Frost Made Jazz Pianist Connor Rohrer is Soaring

Jazz pianist Connor Rohrer, graduating from the Frost School this spring, is touring with jazz vocalist and rising star Samara Joy and made the finals of the world's most prestigious jazz competition.

Jazz pianist Connor Rohrer’s final year at the Frost School of Music has been an extraordinary one. In the fall, Rohrer was a finalist in the ultra-competitive 2023 Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz International Piano Competition, the world’s most prestigious jazz contest. He’s touring with Samara Joy, a triple Grammy winner anointed Best New Artist in 2023, one of the most compelling young jazz vocalists to emerge in years. All as Rohrer (B.M. ’22) prepares to graduate with his Master’s Degree in Music Theory and Composition.

“I’m still pinching myself,” says Rohrer, who appears with Joy Saturday in a sold out concert at The Moss Center in South Miami-Dade, along with fellow Frost master’s student David Mason on saxophone, and alum Jason Charos (M.M. ’23) on trumpet. 

“Frost has given me everything,” says Rohrer, who was raised in the small town of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. “I wasn’t trying to get on [Joy’s band]. I put in a lot of work and all this just blew up.”

But associate professor Martin Bejerano, who heads Frost’s jazz piano department and is Rohrer’s mentor, says the young pianist’s extraordinary talent was apparent from his audition. “Connor showed an ease and flow about his playing where the piano was like an extension of himself,” says Bejerano. Rohrer’s musicianship has grown vastly since. “He took off like a rocket,” Bejerano says. “He has been an utter joy to teach and work with.” And not just for his talent. “Connor is without an ounce of ego or pretentiousness,” says Bejerano. “His virtuosity and knowledge are always in service to the music.” 

Rohrer credits Bejerano with fostering his artistry in a profound way. “Martin has been instrumental in my development,” Rohrer says. “He opened me up to think about all the options.” So have the countless performances, recording sessions, recitals, work with vocalists, and referrals to outside gigs he’s found at Frost. He’s even taken lessons with Dean Shelton G. Berg. Rohrer’s talent for composition was recognized with a 2022 Downbeat Student Jazz award for Graduate Outstanding Original Composition.

Rohrer had to be persuaded to apply for the Herbie Hancock competition, which takes just 11 semi-finalists from all over the world; he was second of three finalists. Held in New York City, the contest has launched numerous careers. “It was an honor to be selected,” Rohrer posted on Instagram, thanking the judges – who included Danilo Perez and Hancock himself - and the other finalists for inspiring him.

Frost connections also led to Rohrer’s work with Joy. Her saxophonist, Kendric McCallister, had been close friends since high school in St. Petersburg with Charles and Mason, who invited McCallister to hear Rohrer play in Miami. That led to a tryout weekend tour of the Northeast with Joy in the fall of 2022 – with just one short rehearsal.

“I was pretty scared,” Rohrer says. Since then the group, all in their early 20’s, has become close. “All of us have bonded,” he says. “We’re comrades with a goal, that every time we play together it’s gonna be better.” Group members write Joy’s charts and arrangements, and Rohrer says she encourages collaboration and creativity. “In addition to being an extraordinary talent, she’s one of us,” he says. “She listens to everyone. That’s a beautiful thing.”