By: Kat Harlton
JUNO Award-winning, internationally acclaimed Canadian jazz artist Michael Kaeshammer recently released his 12th album Something New and will be performing on June 23 at the Winnipeg Jazz Festival and the Saskatoon Jazz Festival on June 30 as part of his international tour.
Something New features 10 original songs about love, life, travel and politics. Recorded at the historic Esplanade Studios in the heart of New Orleans’ Treme district, Kaeshammer along with Big Easy legend Cyril Neville (The Neville Brothers) and Canadian bassist David Piltch (kd lang) create an eclectic sonic ride. Very special guests include Colin James, Randy Bachman, Jim Byrnes and Chuck Leavell of The Rolling Stones.
No stranger to awards and recognition, throughout his 20-year career Kaeshammer has been nominated for eight JUNO Awards, winning twice for “Vocal Jazz Album of the Year”, five Western Canadian Music Awards, winning as both “Musician of the Year” and “Entertainer of the Year” and for “Jazz Artist of the Year”, a CBC Music Award for “Best Live Performance” among many others. In October of 2017, he completed his seventh tour of the People’s Republic of China, with performances held in some cities where his was the first jazz concert ever held in the area.
We had the opportunity to catch up Kaeshammer and discuss song inspiration, musical collaboration and what he’s learned during the course of his career.
Kat: Could you talk about the inspiration behind your latest album Something New?
MK: Not having any creative interference from outside parties, I wanted to make exactly the album I needed to make for myself without considering if anyone likes it. Ironically, that in term made it the best album I’ve recorded so far. The process started with putting my favourite rhythm section together in New Orleans and going to record the CD there. In the process of recording the bed tracks the idea came to invite some of my friends and favourite musicians to guest on the album, people like Cyril Neville, Curtis Salgado, Colin James, Randy Bachman, Chuck Leavell and others. I started approaching the album more as a producer rather than an artist, thus the title “Something New”.
Kat: What is your songwriting process like?
MK: I changed my songwriting process for this recording. The fall before the recording session I was on the road in China for a 4-week, 25-city tour. I needed a project to keep myself entertained on the long train and plane trips and decided to edit and loop drum tracks by Johnny Vidacovich, the drummer on the album. I started with the grooves first and wrote melodies, bass lines, horns, lyrics and everything else on top of it. That is the opposite from my usual writing process that always starts with lyrics or with a piano line. I enjoyed the challenge of doing it differently for this one, again, “Something New”.
Kat: What was it like to record at Esplanade Studios?
MK: The Esplanade Studio is one of the most comfortable and best studios I have ever recorded in, largely because of its beautiful acoustics (it’s an old church) and the owner/engineer Misha Kachkachvili. I enjoyed the process of leaving my hotel in the French Quarter in the mornings with a fresh coffee and making my way to the Treme district where the studio is located. Me and the musicians enjoyed our time there so much that we started recording songs in the moment between takes and around lunch and dinner breaks. We ended up with enough material to put out another album, but I decided to stick with the songs that were initially intended for “Something New”.
Kat: Could you speak a little on your musical idols or role models?
MK: My musical idols have a wide range, they go from my father (who is not a professional musician but has given me his enthusiasm and love for piano blues & jazz) to classical composers like Ludwig Van Beethoven. Some of my musical idols in the jazz & blues scene are James Booker, Nina Simone or Allen Toussaint, basically people who approach their life and art from an interesting angle of discovery and being true to themselves rather than manufacturing a brand. The same goes for pianists like Vladimir Horowitz or Glenn Gould, some of my big idols growing up. Role models can be people who have nothing to do with music and here I’m drawn to the same kind of personalities and characters, people who do their own thing and enjoy their life rather than chase the carrot in front of them. I would even count actors like Christopher Walken or writer Charles Bukowski to role models in terms of staying true to yourself.
Kat: Have you ever been given any advice in regard to your music career that you felt you really connected with or made an impact?
MK: Yes, but it came quite late in my career and I wish someone would have talked to me like that when I first started out. The advice was to do your thing and have an audience gravitate towards you, not to try and tap into an already existing audience or make people like your music. It’s been a few years now since I changed my music and business in that direction and one day is better than the next. Life is beautiful if you know what success means for you, not for someone else.
Kat: Do you have any advice that you think would be useful to new artists?
MK: Yes. If there is ever a conflict or doubt between your intuition and what someone else tells you to do musically or in your career, follow your gut feeling. The only thing an audience is interested in is what makes you different from someone else, not how you can follow a trend or be like someone else. I’ve heard some crazy advice from some crazy managers and label representatives in my career, something that is humorous to look back on now.
Kat: How were you able to get so many amazing artists to guest on the album with you? What was that experience like?
MK: They are all people I know, it’s easiest to record with friends. I wouldn’t have asked anyone to be on my album for their name alone if I wouldn’t know them and respect them as a human being first and as a musician second. Once you approach music that way, it’s easy to make great music. Life is too short to surround yourself with people who have a negative effect on you, the same goes for recording no matter what someone’s name is. Once that is in place, you can make great records.
For more on Michael please visit: www.kaeshammer.com