And All That Jazz: Interview with Shelly Berg

Interviewed by Tanya Levy (MGBH)

The talent of Shelly Berg, the 21st century jazz pianist is unique.  Like many talented people, he is talented in everything.  Throughout his career he equally managed succeed as a jazz musician, an educator, a composer, a music administrator, and an entrepreneur.  But most importantly, he succeeded in becoming a man of integrity and character.   

PPM: What was your home atmosphere like growing up with the musician father and a writer mother? Would you, please, share some of the your childhood memories of experiences that made you like music?
SB: There was always music playing in my home. My father had a large LP collection, and a large collection of 78rpm recordings.  He was both a classical and jazz musician, so the listening palette was large.  He began teaching me jazz when I was 11 years old, and we had a lifetime of making music together.  My parents loved to entertain and invited touring musicians to parties at our home.  Some amazing jazz artists played in my living room when I was a child.  In the early years of my jazz piano playing, my father would pull out three small nesting tables and use them as a drum set, teaching me to “leave space” and to be collaborative and attentive in playing music.  My mother knew the lyrics to hundreds of pieces from the Great American Songbook and sang them to me in the car, while she was cooking, etc. She instilled in me a contextual way of experiencing music.

 

PPM: What kind of writer was your mother?
SB: My mother wrote short stories and a novel.  Like so many of her day, she was a homemaker, so her writing was never published.

 

PPM: Please, share with our readers a little bit more about your father. What entrepreneurial activities was he involved in besides being a musician?
SB:  My father, Jay Berg (OBM), was a very talented musician.  He played principle French horn in the Camp Pendleton Marine Band during WW2 and played jazz trumpet with many legends, including Charlie Parker and Sonny Stitt.  After he married my mother, he decided to make music his avocation and embarked on a business career.  He had a successful aluminum siding businesses in Cleveland.  When that market became saturated, he moved the family to the Texas Gulf Coast. He invented a foundation pier for homes that were sinking in the Texas clay, and he remained in that business for the rest of his life.

PPM: Did any of your siblings play an instrument? What do they do now?
SB: I was the lone musical sibling. My eldest brother was a brilliantly talented visual artist who tragically passed away in 1990. My next oldest brother has had a varied career in business, and my younger sister is a prominent entertainment attorney in Los Angeles.

 

One week, after not practicing for a few days after my lesson, I forgot the keys my teacher had played in. At the following lesson, I played the assigned pieces, but in the wrong keys.   Subsequently my parents took me to the Cleveland Institute of Music, and I was accepted at 6 into a gifted program, which included private lessons, solfege, and theory.

 

PPM: At what point was it decided that you needed to take special instruction with Maxine Priest? What did she give you as a teacher?
SB: By the time I was four years old, I had discovered the piano, and I instinctively knew how to play it. One day, my parents overheard me playing the then popular song, “Alley Cat,” by ear with both hands. I was started in piano lessons when I was five, but the teacher failed to recognize I was playing entirely by ear. One week, after not practicing for a few days after my lesson, I forgot the keys my teacher had played in. At the following lesson, I played the assigned pieces, but in the wrong keys.   Subsequently my parents took me to the Cleveland Institute of Music, and I was accepted at 6 into a gifted program, which included private lessons, solfege, and theory.  Maxine Priest was my teacher for the next 10 years. She began my education in earnest, including etudes (such Czerny op. 299 and 740) and a wide variety of repertoire. She was a very nurturing teacher, and instilled in me a confidence that music could be my life.

PPM: Let’s talk a little bit about your other childhood passion – baseball.  Was that an alternative professional choice or just a hobby? Was there a time when you had to decide between baseball and music? Do you still play baseball?
SB:  I was a good baseball player in my childhood and spent more time in childhood summers with baseball than I did with music.  I developed an ability as a batter to put the ball in play and almost never struck out as I progressed through the various levels of little league and high school ball.  In fact, in my year of Pony League, I never struck out al all.  BUT, as much as I loved the sport, I would never have made it to professional baseball, because my talent was not at that level.  If I see anyone playing baseball or throwing the ball around I still want to join in!

