Since bursting on the jazz and blues scene in 1996 at the age of 19, Michael Kaeshammer has grown from being a disciple of piano legends like Fats Waller and Pinetop Smith, into establishing his own identity as a mature singer/songwriter. His new album, No Filter (released on Sept. 16), displays the next step of that evolution, offering nine new original compositions that balance his eclectic array of influences.
The foundation of Kaeshammer’s sound remains his technical virtuosity, yet many of the tracks reveal his increasing focus on lyrics, which he says often emerge in a stream-of-consciousness manner, hence the new album’s title.
Still, the overall feel of No Filter retains the charm and sophistication that has helped Kaeshammer reach audiences outside of the jazz scene, and also maintain a wide circle of musical friends. The new album boasts appearances from Randy Bachman on “Everybody Catches Love Sometime,” and singer Denzal Sinclaire on “Late Night Train,” while Canadian jazz legend Phil Dwyer handles horn arrangements for the entire record.
Kaeshammer wrote the album on a brand new grand piano at his Vancouver Island home, before fleshing out the material with his touring band. The scene then shifted to Toronto’s Revolution Recording where No Filter was finished off with during a two-day, live-off-the floor session.
The purity of these performances again reflect what has fuelled Kaeshammer’s widespread appeal, and before he hits Canadian stages again in early 2017, he’ll be returning to China for a seven-date tour this fall, proving that his music transcends cultural barriers. For more info, go here
When you first came on the scene, you were heralded as a jazz wunderkind. Do you see yourself as more of a singer/songwriter now?
I’m not young enough to be the wunderkind anymore. But the same part of me that was excited about music when I first came on the scene is still getting me excited today. The lyrical songwriting evolved out of personal growth when I started listening to all sorts of different music over the past 20 years. I have seen myself as a singer/songwriter for many years, in addition to being a devoted and fanatic piano player. This is just a collection of songs that fall more into the singer/songwriter folder than the jazz pianist folder, but it’s me and what I love to do in both instances, so there is no difference between them in my own mind.
Your work on the whole stays true to a lot of longstanding musical traditions. Are you optimistic about the next generation discovering that music?
There is no question in my mind that there will always be new shining stars for any genre of music, no matter how new or old the type of music is. Look at classical music, which I love; there are still new recordings coming out every year by new generations of young musicians of music written hundreds of years ago. I look forward to listening to young people pop up in the music industry for many years to come, in jazz music just as much as any other genre. But jazz will always be a more specified genre, and it isn’t that much different from classical music in the way that jazz musicians are trying to preserve a certain standard that was set a long ago.
What song by another artist do you wish you had written?
I love songs that sound like you couldn’t imagine the world existing without them. I mean, can you imagine a world without “Let It Be” or “Heartbreak Hotel” or “Thriller” or Beethoven’s 5th Symphony? I know I can’t. If it comes down to one artist who ever lived that I admire the most it would be Beethoven, from a pianist to a writer to what he stood for in the music industry at the time. He was the first rockstar. From what it meant to him personally in his life in what he was going through, I would say his 9th Symphony was his greatest moment. It’s hard to even comprehend him sitting completely deaf in front of the orchestra at the premier in Vienna, watching them play something you have only ever heard in your mind, and the overwhelmingly enthusiastic reception afterwards. I wish I wrote that and was the one sitting there. The second song I wish I had written is the one I will write next.
What do you recall about your first time performing in public?
How great it felt! When I was young, my dad and I went to see a show at the local jazz club advertised as “Blues & Boogie Woogie Piano,” which is what I was into more than anything at the time; those guys were my heroes. This particular performance was by a local pianist. He got drunk during the performance and started repeating songs at the end. Everything sounded the same. I went up to the bar and asked if I could get a gig there. He asked for a demo tape and I went home and recorded one in my parent’s basement and I got the gig. I have always loved being on stage playing for people and talking to them. It felt natural right from the beginning.
If there were anything you could change about the music industry in general, what would it be?
If you are good enough, and what you’re saying with your music is worth listening to, then being a pianist and a jazz musician is a lifelong process that needs to be documented with recordings and videos for the sake of the history of that music. It shouldn’t be seen as “how can I make a quick buck?” Not many people approach a music career that way anymore. Times have changed over the past 10-15 years, but a lot of people in the industry still don’t embrace the new way of putting music out there.