Meet the blind, autistic piano genius, who can play any piece after hearing it once

3 March 2021, 17:25

Incredible blind, autistic pianist Derek Paravicini can play any piece after hearing it once
Incredible blind, autistic pianist Derek Paravicini can play any piece after hearing it once. Picture: Getty

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

The story of a musical marvel, and his extraordinary ability to play almost any piece after hearing it only once.

Derek Paravicini is a deeply impressive musician and genius improviser on keys.

Wherever you look, his name tends to be associated with two adages: ‘prodigy’ for his nimble pianistic fingers, and ‘autistic savant’, meaning a person with autism who shows exceptional brilliance in a particular field – in Paravicini’s case, music.

Derek has been living with severe autism and learning difficulties his entire life. Born blind and prematurely, at just 25 weeks, Derek soon turned his ear to music.

He began playing the piano aged two, and subsequently attended the Linden Lodge School for the Blind, in London. On his first day, he met a piano teacher, Adam Ockelford, who helps young people with learning difficulties in their pursuit of music.

Ockelford’s head turned as soon as the young boy started playing. He took him on as a pupil, and Derek gave his first concert in South London aged seven.

Read more: Meet Maria Theresia von Paradis, the blind singer and composer who inspired Mozart >

Blind autistic pianist Derek Paravicini plays at Barbican aged nine

It soon transpired that Paravicini, as well as displaying exceptional technical skill, had an incredible musical memory. He also has perfect pitch, the relatively – pun intended – rare ability to recognise any musical note on cue.

“Derek can play almost any piece by ear in any key or style,” the star’s team says on his YouTube channel.

Aged nine, Derek gave a concert at the Barbican. In an interview beforehand, the young pianist says he can “see” a piano’s “white notes and black notes” in his head.

“Derek has total recall of music, has never had sight but can put his hands on the right notes instantly,” the video’s narrator explains.

The prodigy improvises beautifully on Nat King Cole’s ‘L-O-V-E’, to rapturous applause from the audience (watch above).

Read more: ‘I was paralysed’ – piano legend Keith Jarrett reveals agony of his stroke and lost ability to play >

Today, Derek is best known for his unique and charming improvisations, with musical influences ranging from Bach and Chopin to George Shearing and Keith Jarrett. “You’re guaranteed to never hear him play the same piece in the same way twice,” his team adds.

Here’s a fantastic video of Derek ‘jazzing up’ Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Just watch him feel out the orchestral masterpiece using jazzy chords and syncopated rhythms.

Derek Paravicini Jazzes up Beethoven's 5th!

Derek’s talents have been the subject of two high-profile TV series. In 2010, the pianist was featured on Stan Lee’s Superhumans, and in 2003 he appeared on Channel 5 UK’s series Extraordinary People, which showed Derek performing the notoriously fiendish ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ astride two pianos, in the iconic style of 20th-century jazz virtuoso Hazel Scott.

“Derek’s talent, love of music, and – above all – the ability to communicate through sound means he will continue to thrill audiences for years to come in the UK and abroad,” his team say on YouTube.

And here’s just one more – Derek’s magical reworking of Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata. Listen and enjoy the goosebumps...

'Moonlight Sonata' - Derek Paravicini's Beautiful Reworking of Beethoven