PPM: When you were 12, your father started teaching you jazz standards and exposing you to jam sessions. Do you remember your first impression of being with a bunch of men playing jazz?
SB: I remember very well the first time I played at an adult jam session with my father.  I was 13 years old.  I got kicked off the stand!  I wasn’t ready.  As I sulked in a corner, the drummer came over and said to me, “Son, you’re going to be fine. You only need one thing . . . mileage.” Over the next year I worked very hard to acquire that mileage and grew to be accepted at jam sessions.  We moved to Houston when I was almost 16, and my father took me to a jam session with a Texas saxophone legend Arnett Cobb. We arrived early, and I began to play solo piano.  During the song other musicians arrived, and as I told my mother later that night, I heard the “whoosh” of great musicians coming in behind me.  It was the biggest thrill I had up to that time in music.  I’ll never forget the exhilaration, and it is a something I still experience today.

PPM: When was your first public performance? Do you remember the feeling of first performing in public?
SB:  My very first public performance was playing “Lavender’s Blue” at my teacher’s studio recital.  My feet didn’t reach the floor yet.  I felt a very strong connection to music even then.  I remember that it began my 30-year quest to overcome stage anxiety.  Today, one of the most important aspects of teaching for me is helping students enter a beautiful, anxiety-free space when they play.

Jam sessions are an important right of passage for jazz musicians.<..> The joy of playing jazz is the collaboration – the musical moments that feel telepathic.  It is indescribably wonderful to be “in the zone” with other accomplished jazz artists.

PPM: What does a jam session mean to a jazz player? Is it inclusive or exclusive?  Do musicians invite whoever is good or is it a cliquish activity? How are the players selected/invited?
SB: Jam sessions are an important right of passage for jazz musicians.  As I explained earlier, if you are not ready, they will send you “back to the woodshed.” If you are ready, it is not cliquish at all.  The joy of playing jazz is the collaboration – the musical moments that feel telepathic.  It is indescribably wonderful to be “in the zone” with other accomplished jazz artists.

PPM: What was the most important thing you learned from Albert Hirsch (OBM), your mentor?
SB:  I could write a book about things I learned from my greatest mentor, Albert Hirsh (OBM). When I was 17, I played for Rudolph Serkin (OBM), and he asked me who I studied with.  When I told him, he said, “There is no greater teacher than Albert Hirsch, and everyone should study with him.” Albert had an uncanny ability to find simple solutions to issues of technic and execution. He was also a master interpreter and helped me learn subtleties in approaching Haydn (OBM), as compared to Mozart (OBM), or Mozart as compared to Beethoven (OBM), etc. He was such a complete and compelling pianist himself that I worked even harder, simply knowing what was possible through his example.

PPM: While in college, you played in a band six nights a week, to help support your family.  What was that experience like and how did the things you learned translate into having your own band after you graduated?

SB: I had a dual education and learned as much in the evenings as I did in college.  Larry Martinez (MGBH) was the leader of the band I played in, and he was another great mentor.  Martinez is a world-class trumpeter, and the quality of the music we made was of utmost importance to him. But he also understood that there is always an audience, and if they aren’t excited to hear you again, you’ve missed a golden opportunity.  I learned from Larry that “entertainment” is not a dirty word, and it is possible to entertain an audience without pandering.  Classical and Jazz musicians sometimes forget that fact, but my saying is, “It is never the audience’s fault if they are not captivated by my performance.”

 I learned from Larry that “entertainment” is not a dirty word, and it is possible to entertain an audience without pandering.  Classical and Jazz musicians sometimes forget that fact, but my saying is, “It is never the audience’s fault if they are not captivated by my performance.”

PPM: Your first teaching job at Jacinto College…. Although you stayed there for only two years, seems like you did a lot for their music program. Among many other things, you directed a Jazz band, which became one of the top bands in the country. You created Music Business and recording arts program that is still there. Why teaching at college, which is somewhat restricting vs. pursuing a full-time career of a jazz musician?
SB: I was actually at San Jacinto College for twelve years, the first two at the North Campus and the remaining ten at the Central Campus. As a dean now, I would have to hire four professors to do what I did at San Jacinto, which included directing the athletic band, concert, band, and jazz band, while teaching courses in theory, ear training, music business, jazz improvisation, and about a dozen private students each semester. I am very proud of the nationally prominent program we built, and along the way I learned so much that I use today.  I have always loved teaching, and had my first private student when I was 15.  In my undergraduate years I was a student conductor of university orchestra and choirs, and I was subsequently awarded a teaching assistantship in Music Theory and Composition for graduate study.  By the time I obtained my Master’s Degree, I was 23 years old, and had two children.  I knew I didn’t want to play every night for a living, so I applied for and was given the job at San Jacinto College. It is now my 39th year in higher education!

