This page is dedicated to sharing all things "Gratitude", my new album of Contemporary Solo Piano Music.
Below is an in-depth interview with renowned New Age reviewer Michael Diamond.
I would like to share this questionnaire with you, so you can see my answers in entirety. Enjoy.
- Are there any personal reflections or back-story on particular tracks, what inspired them, etc. - or reflections on the album overall?
Aside from meeting Will Ackerman over lunch in New York, I didn’t know anything about working with him and his engineer Tom Eaton, his recording studio, the piano, or that part of Vermont or anything, nothing. I wasn’t a New Age pianist. I came in with some songs I thought could work and few did.
The one song I knew Will liked was Solace. It was the first song we recorded. It was important to have something to begin this “journey of discovery” that was solidly agreed upon together. The next song was a complete improvisation, Gratitude. It received the “title track” status later because it represents my first song recorded while consciously taking in the natural setting of Imaginary Road Studio’s view of the forest, the knowledge that Will was in the control room, and most importantly, I had arrived at the place I wanted to be to create my own piano music, and even more importantly, have Will’s precise, immediate, and brutally honest judgment.
Because improvising is my most comfortable state to play the piano, Will was not sure he could produce me. He works with a unique map of each song that prepares him for how the piece goes down on the track, and none of my other songs sounded fresh and surprising enough when pre-composed, arranged, over-practiced or thought-out. So we both had to meet at a place in the middle and do it right there in the studio. It was quite intense at times! Fortunately I was able to knock down some more improvisations that worked as songs for the CD: Gratitude; Golden Waves; and Late At Night.
A real breakthrough happened when I came in one day and I had six or so tune ideas I was sure we could develop in the studio. Will didn’t like any of them. I needed to find out what wasn’t working. I asked for the tough criticism and got it from Will and Tom (who has great ears and judgment also). I needed to think more linearly simple and melodic. My jazz background had me doing more with vertical chords and rhythm, and it was too much – too dense. I now had the info I needed, and from then on I was even able to pre-compose or pretty much prepare songs for the rest of the sessions, and I think all the rest of the songs I brought in after that are on the CD. The two full instrumental pieces Sea Dream – Away, and My Song – Carried Along are songs from my distant past that Will did an amazing job of arranging the form, and introducing the right instrumentation to make these beautiful chamber group type creations. What a gratifying experience it was to go through that process. As I state in the liner notes: Will seems to instinctively know how to get the best from me in the studio. I feel like I enrolled in a class to discover how to be a Contemporary Instrumental Pianist and came out of it discovering myself.
- What do you draw inspiration from in your music and life?
I get inspiration from anything and/or everything. I think of myself as a great appreciator of sound, so music is just part of what we hear. I could also look at it as, all sound is music – the soundtrack to our lives.
Musically speaking, I drew a lot of inspiration from the great jazz, classical, gospel and other styles of pianists. Early on I wasn’t impressed with rock or pop piano that much. Then George Winston came up with folk piano and that was a new category – cool!
I have learned to really appreciate blues and boogie piano styles, especially from playing that music live. I have to say that other instruments probably have inspired me as much as piano music. Specifically Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Aretha. The thing about horn players and singers, and brass and string players is they have instruments that utilize properties of expression that the piano doesn’t have.
For a pianist to want to “sing” on his instrument, It’s a life-long endeavor to keep coming up with new ways to be expressive. Lyricism is my favorite musical quality. On a piano it’s like trying to draw curves with little straight lines and only 90 degree turns, like pixilation. If done fine enough it can approximate curvature. To the extent you utilize touch on the piano, the more beautiful the instrument sounds.
It’s great to have arrived at my first love, solo piano. Now it can be most of what inspires me musically. Especially original music. Playing piano is very personal and playing my own music at the piano is totally personal, and very gratifying. I use gratifying, gratitude and grateful in my vocabulary a lot now – fitting!
- Is there anything in particular that you want people to know about you or your music, or anything else you’d like to share or see written about in the article?
I think one of the most unique things about me, and possibly the most interesting thing about my life and career “story” in music is this:
In my mind I have always been a solo pianist. In 50 years, no year went by when I didn’t spend more time improvising at the piano than any other music related activity. Through almost 15 years of classical training, 30 years of professional performing and recording, 12 years of teaching private piano lessons, I had a public presence of recitals, adjudications, solo cocktail gigs, many bands, records, TV, concerts and a motion picture. But, only now am I positioned to take my own “private until this point” original solo piano music and for the first time make it my new public presence. I’m very excited!
Inside this story is another story, the point at which I decided to make a change to get here, the present. After the 30 years of being a professional pianist and keyboardist, and that being my only job and source of income during that entire time, I knew I had to drop out and leave it all, and leave before it started to show on stage. I also didn’t know what I was going to do to replace it financially. Part of this was driven by health and other reasons, but most of it was that I knew I needed to stop playing all this “other peoples’” music, let it purge out of my system over a long period of time, clear the fog and pull my voice out of the silence. Develop that, create new music, and further refine present original pieces to build a repertoire. All that took about 12 years. The decision to teach piano lessons for a living during that time enabled me to work on my new goal. Moving to NYC really helped me see what is really going on in Music Mecca and the world. It took a couple of tough years to discover where I fit in here. Part of that struggle was realizing that for me, it started in Vermont!
