonate in every note the 18-year-old pianist and singer-songwriter hits on her piano. I’m mesmerized by her hands as they fly across the keys, effortlessly switching from Billy Joel to Bach and a Boogie improvisation. Winning her first music contests while still in the 12-and-under category, Musto’s star has been rising ever since. Her on-stage skill and magnetism has taken her from talent searches and national television airwaves, to opening for jazz legend Wynton Marsalis. The Rehoboth native shows no signs of slowing down (she’s headed to Harvard this month) as she continues a Saturday night residency in Portsmouth and will finish recording her debut album in the next few months.
How did you get your start playing the piano? Do you come from a musical background?
I started playing when I was five. I come from a family of professional musicians; my dad is also a “piano man.” My uncles and great-uncles play professionally and my grandparents were professional dancers. Music was always something that was in the house as I was growing up and my dad definitely had the biggest influence on me to start playing. I used to sit by the door with a toy guitar and insist I was going to my dad’s shows. I started studying classical piano and eventually opened up to jazz, rock and other genres as well as singing.
What has been your most memorable performance to date?
I’ve had a lot of unique and memorable experiences playing piano. I meet so many people and learn something new with every performance. However, I think my all-around most memorable performance was at the 2010 Wonderworld TV Awards when I won Piano Act of the Year. It was actually filmed pretty local, at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium. I met other performers my own age from around the world. At the time it was the biggest audience I had ever performed for with a sold out crowd of over 2,000. I also thought it was really cool that the production company put me up in my own hotel room. The performance itself was also really fun. In this particular performance, I “lit” the grand piano on fire. It was actually a fog machine giving off the impression that smoke was coming out of the piano, but the audience still found it pretty entertaining.
Who are your musical inspirations? If you could meet any artist and talk about your craft, who would it be?
My biggest musical inspirations of all time are Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel, hands down. Not only are they great musicians, singers and songwriters, but they are great entertainers, too. I would love to have the opportunity to talk to Bruce Springsteen about performing and being a musician/songwriter. In particular, I’d love to discuss his first album, which isn’t too well-known because he was still starting off when it was released. It also doesn’t have as much commercial appeal as his more popular albums like Born to Run. As an upcoming musician myself, I’d love to talk to him about that album and how it helped launch him to the next step. I’m also a pretty big fan of Marina and the Diamonds, who is a pretty big pop star in Europe right now, as well as Blondie, Bob Dylan, the Beatles and Frank Sinatra.
What are your plans for the upcoming year? Where would you like to see your music take you?
This September will be my start as a student at Harvard University. I’m part of a really great program there that will allow me to attend class part-time in order to concentrate on my musical endeavors. When I was applying to schools, I figured that I’d have to choose between a good education and my music. Luckily, I don’t have to pick one over the other. To me, it will really be the best of both worlds. I’m finishing up my first full album and hope to be finished recording within the next few months. I’ll still be performing at Scampi on Saturday nights as well as writing, practicing, recording and promoting my CD in between classes. Ultimately, I’d love to get signed or go on tour someday as a performing artist. It’s always been a dream of mine and it’s something I’ll always work towards. I know how hard it is to achieve that though and I really don’t expect a “big break” in the next year. For now, I want to focus on my education and further develop as a musician and artist. I just want to keep working and improving so that when “my time” comes, I’ll be ready.
Catch Alissa on Saturday nights from 6-10pm at Scampi’s Restaurant at 657 Park Ave in Portsmouth.