Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, senior Jay Whitaker is a self-taught pianist on a mission to play piano for a living.
Whitaker has a YouTube channel with over a thousands subscribers, videos with a 1 million combined views and a rapidly growing Instagram page. Under the Instagram username Track Fingers, Whitaker has gained 18,000 followers and has received thousands of views for his piano covers, which he arranges by ear.
“I listen to a song enough times and I can figure it out on the piano,” Whitaker said. “I’ll go on YouTube and look up other peoples’ covers and get ideas for how I want to put mine together. It takes me less than two days to put it together, and then I’ll release it.”
He began playing at six years old after his mom bought him a keyboard. At nine years old, he was already performing for audiences.While attending Grant High School in Portland, Whitaker would perform for the entire student body.
However, piano wasn’t the only thing he excelled in. Off the stage, Whitaker competed in track and field events, participating in the 100 meter, 200 meter, 400 meter, long jump and triple jump.
“Going from a piano recital or performance to track practice became a thing for a while in high school, and that’s where the name ‘Track Fingers’ came from,” Whitaker said. “My fingers run fast.”
After high school, Whitaker enrolled at UCA, where he is currently majoring in communications and minoring in marketing.“I chose that combination because I believe you need to know how to communicate something to market it. If you can’t effectively communicate things no one will listen to you,” Whitaker said.
Initially, Whitaker was part of the UCA men’s track and field team, but he later quit the team because he found his reason for joining misguided.
“A big reason I did track was because I didn’t have any friends, so I got involved in it,”Whitaker said. “Being a student athlete took up so much time. It’s like a job, so I didn’t have time to work on other things.”
Whitaker realized that although he had dreams of competing in the Olympics, he needed to quit track so he could put more focus into playing the piano. After he graduates, he plans to move to California to pursue a career in music.
“Your environment is key when you want to do big things,” Whitaker said. “I really want to go on tour and play for a popular artist like Drake, Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith, Khalid or Big Sean. That would be a dream come true.”
Photo by Lauren Swaim.