Sad news crossed the Tasman recently, with the passing of AJ (Alistair John) Hickling, known to many simply as the piano busker.
Born in Bairnesdale, Victoria, Hickling moved to Christchurch with his family when he was a toddler.
AJ was mostly self taught – he discovered a piano in his parents basement when he was two, and fell in love with creating beautiful sounds.
He had more formal piano training when he was in high school, and was offered a scholarship which he declined, choosing to forge his own musical path instead.
A true multi-instrumentalist, AJ and has been one of New Zealand’s much loved musicians and producers, creating and playing original tribal dance music under the name Evolving Rhythms, playing festivals in New Zealand and Australia.
About 12 years ago, AJ found an old piano in the dump, which he restored and began busking with in Queenstown – it was life changing for him.
Suddenly he was able to make a decent income from his musical offerings, selling over 10,000 CDs and saving enough to buy the family’s home in Westport, NZ.
AJ would busk the winter time in Queenstown, living in his van, which he would wheel his piano in and out of, the temperatures dropping as low at -17degrees.
During spring for the last 10 years AJ would head to the east coast of Australia and be based in the Byron area, living in houses in Suffolk Park, The Pocket and Brunswick Heads.
Locals would have seen him busking at markets in the area or at a series of pop-up concerts on the break wall of Brunswick Heads where purely by word of mouth crowds swelled to hundreds of people enjoying his music on the acoustic piano which he wheeled around.
Partner Freja said AJ was an absolute musical virtuoso.
‘He invited people to step out of the rush and reminded us that beauty is a birthright.’
Freja says AJ died in the family home on December 29 after a short battle with pancreatic cancer.
‘He was held by close family and friends.’
AJ’s tangi was held from January 5 to 7. Left behind are his partner Freja, son Ra, and daughter’s Dyani and Jali.
Anyone interested in supporting the family can purchase AJ’s music at: evolvingrhythms.bandcamp.com.