Michael Kaeshammer decides to cut out frills

What: Michael Kaeshammer

Where:McPherson Playhouse

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When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Tickets: $39.50, McPherson box office, 250 386-6121

 

After 20 years in the biz, Michael Kaeshammer is keeping it simple.

The Victoria musician has quietly released The Pianist, his new solo disc. On recordings, he typically sings. But this collection of blues, jazz and boogie-woogie is purely instrumental — just Kaeshammer and his piano.

The self-produced project is a departure in other ways, too.

The Pianist was recorded on a Fazioli grand piano in February at his home in North Saanich, not far from the B.C. Ferries docks. Recording engineer Joby Baker set up the microphones in the living room. However, Kaeshammer was all alone while the sessions took place over a month, just pressing a button to record.

The 38-year-old pianist — originally from Offenburg, Germany — followed an unorthodox routine. He’d go to bed when it got dark, about 7 p.m. Then he’d rise about2 a.m. or 3 a.m., eat breakfast and get to work.

“It was amazing to just get up at four in the morning or whatever and just go record,” he said.

When Kaeshammer moved to Victoria from Germany with his family at the age of 18, he immediately earned a reputation as a musical enfant terrible. He played often at the Fernwood Inn and the Gorge Pointe Pub, thunderously navigating boogie-woogie’s treacherous bass lines with dinner-plate-sized hands.

Boyish-looking and charismatic, Kaeshammer forged a national reputation, enabling him to play soft-seat theatres across Canada. His albums were repeatedly nominated for Junos (although he has yet to win one). Perhaps trying to make himself more marketable à la Harry Connick Jr., Kaeshammer developed credible singing skills.

Interviewed this week, the pianist — natty in a tux-style jacket and black shirt — described The Pianist as a labour of love. While creating it, he wasn’t concerned with commercial potential.

“Even the [music] distribution company told me: ‘We don’t know if CBC is going to play this stuff. Because there’s no vocals. That’s the thing industry people always say,” Kaeshammer said. “This was more for myself than anything else. I didn’t even do publicity for it. Nothing.”

Six of the tunes are originals. The other three are Chicago Breakdown by Big Maceo Merriweather, Suitcase Blues by boogie-woogie king Albert Ammons and the jazz standard Autumn Leaves.

Usually, when recording original tunes, Kaeshammer arrives at the studio with fully fleshed out compositions. This time, for such songs as Janice (a percolating slow blues) and Stomp (a New Orleans-style swaggerer), the pianist improvised part or all the composition while recording.

The level of technical facility is remarkable. Kaeshammer plays with a sure sense of ease, displaying the type of concision and swinging rhythm that marks the mature musician. Some of his runs are complex and lightning fast, yet there’s never a sense of showing off.

Kaeshammer is aware of this. He says when listening to his early recordings, he sometimes hears playing that sounds needlessly complicated — a young man showing off what he can do.

“I don’t see the point of anything being too complicated musically any more,” Kaeshammer said.

The month-long recording session at Chez Kaeshammer produced an abundance of riches. Kaeshammer figures he has about six solo albums worth of songs in the can. He may release another recording in March.

Doing your own thing means you can experiment. Kaeshammer did some recording with a prepared piano, sticking things like “little rubber wedges” between the strings.

He has just returned from a four-week tour of China. Kaeshammer played 25 cities, including Beijing and Shanghai. It was his fifth tour there. He likes playing China — there are two more tours planned in 2016. Kaeshammer doesn’t have a manager anymore. Instead, there’s “a guy over there who books my stuff.”

At this mid-point in his career, Kaeshammer seems content. There have been ups and downs, and occasional bad management. Around 2005, he contemplated leaving music after a Canadian tour. At that time, Kaeshammer said, his heart wasn’t in it.

And now it is.

“You learn a lot of stuff. And people fill your ears with a lot of stuff that you think you should be doing,” he said. “There’s been disappointment. There’s been successes. But at this point, I love playing more than ever. I’m super happy.”

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