PPM: We know that besides being a jazz performer and an educator, you have developed a successful commercial jingles career. How did you get into it? Where you still in Texas or did you already move to Los Angeles?
SB: Raising a family is expensive! When my children were young, I had a band that played over 100 events a year, including wedding receptions, bar mitzvahs – you name it.  I wrote my first jingle when I was 20 years old, for a local wedding photographer. Throughout the next fifteen years I continued to develop writing clients, and I had moved up to national jingles by the time I moved to Los Angeles in 1991.  In LA I met the late Dick Marx (OBM), who was the country’s undisputed king of jingles. Dick took me under his wing, and together we wrote not only jingles, but also album orchestrations, television themes, and movie orchestrations and scoring.

Bill taught me that the one note that will never be forgotten is infinitely more valuable than a stream of virtuosity.

 

PPM: In 1986 you started working with Bill Watrous (MGBH), a jazz trombonist. What was that collaboration like? What are some of your memorable travel performance memories with him?
SB: My greatest jazz mentor, after my father is Bill Watrous, who I spent twenty years with.  Bill is one of the few greatest trombonists ever.  His sound and technique inspired a generation of followers.  As I played with him more and more, I realized that behind the dazzling display was a lyricism as great as any I’d heard.  Bill taught me that the one note that will never be forgotten is infinitely more valuable than a stream of virtuosity. Bill and I played all over the world, most memorably at some big jazz festival Like Montreux and North Sea.  Before every concert Bill would look at me and say “who gets the brass ring tonight?” which was his way of challenging me to bring my “A game” every time.  At the end of each performance, we would usually agree which one of us earned the brass ring.  I would not be who I am today without Bill.

PPM: Please, tell us about your first jazz album.
SB:  As I said earlier, I had a “casual” band when my children were young, and although I practiced a great deal, I was not seriously contemplating a jazz career.  By my late 30’s I was overdue to record my own project. A great bassist, Lou Fischer (MGBH), and an equally great drummer, Randy Drake (MGBH) also toured with Bill Watrous, and we had developed a rapport.  Through Lou, I began to play with another fabulous drummer, Steve Houghton (MGBH). It was decided that we would do a trio project with Lou on bass, and Houghton and Drake splitting the drum chair. A few years earlier, I was a finalist in the “Great American Jazz Piano Contest”, and that was during my “stage fright” days.  I was very worried that I would suffer debilitating anxiety at that competition, on national television!  So, I wrote a song for my three children and put their picture on the pin bloc of the piano where only I could see. As a result, I wasn’t nervous, and I had discovered one of the secrets to escaping performance anxiety.  I named that song, “The Joy”, and it is the title of my first album.

 

PPM: When did you start writing for TV and film?
SB:  When I met Dick Marx in Los Angeles, we worked together to pursue TV and film writing.  We had so much fun, and Dick became another of my valued mentors.  One of our shows, “Fudge” (ABC), became the #1 program on Saturday mornings, and we worked on several other TV projects and major studio films.  Dick had great success in the jingle business, and was very wise. Whenever I would agonize over a musical decision, he would say, “Will your new idea sell another Pop Tart? If not, you probably already have what you need.” I tried so hard not to make in error in score writing. When I felt my score was perfect I would bring it to Dick. Hearing it in his head, he would make comments like, “Oh, this is great, very interesting, etc.” We never got through a score without him saying something like, “Isn’t this note supposed to be F natural.” He was uncanny.

In writing for TV and film, I learned how to deal with a multitude of competing opinions, while navigating the politics of an industry.

PPM: In 2005, after you started composing for jazz trio, you released your second CD called “Blackbird,” which reached #1 on jazz radio and stayed there for eight weeks, which means, people liked it.  What was it like working on this album?
SB: “Blackbird” was magic to me. I booked two days in the studio with Chuck Berghofer (MGBH) on bass, Gregg Field (MGBH) on drums, and my long-time engineer collaborator, Les Williams (MGBH). There were no expectations.  I brought in a bunch of charts, some of them to original songs, and we picked the ones we liked best.  The album felt easy to make because we got into that “zone” that athletes and musicians talk about.  We weren’t overthinking, because we weren’t trying to make a “successful” recording. We just wanted to play and collaborate. There is a lesson in that experience.

