Ever since I was a kid, I loved to make things up on the piano. I am not sure what compelled me to play music other than the music on paper that I was learning from my piano teacher. I think I liked the sounds that I could create. And I seemed to have more fun making up music than playing what someone else had written. Also, reading music did not come easy to me. It was a lot of work. Because I had a very good ear, if my teacher played the piece for me, I would pretty much remember what my teacher played, and then play the same thing. I’d kind of use the notes as a guide, but was too lazy to really figure out the rhythms and to really be able to sight read. I’m still not the greatest sight reader, but by being put in situations and having to read over the years, I’ve gotten a pretty good handle on reading music.
When I was about 9, I started taking lessons from a Russian piano teacher. She would literally hit me in the back to make me sit up straight, and she would hit my hands if I wasn’t using proper technique. I put up with that longer than I’d like to admit, but at 13, when I officially became a teenager, I told my parents that I had had it with my teacher and piano and I was going to take up guitar. After all, I was in LA and between the Beach Boys and the Beatles, guitar was in and piano was out.
With guitar it was a whole new world. Instead of taking lessons, I taught myself guitar. And it wasn’t about reading notes. It was about learning chords and learning licks. It was this learning licks that I was particularly attracted to. The pentatonic scale and the blues really intrigued me. It is was simple enough that I could hear it and play it. So I used to play every note of a B.B. King solo, or learn every Clapton and Hendrix lick. After a while, I was playing my own licks, and I loved it. Playing lead guitar and soloing was so gratifying. I played in bands and it was tons of fun. I still played some piano and I also played organ in a band or two.
In high school, it was guitar all the way. And I continued playing guitar in bands through my second year of college. Even though I was considered a very good rock and blues guitarist, I had a pivotal moment when I heard Jim Hall play some jazz at the college I was at. He was with Ron Carter, and he completely blew me away. I knew that then that I wanted to understand what he was playing. Jazz was beyond my understanding and beyond my hearing. I didn’t get it, but I knew I wanted to.
It was at this time that I quit school and went out to California. I am not sure that this move is in my official bio, but it happened. When I went out to California, one of my jobs was playing piano for dance classes. And I took some of the knowledge that I had learned on guitar, and shifted it over to piano. It was during this period that I heard the Chick Corea’s, Light as a Feather album. That was it, I knew that I wanted to play jazz piano and to play the way Chick did on that album.
I moved back to New York and then on to Boston, where I attended Berklee College of Music. Meanwhile, as a way to earn some money while I was in school, I used to play piano for dance classes at Boston University and Boston Conservatory. These were modern classes and I would improvise for hour long classes. All that I had to do was deliver a particular count or rhythm, and I could pretty much play anything. I started incorporating the jazz voicings and modes that I was learning at Berklee. I loved those classes. It made me feel pretty confident of my improvising. It was a more sophisticated version of making up my own music, the way I had done as a child. It was so much fun.
Fast forward to June of 2008. I had two solo piano CDs under my belt. My mission, which I had established in 2006, I believe, was to create a peaceful world by writing, recording, and performing music from the heart. I decided to do an Improv for Peace a day in protest against the wars in the Middle East. I would post these for free download on MySpace each day. I think it was after doing about 50 Improvs for Peace, I couldn’t handle having that pressure of a daily Improv for Peace, so I decided to keep it up when possible. That turned into about an Improv for Peace a week, and I have been able to keep that happening. At this point, I have 101 Improvs for Peace. #101 is currently available on my website. All you have to do is look for the FileDEN link where it talks about my Improvs for Peace.
After doing so many Improvs, I realized that I had to do a CD of Improvs. My good friend, and fellow Whisperings artist, Joe Bongiorno, invited me to record my new CD at Piano Haven Studios in Kenmore, WA. Joe has a beautiful studio with a wonderful piano, a seven foot Kawai RX-7. I had 1 1/2 days in August of 2008, where I would just sit down at the piano and play and record. If I made a blatant mistake, I would start recording again. Sometimes I would play something and nail it on the first take. Sometimes I would play something and it wouldn’t go in a good direction, or I make one of those blatant mistakes, and I would go back and record again. Sometimes the improvs would evolve as I would go for another take. I ended up coming away with about 15 pieces of music. I was very happy with what I had. And I was pretty amazed too. It was much better than I thought it would be.
I took that music and listened for a while. I sent some out to David Nevue, another solo pianist and friend, who started Whisperings. I asked him to be brutally honest with me about what he heard. Because David has listened to so much solo piano music, I knew that he would be a great person to run it by. And David gave me what I wanted, a critical ear. I agree much of what David said about the music. He even suggested that I go back to Joe’s studio and go for some more music. I was very resistant to that idea because of the time and the expense of flying back out to Seattle. Didn’t know when I could fit it in. So, I sat with that for a while. Then, through my publicist, Janet Hansen, I met Erik Tingstad. This was a fortuitous meeting. Knowing Erik’s work with Tingstad and Rumbel, and after hearing some of his solo work, I had a very good feeling that he could help me get the music to the next level. He also suggested that I go back and record some more music. Well, after hearing two people tell me to record some more, I knew that I had to go back. Meanwhile, Eric suggested that he “take the blade” (that’s what you literally had to do when you used to edit tape) to the Improvs and take out some of (in Eric’s words) noodling, that wasn’t up to the level of some of the other melodies and playing. For some reason I trusted Eric to do that. I knew that I was too close to it to edit it, and I trusted Eric’s musicianship. And I must say, Eric did a fantastic job. He took the music to a much higher level and pared away what wasn’t great, and even created some new music by repeating a melody here or there. And some of the new piece that I recorded at the end of January were just the additions that were needed to make it a great CD. On that same trip, I got together with Eric at his studio, All the Comforts of Home in Sammamish, WA. We hammered out the final order of songs and got it ready for mastering the following day.
I think that the music on this CD is the best music I have ever created and recorded. I am so happy with the result. Can’t wait to get the packaging together and release this. It should happen sometime in April, if I’m lucky. Want to promote it on the radio in May and June.
Peace ☮ Love ♥ & Light ☼ always and everywhere~