LOS ANGELES - At 66 years old, Elton John says he can make whatever kind of music he wants, regardless of commercial pressure, but he professes to love what young musicians are doing today.
At a rare free concert in Los Angeles last month, John told the audience that it's time to turn over the spotlight to younger artists, even as he prepares to release his 30th solo studio album, The Diving Board.
"I (my music) don't play on the radio. It's other people's turn. But at my age, I can do what I want," the British singer-songwriter, clad in his usual long, glittering coat, said during a question-and-answer session between concert segments at the University of Southern California.
John, who studied music for six years at London's Royal Academy of Music after winning a scholarship at age 11, told the audience, many of whom were music students, that he puts special emphasis on youth.
"Listen to everything. Don't be dismissive," instructed John, who said he dropped out of music school to pursue rock because his fingers were like "cocktail sausages" and not long enough for a career in classical music.
"I pay tribute to the young. I have faith in the young and I love listening to new music," he added.
John, who underwent surgery this summer for appendicitis, raved about young artists like 16-year-old New Zealand singer-songwriter Lorde, and described working in the studio with rappers Eminem and Kanye West as inspirational.
"If you want to coast and play Bennie And The Jets, you might as well, just (expletive) off. Coasting is dangerous," he said, referring to himself and his need to constantly try new approaches and to listen to the new music of the day.
After speaking, John played a few songs from The Diving Board, his new album that was released on Sept 24.
He described the album as more mature and reflective than his earlier works.
"This is an album by a 66-year-old man," he said, noting it was not an album he would have put out in his 20s, when he wrote songs like Rocket Man.
The new album was written by John and longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin and produced by Grammy and Oscar winner T Bone Burnett.
John played Oscar Wilde Gets Out and Home Again and Mexican Vacation (Kids In The Candlelight), among others from The Diving Board.
After playing his new songs, he dove back into some oldies but goodies like The Bitch Is Back, Bennie And The Jets, and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
For an encore, he waved away his guitarist for a solo performance of Rocket Man.
For much of the performance, he was backed by his own band and also by the university's student symphony.