PPM: Between 1994 and now, you did over a dozen of album orchestrations. What does this type of work entail?
SB: I have done many dozens of album orchestrations in the last twenty years.  I have been privileged to work with artists who I admire greatly, including Gloria Estefan, The Count Basie Orchestra, Renee Fleming, Steve Miller, Chicago, Richard Marx, Dionne Warwick, Carole King, Kurt Elling, and many others. I even did a record with KISS.

I love orchestrating, which is very much like being an accompanist.  My first responsibility is to get inside the head of the artist and to feel what they are feeling. If I do my job well, my orchestration will inspire the artist to her or his most compelling performance.  I believe that the introduction of an orchestration should transport the performer and listener into the emotion of the song.

PPM: Please, tell our readers about the Jazz Cruise.
SB: I am the Musical Director of The Jazz Cruise, which is arguably the World’s best seven days of jazz each year. There are over 100 of the greatest jazz artists, and 2,000 fans onboard. Four venues are programmed day and night, and many of the shows feature combinations of artists that can only be seen on the cruise. It is the one week of the year when I am not a music school dean, I am solely a jazz pianist.

PPM: What does your jazz pianist life look like today?
SB: My life as a pianist today is very fulfilling. I don’t have an agent or manager, because I am fortunate to be asked to perform as much as I can handle with my career at the Frost School of Music. My performances cover a wide range, from jazz clubs to festivals and performing arts centers. I am equally happy to accompany a great artist as to perform in my own project. For instance, lately Steve Miller and I have been producing “Jazz Meets Blues” shows at Lincoln Center. I have been privileged to perform in the last few years at the White House, Hollywood Bowl, Royal Albert Hall, the Apollo Theater, etc.  I’m having fun!

PPM: Please, tell us a little bit about your children. What are they like and what life paths are they on?
SB: I have three children in their 30’s (Lindsay, Kyle and Ashlyn) and a stepson (Dylan) who is 27. I also have two grandchildren (Jackson who is 14, and Noelle who is 12) and another grandchild on the way.  Jackson and Noelle are both musicians. If I could never play a note again, I would derive infinite happiness from who my children are and how they lead their lives. They are happy, successful, and compassionate.

PPM: What do you like about living in Miami vs. Los Angeles? Are there times you miss LA?
SB: Miami has been an amazing experience for my wife, Julia and me. By the way, Julia is my muse, and my music changed profoundly after we met. Miami is very diverse and very open. It feels easy to meet anyone, and the mix of cultures is inspiring. If I hadn’t moved to Miami, I wouldn’t have met Gloria and Emilio Estefan. They have become dear friends and collaborators. I love LA as well, and am fortunate to be there regularly to perform, record and connect with old friends.

PPM: What are your hobbies?
SB: My life doesn’t allow much time for hobbies besides music. When I have free time, I want to practice! I am a runner, and try to run at least three times per week. I also love to snow ski, but haven’t gone in four years.

PPM: What do you usually do on Sundays?
SB: I don’t have a Sunday routine. If I am in the middle of a composing or orchestrating project (which is most of the time), I have to work when I am not at the Frost School. My writing sessions are often very late at night or very early in the morning. So, a free Sunday for writing is a welcome day! If I don’t have a writing project, and I am not on the road, Sunday is very special. I can read the entire New York Times by the pool, take a long run and spend relaxed time with Julia.

PPM: How did becoming a grandfather affect you as a human being?
SB: I don’t think becoming a grandfather has changed me. I have had such wonderful and close relationships with my children that becoming a grandfather has felt like an extension of that. The joy of being a grandfather is that it has widened the world of love in my life.

PPM: Let’s focus on the topic of your TEDx Miami talk, which I found very interesting and, I hope, our readers will do to. What is its main idea? (* We will include the video of the talk in our “Amazing Videos” section as well as on the bottom of the interview).
SB: MY TEDx talk has two central ideas.  First, music is an example of how we learn.  We strive to master the techniques of anything we do, whether piano, sports, math, speech, or any other endeavor.  Then, we naturally think that the world wants to see a display of our “prowess.”  My point is that it is our “intent” that truly resonates with others, and technique gives us the tools to express intent.  The last point of my TEDx talk has to do with what music teaches us about life. As a musician, I must tap into the original inspiration of a piece, so that I fall in love with it anew with each performance. If we can transfer that approach to our relationships and life situations, then we have found the secret to life.  If every time I say, “I love you” to Julia feels like the first time, then our love will be infinitely renewing.