- What led you to play music in this particular genre?
We can pretty much take it from where I left off:
“It took a couple of tough years to discover where I fit in here (NYC). Part of that struggle was realizing that for me, it started in Vermont!”
I had figured my music and my love of solo concerts and salon or house gigs was where I wanted to be. And I knew that as far as original solo instrumental piano performances went, there’s modern classical, jazz, boogie-woogie and that’s about it. I turned my brain into a pretzel trying to feel at home in classical or jazz – maybe there’s something in between?
Now New Age fit very nicely in there, but I hadn’t discovered much that progressed from the original style from decades ago, and I wasn’t that inspired. I knew about Will from the Windham Hill days and knew he had come back east. I had always been curious about him. I started to research online to hear who is in this genre now, and how it is evolving. I discovered people who had made records at Imaginary Road and started really hearing artists and music that inspired me. Chad Lawson is a favorite, Michael Dulin, Heidi Breyer, Dana Cunningham, Masako, Louis Landon, Rebecca Harrold are all pianists that on close inspection have their own sound, very refined touch, and have beautifully creative and well developed pieces. There are more of course composing really nice original piano music.
Some time during these discoveries I knew that this felt like the perfect genre to add my sound and original music to. I knew I needed someone like Will to help me really be a compelling solo pianist. He knew I could do it too, and we talked about how great it would be to be a part of this style of music’s evolution, and that’s the kind of challenge I live for.
- How did you first get interested in music and what were some of your early experiences?
When I was young and taking classical piano lessons I was just practicing and learning pieces, doing recitals and my mom told me when to practice. I think after a few years, pre-teen I started to mess with the classical stuff, reading popular or movie sheet music, and some crude improvising. I would listen to songs on the radio and go figure them out on piano. I don’t have perfect pitch, I do have a decent ear to do this but it was hard and a lot of work. I would obsess until I got it.
I remember at 15 something happened and my fingers took over and started playing this amazing stuff that I didn’t totally control or really know what was happening, and I was blown away by it. I can’t remember it. It would be so cool to be able to hear what I did then. It’s possible it wasn’t anything amazing at all, but the feeling was like a dream, or driving a motorcycle down the road for the first time. I knew this “making stuff up” and just playing free of constraint was my special personal feeling. I didn’t know anyone for probably many years after, that could relate to that feeling.
I actually played electric bass guitar in a rock band or two in my early teens. At 17 I was going to a community college with a great music program and immersing myself into jazz and different sized bands, and even playing club dates with older people I met, and really getting great performing experience.
- Who were/ are your musical influences?
Besides some of the influences mentioned above, the really major piano influencers that I studied through records and jazz charts were:
Peter Nero, Erroll Garner, Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Joe Zawinal, Bill Evans, Sir Roland Hanna, Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, McCoy Tyner, and a hundred others in jazz I’m sure!
In classical there’s: Van Cliburn, Glenn Gould, Vladimir Horowitz.
In other styles there’s: James Booker, Chester Thompson on organ.
More recently, I don’t listen that much as it’s helps to incubate melodies for compositions and hear music in my head when I’m just going through my day. I like almost all styles as there’s good in everything, but weeding through the uninspired is a chore. It’s worth it though!
I like IDM and EDM music actually. I think it might be the new jazz. I like eclectic music on the fringe if it’s inventive. Of course, as mentioned earlier I love beautiful, lyrical, minimalistic music. Heartfelt folk and acoustic. I’m not naming names here as roaming the internet is like - listen to soundbites here and there and find an artist and listen to a couple more soundbites and move on etc…… Film music is great and there’s a real natural connection to it with contemporary New Age.
- What is your musical vision? Why are you a musician, what does it mean to you?
I finally have a vision! I knew someday, after all that time playing the music I like to play at home, I would have to bring it to the forefront at some point. Here it is.
I’m very philosophical. I have actually spent a lot of time wondering why I’m a musician and what it means. They say, find what you love, then do it, get really good and you’ll be happy. I’ve always believed that’s the only way to go. There’s another school of thought I found recently and it makes sense too. They say, do what you’re really good at, learn to love it and you’ll be happy. Not too long ago I had to wrestle with the deep question of - what does music mean to me? It might have been that I went through a period of time where I wondered if I cared about music at all. Coming out of that I was able to fill that tank up with love and care again. It’s purer now, and kind of simple. I really love playing my piano music for people.
- What are your musical goals in the future?
I’m about to turn 60. While it’s almost like being a kid launching a brand new career, to be arriving at this solo piano dream, I am thinking about legacy. What am I going to have to show for after focusing my entire life on piano and music? This album Gratitude is the first at this level of refinement to come from my heart, brain and hands. While that’s great, and I have many other recordings of originals and arrangements that are mine, I want to have many more years and albums of my music to share with others, and leave the world. I don’t have children, but it would be cool to have nieces and nephews, and their kids, and my friends kids, and on down the line, be able to hear yet a different person’s take on piano music and hopefully be touched.