Today we’re catching up with our pal Charles Cornell! If his name rings a bell, it’s because you and approximately 20 million others have seen one of his videos on social media over the last couple of weeks!
Originally from our area and now living in Denver, Charles is a talented videographer whom we shot this video in Washington County. Shortly thereafter, Charles invited us to check out his band at The Strand Theater in Hudson Falls. Long story short, after he and his band blew the doors off the place we knew there was something special going on.
Like the great explorers who came before us, Charles and the gang packed up and headed west to Denver, Colorado looking to expand horizons and share their talents with more of the world. Apparently, there’s something in the water in Denver. Somewhere between here and there, Charles sat down in his new apartment, plugged in his video camera, flipped on his mic, fired up his keyboard, and proceeded to put a dent in the universe with some of the most uniquely entertaining, hilarious, and talent-filled content the interweb has ever seen. And it seems like he’s just getting started.
To sum it up, spanning almost every social media plattform, Charles has officially gone viral. In about two weeks (!!) and as of the writing of this story, he’s somewhere around 207k followers on TikTok, 108k followers on Instagram, 10k on Facebook, 10k on Twitter, and somewhere around 8k subscribers on his YouTube channel. So by my math, that’s around 340k followers / subscribers. Yea, that’s fun, but it’s the approximately 20 million views of his videos that is the mind boggling part.
We were fortunate to catch Charles in between writing, singing, playing and recording his next piece to get some questions and curiosities answered. Let’s get right to it….
First, tell us about your ties to the area… where are you from originally?
I was born and raised in Hartford, NY, just east of Glens Falls in Washington County. I went to Hartford Central School from pre-school through graduation. My family has been in the greater Glens Falls area for generations!
It’s clear you’ve been doing this a while… Tell us about your musical origins! Why the piano? How’d that happen?
I don’t remember this, but my Mom always talked about how when I was 3 or 4 years old, she heard me playing the Doxology from church by ear on an old piano outside on our porch. I don’t know if that’s a proud Mom beefing up the real story or if it actually happened that way. Either way, it sounds cool, so we’ll go with it. I didn’t start studying the piano formally until I was about 8 years old. I had the best first teacher any kid could possibly want - Grandma. My grandmother, Carol Cornell, is still the organist at the First Baptist Church in Hartford and has long been involved in many things throughout the Glens Falls area, including being a lifetime member of the Glens Falls Community Theater! I studied with her for a while before transitioning between a few different teachers throughout my elementary school years. Eventually, thanks once again to my grandmother, who made the initial contact, I was fortunate enough to study with Albany area jazz piano legend Lee Shaw. My relationship with Lee would continue for 5 years between 8th grade and when I left for college. She was absolutely key in my development as a musician and I owe her a tremendous amount of gratitude for the guidance she gave me before her passing in late 2015.
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Do you play any other instruments? One you wish you could play?
I’m fairly proficient at the drums, trumpet, alto saxophone and baritone, though I’d probably hesitate to try playing any of them professionally! I play an extremely limited amount of guitar, and that’s something I’d like to be better at.
Favorite music genre? How long have you been writing your own music? Singing? Performing?
Younger me would have unequivocally said jazz. I still favor music based in and around jazz, but I’ve learned over time that I have a wide variety of interests and I’m influenced by everything from classical and jazz to progressive metal and hip hop. I love good music. Regardless of complexity and regardless of genre. Music is meant to make us feel something and to move us. I don’t care what genre it is, good music will do that. I’ve been writing music since I was 12 years old. Singing since probably 8. I played my first “paid gig” at the old Country Meadows golf course restaurant when I was 11 years old. The restaurant is still there! Jeremy Treadway runs it as part of his ADK MX motocross facility. Haven’t played there since, though.
What gave you the inspiration to meld your musical and videography talents into the content that has resonated with so many?
I wish it was more of a light switch moment, but it really all happened when I pulled up an article curating some of the most hilarious Trump tweets. I was sitting in my car in a parking lot and I just started thinking about what the tweets would sound like if they were song lyrics. I started singing one in my head and I couldn’t stop laughing at how dumb it was. I just thought it would be fun to try! So I went home and made a few and found myself still laughing, so I posted them. Eventually, I found a video that I thought was pretty funny and I had remembered seeing videos from years ago where people would transcribe the notes of speech and play along to them. Those videos were always utterly hysterical, so I decided to give it a shot myself! Eventually, I made the Cardi B video when my girlfriend showed me some of her Instagram rants, which are pure gold. That one caught on and the rest is history!