The last point of my TEDx talk has to do with what music teaches us about life. As a musician, I must tap into the original inspiration of a piece, so that I fall in love with it anew with each performance. If we can transfer that approach to our relationships and life situations, then we have found the secret to life.

 

AND ALL THAT JAZZ: Christian Tamburr

by Alex Davydovich (MGBH)

When it comes to the business of piano performance, Christian Tamburr (MGBH) seems to have it all figured out.  A talented entrepreneur as well as a gifted musician, he has paved his road to success (not without divine providence, of course) by using his outstanding interpersonal skills and a solid business sense.  With vibraphone as his secondary instrument, he has performed in dozens of prestigious venues, produced his own albums, collaborated with many outstanding musicians, and even created a successful corporate leadership program.   Here is an up close and personal with Christian Tamburr.  Prepare to take notes.

American Council of Piano Performers

white-space

PPM: Would you, please, tell our readers a little bit about yourself? Your family, your childhood…..
CT: I grew up as an only child.  My mother and father always had music playing in the house. My father played guitar. Some of my first memories were sitting on his lap strumming along. When I was 6 years old, I visited my great aunt in New Jersey whom I had never really met, however she had a beautiful baby grand in the living room.  My parents told me not to touch and, of course, once I was out of sight of them, went and started to play the instrument. Apparently, I had a certain sensibility on the instrument and much to the shock of my parents, my aunt seemed to enjoy seeing me play this forbidden piece of furniture. A few years later, my great aunt passed away and her entire estate was auctioned off.

Approximately a month after the estate sale, a moving truck arrived to our home in Florida with a delivery for “Christian Tamburr” (which I was 7 years old at the time).

Approximately a month after the estate sale, a moving truck arrived to our home in Florida with a delivery for “Christian Tamburr” (which I was 7 years old at the time). It turned out my aunt only left one thing to one person and that one thing was her Wurlitzer baby grand piano to me. I really fell in love with the piano and, although with limited understanding of the functionality, used my ear to navigate playing along with my father as he played the guitar. This early developmental step in learning to play by ear was a critical step in my ability to understand harmony, melody, and improvisation.

 

PPM: Where did you get your music education and who was your first piano teacher?
CT: My first piano teacher was Mrs. Rowe. I took approximately 6 months of lessons when I was in 4th grade. I wasn’t exactly the best student.  I realized my ear was much better then my sight-reading, and I would have my teacher tape the exercises and etudes. I would go home, play the tape and learn it all perfectly by ear. That for me was the fastest way to get the “required material” learned and move on to making up my own music.  Mrs. Rowe could have hampered that approach, however she fostered it.  She continued to bring in harder material both classical and popular music, and her approach was to maintain good technique over sight-reading.  I paid a bit for this when I first got into band in Jr. High but I eventually got it all together. In all honesty, I’m still not the strongest sight-reader, however I can hold my own in a professional setting and after one pass I generally have it, both by reading and also using my ear!

After completing High School I went to the University of North Florida and studied jazz performance on piano and vibraphone. I left after two years and moved to Las Vegas, which is pretty typical, so people tell me. With regards to education, my “real world experience” has led to various teaching opportunities including teaching as an adjunct faculty member at UNLV when I was 21 years old, to most recently as Artist in Residence at Florida Institute of Technology.  I spend a great deal of time traveling to schools of all levels with the opportunity of inspiring young musicians to pursue their dreams in music.

I spend a great deal of time traveling to schools of all levels with the opportunity of inspiring young musicians to pursue their dreams in music.

 

PPM: What was your first piano project/job?
CT: My first major “job” as a musician was playing for vocalist Michael Andrew (MGBH) out of Orlando, Florida. He had produced a show called “Mickey Swingerhead and the Earthgirls.”  I played piano, vibraphone, and percussion in the show, and it was truly my first paying “gig” at age 14.  We continued to work together for many years, which included performances all over the US with his touring band Swingerhead, headlining at venues such as Windows on the World on the 114th floor of the World Trade Center, Merv Griffin’s (OBM) Coconut Room, and The Rainbow Room.  Michael was a huge supporter of my talent and as a friend in the industry.  His mentorship as a bandleader taught me from the start of my career how to treat other musicians and tour around the world. We continue to work together and maintain a great friendship.

