D.C. student José André Montaño is a 10 year-old Jazz piano prodigy who happens to be blind and doesn't allow his disability to get in the way of his music. (Lee Granados)

 

When José André Montaño was a toddler he would grab anything within reach –including cans or even bottles—and make music.

A precocious child, he was always trying to find hidden rhythms and melodies in everyday life, said his mother, Giovanna Baina. Then he discovered the piano.

“He started playing when he was three years and a half,” she said. “It was like a natural talent that he had.”

Now 10 years old, José André is jazz piano prodigy who has performed at the Kennedy Center and the World Bank with another show booked in New York in January.

What makes his talent all the more impressive is that José André, a fourth grader at School Without Walls at Francis Stevens, is blind.

“This first thing is some people don’t believe what he can do,” his mother said, noting that she and her husband have never been serious musicians. “We think it’s amazing. We think it’s a gift that he has.”

José André was born in Cochabamba, Bolivia. He moved in the fall to Washington, where his parents work.

His mother said that José André began taking lessons at age 5 and started performing at age 7. He has played piano in his native Bolivia as well as Peru, Brazil and Mexico. At a recent school holiday ceremony, José André put his own styling on the classic Christmas hymn “Silent Night.”

“He plays the piano by only hearing the notes,” Baina said. “He doesn’t make a tune the same way all the time. He likes to improvise a lot. He plays what he feels at the moment.”

In most ways, José André is your typical youngster. He enjoys video games, playing the drums and has a passion for soccer. He has a special devotion, however, to music.

“I feel happiness and joy when I play the piano because music is life for me,” José André said. “I like to play the piano because it makes me very happy and it brings many emotions to me.”

José André said that he enjoyed playing for his schoolmates. In the spirit of the holiday, he also had a message for other children throughout the world.

“That they be happy and that they have to enjoy life and most of all that they keep on dreaming because they deserve what they dream,” José André said.

Finally, he said. “Don’t fight. And love each other.”