What’s your best guess as to why your content has gone insanely viral?
There’s something about hearing speech turned into music that’s just funny. Possibly because nobody ever meant for it to be turned into song. So when you do it, the music tends to jump around a lot in order to keep up. If, on top of that, it’s well executed and musically interesting, something about the wow factor plus the ridiculousness of it all just makes us laugh. In regards to the tweet songs, I just think it’s hilarious to put funny or hilariously-worded content into a seriously written tune. Even when I’m highlighting somebody like Donald Trump, I like to think that anybody can laugh at the tunes, no matter what side of the aisle you consider yourself on. Whether you love him or hate him for it, I think we can all agree that many of the tweets he has published over the years are just plain funny. I certainly aim to use music and comedy to bring people together rather than start arguments and further divide people. Thankfully, the feedback on those videos has been incredible and I’ve had people from all walks of life and all different viewpoints say how much fun they are.
It’s a bit tricky to put into words how to describe your content - so I’ll leave it to you! Tell us about how you would best describe your content…
I think my Instagram bio is pretty conclusive. I make questionably performed songs out of tweets and videos. In short, it’s all complete nonsense and a ton of fun.
What would you like folks to know most about your work?
I want to make people laugh while also giving them music at a level they might be inspired by. There’s so much negativity in the press and in the world. I just want to give people something during their day that gives them a break from all of that. The world needs more positivity and fun. These videos are meant to be complete nonsense while at the same time, hopefully musically impressive. If that combination gives people a boost in positivity throughout their day, then I see that as a win.
If you could hang with any current musician, entertainer, band who would it be? Why? What would you want to play and what would you ask them?
That’s a great question and one that I don’t think I could answer definitively. There are so many musicians in jazz who are far better at playing their instrument than I am. I could learn a ton from anyone on that list. I would love to hang with Jacob Collier. Playing some two piano duet stuff would be crazy fun with him. I’d probably ask him a bunch of super technical questions about polyrhythmic grooves and atonal harmony.
Same question - you’re a time traveller - which one from yesteryear?
I’d want to hear about the times that laid the groundwork for jazz and the music that would evolve from it. From Miles to Coltrane to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. I would want to learn about what it was like to play this music when it was at its peak of popularity and when bands were actually bands and traveled the country playing 6 nights a week 50 weeks out of the year. So many incredible legacies were born in that era and I’d simply want to know what that was like.
We know you’re good… but you’ve also got an amazing band… What’s next for the band?
I would be nothing and nowhere without the guys I’ve spent the most time playing with. Matt Niedbalski and Steve Kirsty have been my drummer and bass player respectively for about 10 years now. They’re my brothers in music and two of my best friends in the entire world. When you play with the same people for so long, you develop a musical relationship on the bandstand that functions almost like telepathy. We just know each others’ tendencies and can predict what we’re going to do as a unit. For the upcoming album, we had Nate Giroux join us on tenor saxophone. Nate is incredible and fits right into the group like he’s been there the whole time. We’re all great friends and we all have a tremendous amount of respect for each other as musicians. That goes a long way when you’re trying to make the best music possible. In terms of what’s next, I honestly have no idea. This new audience I’ve stumbled across is so new to me and I’ve never experienced anything like it before. I hope that it will bring us opportunities to play as a group in exciting places all over the world and that we’ll continue to develop our language together on the bandstand.
What’s next for you?
Again, I honestly have no idea. This is totally uncharted territory for me and I’m just grateful to have so many people interested in what I’m doing. I can’t thank my audience enough for the attention they’ve given me and for the enjoyment they’ve gotten from my content. I hope I can continue to make people laugh and give them something positive each day.
And we have to ask, when you come home to visit, what’s a perfect Glens Falls area day?
If it’s summer and my parents don’t need any help doing hay on the farm, I’ll be mountain biking at Gurney Lane, hitting Dirty John’s for some hot dogs or Mikado for some sushi, and then completing an extremely questionable diet day with a milkshake from Rob and Deb’s. In the winter, you’ll find me on skis. Anywhere in the area. I love night skiing at West, or spending a day at Gore or Killington. Even though I live in Colorado now and I absolutely love it, Glens Falls and the surrounding area is and always will be home.