  

I began my career with Julio Iglesias in September of 2006, and the opportunity came about in a rather strange way

 

PPM: Can you tell our readers about your experience of working with Julio Iglesias (MGBH)? How did this project come about and what were the most valuable experiences you took with you moving forward?
 CT: I began my career with Julio Iglesias in September of 2006, and the opportunity came about in a rather strange way, which harps back to the “ya never know who you are talking to” mention from above. I was touring my quintet in St. Petersburg, Russia as a part of a jazz cruise we were performing on. While on an excursion with passengers of the ship, a man approached me and commented on how much he enjoyed my playing and band. I thanked him, and he went on to say he was a drummer. In that split moment, I put on the professional hat and commented on his kindness towards our music and asked a bit about his musical experience. As it turned out, he was the touring drummer for Julio amongst many other major touring artists. Of course, I’m so glad I approached his “hey I’m a drummer” comment with positivity as his connection led to a direct call with Julio who was looking for a pianist. After some very exciting phone calls and negotiations with Julio and his road manager, I took the position as 2nd keyboardist.  We rehearsed for weeks in Miami learning all music “by ear” as there was no music, and the music that did exist was old and didn’t match the updated show. I spent time with recordings that were given to me and created my own lead sheets, which I used as basic road maps but ultimately I had to use my ear to get through the rehearsals. Once into the touring show it took months but I slowly integrated real piano into the somewhat synth heavy sonic landscape.  We were in Paraguay, and I started a song, usually on electric keyboard, on piano, and Julio turned right around and looked at me… smiled and made a hand gesture for more.  Over time I started to integrate my love for the acoustic piano into the show, and by 2008 I had moved my sound into his music and was leading the band as musical director.  From a technical stand point, Julio expected to hear his accompaniment exactly the same every night. There was little to no improvisation or variation on harmony or melody in the piano chair, which for me was actually quite hard.  As my experience was always based in jazz, which thrives on variation, learning to play the part (which technically never existed) exactly the same each night was incredibly difficult, but valuable.

 

I reached out to Clint (MGBH) as I knew it would be an incredible opportunity to spend quality time together, make a lot of music and really get the chance to show him all sides of my musical diversity… from performer to arranger to band leader.

 

PPM: How did you start working with Clint Holmes (MGBH)?
CT: I met Clint Holmes when I first moved to Las Vegas in 2001. I saw him performing at Harrah’s and remember thinking to myself just how amazing he and his band were. He acknowledged the musicians and really let them play, and for all intensive purposes seemed to be having a great time musically on stage.  In 2013, met up with Clint again at a jam session in San Francisco. We shared the stage and really hit it off.  A month later I was presented with the opportunity to feature a jazz septet on a jazz cruise where I could bring 6 internationally recognized musicians with me. I reached out to Clint as I knew it would be an incredible opportunity to spend quality time together, make a lot of music and really get the chance to show him all sides of my musical diversity… from performer to arranger to band leader.  We did that tour and have been working together ever since.  In March of 2015, I started working as an arranger/musical director for him at his residency at the Smith Center here in Las Vegas. In January 2016 I became his full-time Musical Director and Arranger for our new headline show “Clint Holmes – Between the Lines” at the Palazzo Hotel here in Las Vegas. The show features a stunning 8 piece band and original arrangements on music ranging from Stevie Wonder (MGBH) to John Mayer (MGBH) to Bruno Mars (MGBH), to Ed Sheeran (MGBH), to Gershwin (OBM).

 

PPM: What is Sonic Leadership and where are you with this project now being so busy with your current engagement with Chris Holmes?
CT: I developed Sonic Leadership in 2009. I was asked to put together a brief 15-minute keynote speech for a leadership seminar. I focused the speech on attributes of leadership musician’s use when we walk on stage to execute a high level performance and translated it into content that business executives could understand and learn from. Since then, we average about one or two Sonic Leadership presentations a month, and as they often are onsite at companies around the world, they fall in the middle of the work week, which works well with my long weekend performance schedule.  To date we have presented this musically inspired program on leadership to companies such as Google, Cisco Systems, St Regis, and Starwood Hotels amongst many others.  The program is scalable and the presentations range in length from 45 minute to 90 minutes using a live five-piece band, myself as lead presenter and a whole lot of interaction with our attendees. I love it as it combines my love of music, the business behind making it all happen and of course talking!

