Michael Kaeshammer: Canada's Boogie Woogie Piano Man
By David DeRocco
Eleven albums. Two Junos and seven nominations. The “Jazz Artist of the Year” Award at the 2017 Western Canadian Music Awards. Seven tours of China. Legions of fans around the world. Of all the things pianist Michael Kaeshammer has earned over his illustrious career, the one thing that gives him the most joy these days is his creative freedom.
“I’ve consciously taken that path in my career,” said Kaeshammer, a renowned jazz & boogie-woogie pianist, vocalist, songwriter, arranger and producer. “It is why I enjoy playing more than ever and why I like to write every day. It’s because I don’t have a single person telling me what to do. I’m at the point now that I’m recording music or doing a new project that interests me rather than just to do a new record. In order for me to keep enjoying this fully like I do I just have to keep pleasing myself with the music I enjoy and hope people gravitate to it.”
Fans have been gravitating toward Kaeshammer’s music since the classically-trained German-born pianist first discovered the boogie-woogie and stride piano stylings of Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis and Pete Johnson. After emigrating to Western Canada as an 18-year-old, Kaeshammer was lucky enough to discover an equally influential boogie-woogie mentor named Long John Baldrey bouncing around the local blues clubs. Watching Baldrey play helped galvanize Kaeshammer’s resolve to follow a similar career path.
“I remember playing with Long John before he passed when I lived in Vancouver,” said Kaeshammer, who will be showcasing new music from his upcoming 12th album during a Valentine’s Day concert at FirstOntario PAC. “I was pretty young to be part of the blues scene in Vancouver. Everyone kept telling me about this ‘Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie-Woogie on The King of Rock & Roll’ song. So I went to see him and I wound up playing a few times with him. That’s exactly what got me into playing that kind of music. It is still why I play it, because it’s so joyous. I can’t even tell you how much fun it is to play that thing on the piano. It’s even more fun for me to play than for you to listen to it.”
Kaeshammer’s current tour had its genesis on CBC’s Q Radio program, which asked him to put together a Valentine’s Day show that he’s since decided to take on the road.
“It’s kind of a mix. I’ll be catering to the Valentine's theme as well as performing some of my other stuff. Because it’s Valentine’s Day and I am so connected to making an audience feel at home it’s going to be a great show for couples. There might be one or two love songs.”
As for touring beyond Valentine’s Day, Kaeshammer’s future may hold another tour of China, a country he’s performed in seven times that has given him a new perspective on music.
“It actually opened my eyes differently to approaching performance. It was a big learning experience. I’ve performed to European and North American audiences that are very similar in the type of music they react to. China was the first place I’ve been to that was completely different culturally. The place has been shut off from that type of music for a long time so it’s new to them. I realized things that people in North America pick up on are the things Chinese audiences don’t. For example, rhythm. They connect a lot more with a straight rhythm than a swing rhythm or swing thing. In North America and Europe if you play jazz people groove to that. In China you look out and it’s deer in a headlight. You realize you’re basically introducing something that’s not natural to their art or music. So it taught me to play to the audience a lot more. That was an eye opener.”
Tickets for the show are available at FirstOntario PAC.