Improvisational jazz equals musical adventure-for the mind as well as the ear. That's how Abebi Stafford regards his chosen work. The 23-year old pianist captivates audiences with treatments that showcase his inquisitive, far-ranging intellect as well as smooth style and strong technique. Subtle threads of humor reward the careful listener. A Minnesota native, Abebi holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering from prestigious Rice University in Houston, Texas. Widely traveled in Europe and Latin America, he converses well in German or Spanish. 'I like to challenge myself,' he says. Music drew him from childhood. Visiting relatives at age 9, Abebi was drawn to an old keyboard in a corner. His parents noticed. For the next seven years, piano lessons were part of his life just like school and Little League. 'They never had to make me practice,' he recalls. 'I loved it.' Classically trained, Abebi was playing Gershwin, Chopin and Grieg by the time he was 16. Then he chose a new direction, focusing on jazz in the spirit of artists like Wynton Kelly and Keith Jarrett. He taught himself and began composing. Ever ready to take a musical risk, Abebi won his first gig on impulse. 'I was at a club in Houston and told the owner I'd like to play there. I auditioned for him right on the spot and he gave me the job.' Now living in Atlanta, Abebi finds the city a favorable place for creative growth. 'The freedom of improvisational jazz grabs audiences just like it does artists. People enjoy how the music makes them feel. There's nothing else like it for stepping out of the world a little bit.'