Posts Tagged ‘ Jim Brock ’

Summer Suite, Vol 1 Reviewed by Bill Binkelman

Summer Suite, Vol 1  – Chad Lawson (piano) & Jim Brock (percussion)

Sometimes a recording comes along, accompanied by a description in a press release, setting a certain expectation in the mind of a reviewer. When I read that Summer Suite was, more or less, a series of live-in-the-studio improvisations between pianist Chad Lawson and percussionist Jim Brock, I was skeptical. I imagined the results would be either avant garde-ish noodling or just the opposite, i.e. mainstream tripe for which “vanilla” would be an exaggeration. I was, unexpectedly, thoroughly surprised and summarily delighted with this wonderful maxi-EP (32 minutes) when I played it the first time. Here was music that was both adventurous and intriguing, challenging the listener to “keep up” yet wholly listenable as mere entertainment. This being Lawson’s CD more than Brock (although the latter’s contributions cannot be over-stated), the real tip of the hat needs to go to Lawson, whose playing is all over the map in the best possible sense, with changes in mood, time signature, tempo, intensity and style flying by at a virtuoso’s pace.

The CD opens with the only “titled” track, the energetic Heart of a Lion, a speedfest of melody and rhythm that will get your blood racing if you are fan of fast tempo piano playing. The actual “Summer Suite” (comprised of nine tracks featuring running times from 4:02 to 1:14) follows, unfolding like a multi-colored flower unfurling its pedals to the sun. Part I offers a reflective, impressionistic piece which is sans percussion for the most part. Each successive part of the “Suite” flows into the next uninterrupted (the transitions are sonically invisible, though, so leap-frogging over successive tracks will not prove jarring). Part II picks up the pace, but only at times, with a more pronounced sprinkling of percussion, such as hand drums (I think I hear a djembe) and cymbals. Note that since this is a non-overdub recording, and there is only the one percussionist, you will not hear three types of percussion at once. Knowing this ahead of hearing it, I suspected the singular percussion would not prove “interesting” enough, but I was dead wrong. Brock always grabs just the right instrument to color Lawson’s lead melodies with an entertaining wrinkle, a helping of drama and impetus, or a flavorful embellishment. While I tend to toss around the term “simpatico” in my duo/ensemble recording reviews, when you take into account the improvised nature of Summer Suite, you can’t help but be mighty impressed at how the two artists never “step on each other.” When I read on Lawson’s website that the two had never previously played together at all, I was even more blown away at what the two had wrought on this recording.

As you listen to the other parts of “Summer Suite,” you should be able to discern the over-riding musical theme that Lawson has woven into the tracks, a theme which helps unify the recording as a cohesive whole, not just a bundle of separate, albeit like-minded, pieces. Whether one favors the subtle melancholy of Part VI, the wistful introspection of Part IV, or the upbeat cheer on the closing Part IX, Summer Suite is an enchanting listening experience. It was a smart move to have the tracks meld into one another, and the 32 minute duration seems to fly by in an instant, which is a true testament to just how good the music actually is.

Chad Lawson plans on releasing three more “seasonal” recordings, teaming with a different accompanist for each one. I am eager to hear what this promising and talented pianist has in store for “autumn,” “winter” and “spring.” I’ve never been a fan of all four seasons (living in Minnesota), but I may have to change my mind in that regard!

Rating: Excellent Excellent
– reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 10/8/2010

Summer Suite, Vol 1 named Best of 2010


I am honored to say that Summer Suite, Vol 1 was named Best of 2010 by Bill Binkelman of the Zone Music Reporter (formerly  Mr. Binkelman is a highly regarded music appreciator and his nod in my direction is one that a value with the utmost appreciation.  Amongst the list of today’s finest New Age/Modern Classical musicians including Grammy Nominated artists, I find myself in a great company.  Genuinely honored.  To see the entire post click here.

Interview w/Kathy Parsons of

For anyone that knows me personally, it comes to no surprise to read that I’m not a big ‘talker’.  I’m a relatively quiet person by nature.  No clue why, I’m just extremely laid back and relaxed (understatement).  However, set me at a computer and I’ll spill every bean in the can.  My own mother (hi, mom) says she learns more from blogs and interviews than us being together.  I don’t learn as much when I do the talking.  I’m now, however, rambling.

I was genuinely humbled when Kathy Parsons of MainlyPiano asked if I would like to be interviewed for the website.  I was thrilled at the invitation and am happy to say it is now posted online at  If you have the time, please drop Kathy an email saying thank you.  The work and efforts that go into such a labor of love is immeasurable.  The interview is posted below, however you can also read it here at MainlyPiano as well.  Thanks for reading.  Again, please send Kathy an email saying thanks.  It’ll only take a second!

KP: As I was writing the questions for this interview, I realized how little I know about you other than that you have recorded two amazing piano CDs in the past couple of years, one of which was the Whisperings Album of the Year for 2009. Congratulations on that, by the way! I also know that you have a great sense of humor from reading your Facebook postings and that you like chocolate. You also have a jazz trio and toured extensively with Julio Iglesias. Let’s explore some of those items first, and then we’ll expand from there. When did you tour with Julio Iglesias?

CL: I got the call for the Julio gig in 2008. A close friend of mine was in the band and said Julio’s music director was taking some time off for his daughter’s wedding, would I be interested in going out for a while. My friend, Christian Tamburr, who is a phenomenal pianist & vibraphonist, would take the music director’s seat while I would take his (Christian’s) seat.