 

 

PPM: Can you, please, tell our readers a little bit about ShowHive?
 CT: ShowHive is a production company based out of Los Angeles and New York City. It’s co-owned by two brilliant friends of mine Garrett Cain (MGBH) and Emmett Murphy (MGBH). This company focuses on the creation from the ground up to final execution of live production shows. As head arranger and composer, I work with the creative team to produce original new music and original new arrangements of popular music for these production shows. We just finished a huge project creating 8 brand new production shows for Norwegian Cruise Lines, which are being performed nightly around the world.

 

I don’t care if you have 6 Grammys or if you just walked out of your senior recital from college, if you are a nice human being, I’d love to work with you.

 

 PPM: As a Jazz Cruise producer, what do you look for in selecting talent for your projects?
 CT: A person must be a true artist on his or her instrument. Must be passionate about their music and the value it brings to those around them. Must be a professional. This sounds obvious, but this entails everything from showing up on time, dressing appropriately, having the material learned and ready to play to being respectful of me, other musicians and crew. Being a nice human being. I don’t care if you have 6 Grammys or if you just walked out of your senior recital from college, if you are a nice human being, I’d love to work with you.

 

PPM: What is your dream as a jazz piano performer?
 CT: My dream as a performer is to have the blessing to be able to continue to make a living doing what I love to do.  I have had the great fortune of only playing music as a career for the past 20 years and at 36 years of age I still have a lot of playing and living to do. Getting to travel around the world and share great music with appreciative listeners is so special.

 

PPM: Your have travelled over 65 countries. What are some of the most unforgettable experiences for you on a personal level?
CT: With over 65 countries visited, and I think 66 since my bio was last updated, it’s a whole other article worth of some of the great stories… but here are a few highlights.

Sitting at the piano with basketball legend Michael Jordan playing together “How do you keep the Music Playing” in Charlotte NC.

Renting a Ferrari for a day to drive the Monte Carlo race course while in town at the Monte Casino with Julio Iglesias.

Rolling a marimba down the streets of Abu Dhabi preparing for an outdoor performance in 114-degree heat.

Throwing snowballs in June in Siberia while on tour with my quartet.

Performing on top of Windows of the World on the 114th floor of the World Trade Center – NYC.

African Safari with band while on tour in Cape Town – South Africa.

Crossing a rushing river with 27 person Julio Iglesias crew on board a barge from Argentina to Paraguay.

Surprising actress Julia Roberts (MGBH) for he 40th birthday with a special private performance in NYC.

Performing inside Japanese Buddhist Temples throughout Japan.

Opening my first main stage headline Las Vegas show as co-producer arranger/band leader for Clint Holmes ‘Between the Lines.”

 

PPM: How did you pick the members of your quintet? Is there a story with each player?
CT: I pick musicians to be in my band that I enjoy spending time with. Considering we only spend about 90 minutes on stage, the other 22 hours or so in a day has got to be filled with good times and good people. Over the years, my band members have changed, but there are a few long time members.

My bassist, Billy Thornton (MGBH), is from Tifton GA, and we met my first year of College. He and I have toured all over the world together, and he is one of my favorite people on this earth. He is an amazing bassist, and I look forward to his energy and smile each time we walk on stage. My Trumpet Player, Dominick Facinacci (MGBH), is from Cleveland Ohio. We met in 2009 after knowing of each other for years through mutual mentor Ira Sullivan (MGBH). There are few people that can make me laugh as much as he can, and his playing is truly superb! Each “kat” as we call them in the jazz world has their story and I’m grateful to share the stage with them anywhere and anytime we can.

When I was 22 years old, I was living in Las Vegas and had just finished a short residency performing at the Bellagio with a great band called the Noel Freidline Quintet. The ever-changing landscape of live performance venues in Vegas has meant you really need to keep on your toes. By chance, magician Penn (MGBH) from Penn & Teller had learned of my playing, and we became friends. One day he asked me to come see the show and comment on the opening act called “the magic box,” which featured Penn playing upright bass and Teller playing a spinet piano. In the green room after I mentioned that although Teller playing the piano at the end is impressive, its not a very powerful moment as the small box piano didn’t sound all that great, and he was seated, which didn’t look all that great. I suggested he should consider playing the simple melody on Vibraphone (my other primary instrument). Penn loved the idea, and in the next 24 hours I was tasked with composing the music for Teller to play and installing it into their multi-million dollar production show at the Rio.

