NAC Presents: The many influences of Michael Kaeshammer

Michael Kaeshammer.

Michael Kaeshammer has found musical freedom at age 40 and is expanding his horizons in every direction including exploring the pleasures of the table. The self-professed foodie and piano man is bringing his touring band into the National Arts Centre this week for a night of music, both old and new and that ranges across the spectrum. Before all that he spoke with ARTSFILE by email from Germany, where he is playing and enjoying the sights.

Q. Tell us about your Ottawa show this week. 

A. I’m with the band that has been my touring band for the past 10 years and the band on (the last recording) No Filter. I have just finished recording a new CD in New Orleans with guests Cyril Neville (from The Neville Brothers), Colin James, Curtis Salgado, Randy Bachman, Chuck Leavall (from The Rolling Stones), George Porter Jr. (from The Meters), Johnny Vidacovich (from Professor Longhair), Amos Garrett, Jim Byrnes and Bria Skonberg. The new CD is called Something New and will be released in April. Besides old material and songs from No Filter we will also be showcasing pieces from the new recording.

Q. Musically you draw from all sorts of influences. Where does that begin for you?

A. I grew up with lots of influences and have an interest in lots of different genres of music. They influence my writing and my performing subconsciously, it is never something that I do or comes out on purpose. To me what other people call “eclectic” just sounds like my music and my playing.

Q. The jazz label is part of that certainly. Are you a jazz pianist?

A. I definitely wouldn’t consider myself a jazz pianist. I’m a jazz pianist as much as I’m a blues pianist, pop pianist, classical pianist. I play all those styles with the same passion and what comes out is me … I’m just a pianist who loves to play the instrument more than anything else.

Q. Are there some musicians who have inspired you. If so who and why.

A. Growing up I was inspired by pianists in many genres, from James Booker to Glenn Gould. I’ve also been inspired by other musicians and bands that I listened to as a kid, teenager or adult, anything from Robert Palmer to AC/DC to Bob Dylan. I always was, and still am, influenced by some classical composers, not just because of their music but also their lifestyles or approaches to writing: Beethoven, Liszt, Schumann and others. Today it is just my relationship to the instrument and events in life that inspire me.

Q. You have said you have moved beyond influences. What do you mean by that?

A. That is true. There aren’t any outside influences that affect me any more although I still listen to a lot of music and read a lot about music and the people who wrote/played it. But being in touch with my inner self and living my life from that honest spot within in is the sole inspiration I draw from because it is the only thing interesting enough for me at this point. The well is deep once you’ve tapped into that part of yourself.

Q. You have said in interviews that you play a lot of classical music at home. Why?

A. I love classical music and when analyzing the music written from that era you can learn more about harmony and the piano than from any jazz education book ever published. You just have to open your mind to that way of thinking and separate styles from harmony techniques. I’m also at a point where I know how to play what I play on stage and in order to better myself as a musician I find it easier to learn from the classical repertoire than from anything else.

Q. You have also indicated that there is more to life than the piano. What did you mean?

A. I used to put a lot of importance on my music and my career until I realized that the things I do in my life directly reflect my music, no matter if they have anything to do with music or not. It’s a point where every musician who takes themselves too seriously should arrive at, it’s a beautiful spot to play music from.

Q. You are a self professed foodie. What’s you current passion? 

A. I’ve spent a lot of time in Europe over the past few months and started exploring the cooking techniques of Central Europe a little more, countries like Austria, Switzerland, Germany or Poland. Food is like music, it takes away the importance of time when you do it and you can reflect yourself in what you create. Currently I’m in a European mood.

Q. For guy who doesn’t much like flying, you live on Vancouver Island meaning getting to a gig often means a flight. Are you white-knuckling it all the way?

A. I’m white-knuckling most flights I’m on, actually every flight I’m on. I love Vancouver Island because it feels like home to me. Instead of living more centrally to be closer to the shows I’ve been trying to play fewer shows and spend more time out West. Although I’m still travelling a lot, playing less shows is definitely sounding very attractive to me. But for now I’m still white-knuckling it.

I hate to leave (the Island) every time I leave. But once I’m gone I’m happy to be out playing shows. It is the place that feels the most like home to me, that’s why I love being there. I live among trees by the water and there is no place more enjoyable to play piano at than my home. If people would come to my house for shows I would never leave again.

Q. Any other recording projects. 

A. (In addition to) Something New, there is a Christmas project I’m working on that will hopefully be released for Christmas 2018. The creative juices are definitely flowing more than ever these days.

Q. You were born in Germany and moved to Canada at age 13. Do you return to your birth country much? 

A. I’m actually (in Germany) right now as I’m writing this. I’ve spent a lot of time here over the past few months while travelling in Europe and am back on the road here (in Germany) in March for two weeks. I also love exploring the cities and buildings of the classical composers that have influenced me.

Q. Anything else?

A. The NAC is one of my favourite rooms in the country. I’m super excited to come back from Frankfurt and come straight to Ottawa. Can’t wait to play.

NAC Presents Michael Kaeshammer
Babs Asper Theatre
Feb. 8 at 7:30 p.m.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.