Where do I begin? I started playing piano when I was three. Granted, I wasn’t any good back then, but at least my parents had put me into weekly lessons, studying the basics and eventually learning how to play classical music. I had three older brothers, all taking lessons, so I just thought that’s what everyone did.
At age eleven, I left my teacher but continued to study music on my own. By that point, I was a strong enough reader that I could figure out much of what was put in front of me, classical or otherwise. By the time I was fourteen, I was hanging out in the choir room at lunchtime in an effort to impress the girls of the choir with my piano skills.
It didn’t work.
In Jr. High and High School, I played in every school band I could. I played trumpet and tuba in various concert bands in addition to playing trumpet, piano, auxiliary percussion and even accordion in several of the school’s jazz bands. I also accompanied the school choir at nearly every performance. When I was sixteen, I wrote and arranged a song for a big band performance. It was called “Destiny”.
When I was nineteen, I decided it was time to get some further education in music. I applied to Humber College’s Jazz Music Studies program in Toronto, Ontario. In preparation for that, I went back to classical piano lessons to work on my technique and earn my Grade 9 (with Honours) from the Royal Conservatory of Music, which included theory, harmony and history requirements.
After being accepted into Humber’s Jazz program, I moved to Toronto in the summer of 2000 and dove into my schoolwork. I practiced every chance I got and met a lot of really great people. People started handing me CDs and charts, saying “can you play this?” I started to get a reputation for being versatile and a good accompanist.
Oh, and finally the chicks were impressed by my piano skills. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one there who had them. There was a 9-to-1 ratio of guys to girls in the program.
My first summer in Toronto saw me teaching rock band in a day camp to kids. If you’ve seen the movie “School of Rock”, that was pretty much my life. I instructed kids ages 7-14 how to play simplified parts on keyboards, bass, guitar, drums and sing in a rock band setting. I still teach that same program, but these days to adults in a corporate teambuilding setting in a program called InConcert (www.inconcertnow.com).
In 2003 – while I was still in school – I started working on cruise ships part-time. I got hired as a side man in Vegas-style show bands. This allowed me to earn a living playing piano every day as well as hone my sight-reading and improvisational skills. For the next two years, I went back and forth from Toronto to various cruise ships on Carnival and Princess Cruise Lines. Sometimes it was really great… other times it really wasn’t. I did get to see part of the world, and that was really cool.
When I went to Humber initially it was never my intention to get a degree… it just sort of happened that way. There were courses on music theory, harmony, ear training, improvisation, arranging, composition, and solo performance and I wanted to take them all! By the beginning of my third year, I realized that if I continued to take everything I wanted to I could stay an extra year and get accredited.
I finally completed the requirements for the degree program Humber (offered in conjunction with the British Columbia Open University) in the fall of 2004, awarding me a Bachelor’s Degree in Music (Jazz Studies) in February of 2005.
That same month, I joined the band of the incredibly talented Canadian recording artist Esthero. She was releasing a new album and needed a band for the tour to support it. I played with her band for four months, learning much about programming keyboards, professionalism and the music industry altogether.
In the fall of 2005, I began to work for Regent Cruise Lines (formerly Radisson Cruise Lines) as a guest entertainer, playing two shows to the delight of hundreds of passengers each cruise. It was billed as a piano playing show, but I seized the opportunity to sing a few songs throughout the shows, all the while honing my entertaining and storytelling abilities. I also indulged myself on the hospitality of the ship, dining in their 5-star restaurant nightly and working out in the private gym, as well as meeting new people, hosting tables and generally schmoozing to my heart’s content.
Although working on cruise ships was a lot of fun and I got to see many different places and meet some very fun people, the summer of 2006 saw me deciding I should stay in Toronto and pursue my music career here. (My mad piano skills had finally netted me a woman but she didn’t want a part-time husband who was away all the time.) Anyway, it took about a year of doing small gigs and networking but I was eventually able to break back onto the scene again.
I scored a great gig playing and programming 2nd keyboards for Drayton Entertainment on a stage show called “Legends” during the summer of 2007. “Legends” is a hilarious Ed Sullivan-variety-type show in the style of a roast. It also allowed me the opportunity to play with some great established musicians from the Greater Toronto Area.
Shortly thereafter, I began working with Ange Pagano and Kraig Waye – some friends I’d met through “Legends” – on an original music project that became known as “The Slights” (www.myspace.com/theslights). I was originally asked to play keyboards but after a few rehearsals it became much more than that. We would lay down tracks in my home studio and I would create complex keyboard parts, layering instruments and even arranging background vocal parts. It’s hard to assign a genre to the music we’ve created, but I can tell you I really enjoy playing it.
In the fall of 2007, I joined Soular (www.soular.ca), a high-energy, deep-pocketed band that specializes in R&B, funk and soul music. The band is always incredibly busy playing club dates, weddings, Bar & Bat Mitzvahs, fundraisers and corporate events. Since I joined, their already vast repertoire has also branched out to include classic rock and 80’s music, as well as affording me the opportunity to sing lead vocals on several songs. I even learned to sing a few rap songs, much to the delight of bar patrons who – up till then – saw me as the nerdy white keyboard player in the band.
In February of 2009, I began subbing in to the Toronto production of the smash- hit Broadway musical Jersey Boys. Though I was familiar with many of the aspects of playing a show from previous cruise ship experience, this was larger than anything I’d done to this point. The gig requires being able to read the sheet music for the keyboards part, singing background vocals at the same time, performing choreography, and at times doing all three simultaneously while having everything memorized. Once the initial shock of being involved with something of this magnitude wore off, I was finally able to relax a little bit and enjoy the experience. Seriously: what’s not to like about backing up great singers with a fantastic band for a packed house?
At the same time, I began working at Statler’s, a piano lounge cabaret space that takes its name from one of the characters from the Muppet Show. I subbed in regularly as the accompanist to an open-mic night – sort of like karaoke but with a piano – giving my sight-reading skills the biggest challenge they’d had since my cruise ship days. It also allowed me the opportunity to showcase my singing in addition to my playing. In the summer of 2009, I was given my own night (Wednesdays) on which I would be the host to the evening’s festivities. I ran this as an open mic, performing for professionals as well as novices. When there was no one to come up and sing, I found myself entertaining the audience by telling stories, performing sing-along songs and taking requests, the whole while showcasing my versatility and zany sense of humour.
And, of course, reminding everyone of how awesome I was at the same time…
In my spare time, I play random gigs or involve myself in projects that arouse my interest. Recently, I have accompanied various variety music nights at clubs across Toronto (Bread & Circus, Statler’s, etc.), arranged several songs on a jazz record for up-and-coming Toronto-based jazz singer Saccha Dennis, and engineered several basic recording sessions from my home studio. All in all, I lead a really fun work life that allows me to be out performing music and be on stage most of the time and to work on arrangements, transcriptions and recordings when I am not.