Interlochen's impact on the career of Oscar-winning musician Luis Resto

  • Luis Resto and Comparative Arts students during their performance of BOOM! Mics, Music and Modern War.

  • Luis Resto (right) during the Arts Academy Comparative Arts performance of BOOM! Mics, Music and Modern War.

  • Luis Resto with Comparative Arts students in his Detroit studio loft.

Interlochen Arts Camp alumnus Luis Resto had only just arrived at the Stone Hotel. He sat, resting, wearing sweatpants and smiling. Based in Detroit, the internationally known keyboardist had come to Interlochen for a weeklong stay as guest artist for the Arts Academy music and dance programs. Having hit the ground running, Resto was eager to talk about everything he was involved in during his upcoming week.

"I'm not really sure what comes first," he admits with a laugh, "but I know I've got a lot going on."

"A lot" was the first of a series of understatements the unassuming artist would relate that day. The fact was, his dance card was incredibly full. Working for months with Nicola Contraths-Lange, director of the Comparative Arts program and instructor of dance at Interlochen, Resto was to hold a workshop at a local elementary school that same day, performing excerpts from a new musical piece titled "Departures" with the Academy's dance department.

He would also be teaching a series of master classes. Playing in the American Cancer Society's "Battle for the Cure" benefit would come later in the week, and "Departures" would culminate in a Comparative Arts presentation titled BOOM! Mics, Music and Modern War, which discusses the impact of the microphone on modern society.

The week, like Resto's work and his career, was a freely moving, organic blend of intention and talent. But again, the artist relates his involvement with each as merely a small piece of a larger picture.

"This ‘Departures' is really just a series of accompaniments to what the students are doing," Resto said. "I've sent out some improvs to Niki; she's sent back visuals of the dancers improving to them, and it's sort of gone back and forth."

He gave much credit to the Interlochen students in pulling together the program, saying, "They are so adept and really great at improvisation and making it just look beautiful. I'm really impressed." The trick, he added, is trying to re-create his improvised music, as the students are preparing their movements based on those original phrases.

"But that's kind of my career working with artists," he said. "Going into the studio with an artist and, for lack of a better word, getting into their vibe, being invisible to a degree; letting them come through and then play, and then adding my own two cents when needed."

His "two cents" has been invaluable many times in his professional collaborations. His playlist is a veritable who's-who of recognizable artists, including Patti Smith, Jay-Z, Johnny Cash, Iggy Pop and, perhaps most notably, Eminem. Resto's pulsing keyboards underscore the song Lose Yourself, which earned him an Oscar for co-writing the chart topper.

However, true to form, Resto says much of his success is due in part to the education he received at Interlochen as a camper in 1975 and 1976, when he was 14 and 15 years old. His introduction to musical styles outside of his passion for rock and fusion helped him build an appreciation for new genres, and led him to become a sought after and influential musician throughout the last 30 years. However that education almost didn't happen.

"It was the 1970s," he said, "and I was into funk and electric and my brothers and I were slaves to fashion. I thought about coming (to Interlochen Arts Camp), but I just couldn't do the uniform! I couldn't do the suits. But I did one year, 1975, and it changed my life.

"That two weeks led to me coming here the next year for eight weeks, and loving it. I remember meeting everybody from around the world, and experiencing so much. It was transcendent. Truly. I came back playing Chopin etudes and my brother Tito, he just flipped out. And I didn't realize what had happened, didn't see the transformation from when I'd entered and then come back."

After a career working in every area of music, Resto expresses genuine joy in being able to work with Interlochen students. "This program with Niki is honestly a big deal for me," he says. "It's nice to be back here and it's awesome to feel the energy from the kids. It's like a full circle.

"I love just walking the campus. This is just beautiful. And what really takes me back are the kids, the students. Because I remember that feeling of being there, of standing on the edge. I remember being in that same frame of mind. It's really everything from odd to awkward to thinking, ‘How could time have passed like this?' because I think of them as adults, almost, and I realize I'm just not a kid anymore!"

Resto particularly recalled the value of some of the musical lessons he learned at Interlochen.

"It's true that the arrangement and composition lessons I learned during my summers here stuck with me all through my sessioning. I used what I learned here in Lose Yourself. In its most basic forms it's a juxtaposition of classical over hip-hop. I used those basic arrangement skills to build that piece. So, yeah. Interlochen's been very good to me!"

In remembering what an eye-opening experience he gained from his time here, he offered supportive advice for students that he gathered from another pop-culture mainstay. "With advice I go straight to Napoleon Dynamite, I swear. Follow your heart. I mean it! Follow your heart against all the things that may go against you. I'm not saying don't listen to your parents! But still there's that truth inside you that tells you to try things."

Resto's own words of wisdom ring equally as true. "Try not to lie to yourself. But that doesn't mean don't challenge yourself. Whatever art it is, do it for that reason. Don't do it for monetary reasons because you can come up pretty disappointed. Do things for free. Make yourself accessible to new things. And, yes, there is luck to it. I've definitely been lucky."

Lucky? That's the understatement of the week.

Resto's Interlochen residency is supported in part by an award from the MICHIGAN COUNCIL FOR ARTS AND CULTURAL AFFAIRS.

—Scott R. Miller, Interlochen editor and copywriter