Realizing a “Dream”: My 1st Piano CD (part 1)

Greetings, Dear Readers!

It’s finally here: “Darn That Dream Solo Piano Vol. 1”, my first official solo piano album. A long time in coming, this recording represents a very significant milestone for me. This post gives a little backstory and a little about my process. This is Part 1.

Darn That Dream: Solo Piano Vol. 1 

This record took almost 2 years to go from the recording session to the final product. Part of that was simply not having enough time to finish the things I needed to do – buying licenses for the standards, or setting up the mastering; editing the artwork, etc – but a more significant part of it was grappling with my fear of failing – or more specifically, not measuring up to my unrealistically high expectations. Many decades of listening to 1st class piano music will do that to you. How could I possibly hope to compete? The only way I could actually complete this process is to let go of all that and make something much more personal. I feel I’ve accomplished this, and although the lingering fear, now mostly habit, still floats around my head and makes me overcautious, I am proud to present you with this recording.

Part 1 – A Story Telling

My first connection to music was thru the piano. When I was 6, we moved out of NYC to the suburbs. My family bought a house on a cul-du-sac in one of those new developments, the kind of houses the song “little boxes on a hillside/and they’re all made out of ticky-tacky” was written about. It seemed like a big old house to me, however, coming from a small apartment in NYC. We had very little furniture to fill what seemed to me to be a gigantic living room. And then one day it appeared: The black Chickering & Sons baby grand piano that I learned to play on. That piano became my friend, my confident, my escape, my lover, my universe.

My dad got the piano because he loved to play; mostly Beethoven & Chopin (from what I remember). I remember hearing about Mozart – how he had written his first sonatina at age 7. I was 6, and fully convinced I could do the same. I plucked out some kind of melody and insisted my dad help me write it down. In my mind, I was Mozart… yet somehow I knew that that was a much larger world to explore. It was decided I should take lessons.

One of the earliest pieces I learned to play was the 2nd movement from Beethoven’s “Pathetique” sonata. My father taught it to me note for note. Years later he admitted that I could play it better than he could. All I really remember is spending hours & hours at the piano. We lived on a suburban cul-de-sac and that meant stickball, kickball and a variety of other games were always happening. I did play a lot – kicking the ball over the house on the other side of the circle was always a big challenge – but I also chose to spend a lot of time indoors at the piano. My 1st teacher didn’t work out so great, so another was found – Mr. Printz. I studied with him for 5 – 6 years. Under his tutelage I learned the ins & outs of basic harmony; was introduced to jazz greats like Oscar Peterson (thru jazz studies books), and had the opportunity to learn anything I wanted – all I need to do was ask.

I remember Deodato’s ”Prelude” album had a big effect on me (remember the funky version of “2001”?), and by age 13 I had composed & arranged a tune for my High School Big Band. I was hooked on music.  During this time my parents marriage fell apart. They fought constantly. I stayed in my room, or at the piano whenever possible. By age 16 I was gigging fairly regularly, and was cutting high school to stay home and practice. Another key moment came when I first heard Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon”. I knew then that music was my best option in life, and I could not wait to get into the studio and start making records. (That would have to wait until 1990, 27 years later when my band “A. Animal” recorded our first CD “Overhaul”.)

So why a nearly 40 year delay in recording a solo piano CD? And how did I get back to it? As already stated, I started with piano. My first electric Keyboard was a Fender Rhodes Electric Piano, 73 Stage Mark I. (I still have it..!)

I had, early on, made up my mind to always include some piano on any CD I would release.  Those few tentative tracks can be found on “Overhaul” (1990), Alone At Last (1996) and Galvanized (2004).

I had always dreamed of doing a solo piano record – hence the title, “Darn That Dream” – but listening to records by people like Keith Jarret, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson and the great classical masters like Van Cliburn, Vladimir Horowitz & Glenn Gould (among many others) I always felt like my own work could never match up. As my friend composer/pianist Richard Cameron Wolfe once said to me, “a little bit of competition there, eh?”  Geez. Part of my trepidation was that I didn’t fit comfortably into a particular style – I was not a “Jazz Pianist”, or a “Prog Rock” keyboardist, or a Classical musician. I did, however, wear all those hats at one time or another – preferably at the same time.

Meanwhile, I was constantly playing for dance classes – first in NYC (1982-1989) and then at SUNY Purchase (1992 till today), and that meant I was playing the acoustic piano constantly, in the wide variety of styles needed to accompany both Ballet & Modern Dance.

It was during my time at Purchase, in 2001, when former Masters Student and teacher Jill Echo said to me “you should make a solo piano CD. I would buy it.”

Jill & I had worked together in class, and she was a great appreciator of music. Somehow, even though it had been said to me before, it just…stuck. It took up residence in a forgotten corner of my subconscious and refused to budge.

A 2nd arc was happening around the same time, as later that year I premiered my solo piano arrangement of Stravinsky’s “Rite Of Spring” – first for the Conservatory faculty (read a review here) and then in a series of local performances, none of which were well attended. I knew I was going to have to record it at some point, though I was experiencing the same insecurity regarding recording. This was before I learned what REALLY goes on in the classical recording world these days, with literally thousands of edits..!

Meanwhile, I was trying to run NAIL around the rigorous touring schedule of a different band. This was taking up most of my time; that plus various other factors led to a decision to leave the touring group and focus on NAIL. This resulted in a CD in 2007 [“Tugging At The Infinite”] and a full gig schedule. However, I still felt like I was spinning my wheels. Then in 2010 I turned 50 – and I released “the train doesn’t go backwards, or stop” – basically that “we ain’t getting’ any younger!!” So I made the decision to put the band on hold (while I reflected on what wasn’t working), and went ahead with plans to record my first Solo Piano CD.

That’s it for part 1. Part 2 will follow in a week or so. Thanks for reading. You can download the new CD here.

 

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