 

I tell students all the time, when the phone rings, the more opportunities for you to say “yes, I can do that” is just one more opportunity for you to keep moving forward in this business.

 

I mention this story, because as a performer, I found myself in a unique situation to expand my ability to make a living. Composing and directing was something I did all the time, but had never thought to capitalize on it. This opportunity really brought me out of my shell for the commercial composition side of the business and opened my eyes to a ton of opportunity. I tell students all the time, when the phone rings, the more opportunities for you to say “yes, I can do that” is just one more opportunity for you to keep moving forward in this business. I spend about 50% of my time in the studio composing and arranging and the other 50% of the time performing. I compose and arrange in all styles and genres, and love being challenged with new projects.

 

PPM: What are the biggest challenges of a professional musician today, in your opinion?
CT: As professional musicians we have a lot to go up against. So much has changed even in the time that I have been playing music – from the record industry, to live music to social media. We now more then ever have the ability to connect with our audience. We can share our travels, our performances and our personal life with a click of a button. Where I don’t believe EVERYTHING should be shared I do believe in a fast moving technology driven society, we must find a way to use these tools for the good of our career. I spend a great deal of time on LinkedIn, which connects me to professionals in all areas of music, production, booking, film, TV, and touring. I spend about 70% of my time focused on my professional career and the other 30% of the time playing music. If that seems off to anyone, then you’re probably not making a living playing music. When you achieve a certain level of professionalism and accreditation on your instrument the assumption is “that’s good enough” and now I’ll just sit back and wait for the opportunities to come along. The truth is, I’ve never wanted to wait. I prefer to be the one making the phone calls verse waiting for them.

 

I remember a clinician in college telling my jazz combo, “They see you before they hear you”. He was referencing the importance of how one carries oneself both on stage and off, from how you dress as a professional to how you speak to people. You never know who you’re talking to, and in many cases people will form an opinion of you before they even hear you play your instrument.

 

PPM: Can we discuss your CD “People Talk”? What was the inspiration for it and what was it like working on this project?
CT: My newest album “people talk” – released January 2016 is my first “concept album”. I generally release pretty typical “band” configuration albums, but I wanted to try something different with just piano, vibraphone, and percussion. The two other artists on the album are Takana Miyamoto (pn) (MGBH), and Keita Ogawa (pc) (MGBH) are both from Japan and are both fantastic. The music I wrote has influences of Asian, South American, and American music. The music was specifically written for this ensemble, and it’s a joy to play. The City Suite is a three-piece movement that takes my impression of the sound track to three of my favorite cities – Tokyo, New York City, and Paris.  I loved exploring my memories of those cities and writing that suite. It’s my favorite music on the album.

 

PPM: From reading your bio, what struck me the most was not only your professionalism, but also the fact that you were able to build a career by successfully collaborating with so many other musicians, creating and maintaining professional relationships. It seems that you know how to talk to people, how to get them inspired, and, most importantly, you inspire them for meaningful collaborations.
CT: I’ve always been a “people person.” Growing up in a home without other children made it that I was interacting with adults more then I was other kids.  I remember a clinician in college telling my jazz combo, “They see you before they hear you”. He was referencing the importance of how one carries oneself both on stage and off, from how you dress as a professional to how you speak to people. You never know who you’re talking to, and in many cases people will form an opinion of you before they even hear you play your instrument. In this industry, we need all the help we can get so the importance of being comfortable talking and interacting with your audience is as important if not more important then how you play on stage. When people meet you and get to know you, they start to learn about where your passion comes from, what drives you to pursue your dreams. They hear your personal triumphs and also your struggles. When someone can relate with you be it a doctor, or a lawyer, a football coach, they can relate with how you play your music and the connection becomes that much stronger. I try to be myself, smile, bring a sense of humor to the stage (which is who I am) and that spirit fills the music and fills the ears and minds of the audience.

 

I spend about 70% of my time focused on my professional career and the other 30% of the time playing music. If that seems off to anyone, then you’re probably not making a living playing music.

 

PPM: Thank you for sharing your story and your insights with the readers, Christian. May your dreams come true, and may you be always full of energy and enthusiasm towards your work and people in general.