I have to be honest, Kathy, my first reaction was “No, this isn’t something that I want to do.” I was newly married, had steady work in NYC and was about to head into another musical field I had always wanted to do. I recall blanking out at the computer screen while my wife sat next to me. Seeing the email, then the look on my face she simply said, “If this isn’t something you want to do, you don’t have to.” She completely understood what was going through my mind. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do it – it was just so unexpected. I replied, “Sure, if you need someone, keep me posted.” As the weeks went on, more and more communication occurred and before I knew it, I was on a plane to Spain.

It was an amazing opportunity to have such a “dream gig,” and I’m so grateful to have been a part of it. It’s an experience I wish every musician could have at least once.  The dictionary hasn’t a single word to define what it feels like walking on stage in front of ten thousand people.

KP: I understand that it was while performing with Julio that you had an epiphany about wanting to get back to your own music. Tell us about that.

CL:  It was surreal, almost like the world stopped for a moment. I’ve never seen anyone who could take such a large audience and captivate everyone like Julio. It was an education to watch. That night, I remember thinking to myself how much I missed the interaction with the audience, both musically and emotionally. As much as I enjoy being a sideman (particularly with such a great band as his), I knew it was time to return to my music, my voice.

KP: How did you hook up with Will Ackerman to produce Set On a Hill?

CL: Once I decided that I was going to commit to recording a solo piano album, I knew there was only one person I would entrust it to – Will Ackerman. I have always had the mindset of “why not reach for the top?”  Someone told me years ago, “You never get anything unless you ask for it,” and I couldn’t agree more.

I had recorded three demos at home, placed them onto MySpace (that account no longer exists) and emailed him. I asked if he would listen to the songs and consider producing the album. It was as simple as that. I knew he would be the person to guide me into this new direction. The impeccable chemistry Will and his engineer, Corin Nelsen, have is unlike anything I have ever seen. Those two create magic together.

KP: How much of the music on Set On a Hill is improvised and how much is composed?

CL: Coming from a predominantly jazz background, a great deal of Set On a Hill was improvised. There are a few exceptions. “Reflections” and “Sojourn” are the most composed of all the pieces. For the others, I had a melody and a form that I worked with, but they were mostly improvised. The other exception is “She Walks in Beauty (The Wedding Song).” That was originally written for my wife as she walked down the aisle at our wedding. I wrote all of the music for our wedding for violin/cello, including that one.  She didn’t know I had arranged it for solo piano, so when Will asked for the name of the piece I said, “I don’t know. Let’s just record it and see what happens.” I intended to record the piece all along, but didn’t want to give away the surprise.

KP: Your second CD, Summer Suite, Vol. 1, has a very interesting story about how it came about. Tell us about it.

CL: I’m the poster child for never wanting to do the same thing twice – sometimes to a fault, I think!

I knew I couldn’t release another Set on the Hill yet, so I wanted to do something different, something I had never done before. I had worked with a world-renowned percussionist by the name of Jim Brock a number of years ago and his name kept returning to my mind. The idea of a piano and percussion album consumed me. Oddly enough, an engineer in town called me and said “I have a few hours at a new studio I’m wanting to check out.  Do you want to record anything?” Godsend! I had no intention of releasing the recording; I was simply curious about how it would sound with just the two of us.

On my birthday morning last March, we turned the red light on and waited to see who started first! I felt almost embarrassed because I didn’t have anything prepared. Here I had this great percussionist, the studio clock was about to start, and I sat down with nothing written down. But it worked! We started with what are now tracks 2-9 on the Summer Suite EP. It was actually one song lasting 25 minutes. After the last note, the engineer, Chris Garges, asked, “Are you guys ready to record now?”  It was hysterical!  Jim started with some percussion in the beginning and we just shared the moment. The recording was entirely improvised. During the playbacks, I asked Jim if he’d mind releasing it as an EP.  I couldn’t be happier with what we caught on tape.

KP: Have you decided what the next album is going to be about and who you will improvise with?

CL: I have. I started the seasonal series because I want to be in a constant state of pushing myself, be it in writing, performing, creating, etc. If I started a series where every season presents a new EP, it would challenge me to create. I didn’t want a year to go by without releasing anything new because sometimes that year turns into two years or more. Sure, Set on a Hill was graciously received and I shake my head in wonder every time I think about it, but now what? So, the seasonal EPs are for my own accountability to write, explore, create, and so forth. Will it always work? I have no clue,  but either way, I want to be sure apathy never MapQuests my address.

I’m will record the Autumn, Vol. 1 in a few weeks. It will be with guitarist Troy Conn. I’ve known Troy for a number of years and what continues to impress me isn’t just that he is a incredible musician, but how genuine and humble he his. I’ve always had the mindset of “take a keen interest in the person you’re speaking to.” Music is a conversation, relying on chemistry and sincerity. It’s very apparent when that’s absent. Troy is one of those people that I could sit with for hours with or without instruments in hand.  There is something special to be said about that.

KP: Do you still perform with your jazz trio?

CL: I get asked this a lot, especially by our label (Summit Records)!  Our last album, Unforeseen (2004), went to #8 on the national jazz charts. It’s still used as segue/bump music on NPR, Bob Edwards Show, etc., but the funny thing is that the year that album was released, we didn’t perform once!  The scheduling just never worked out.

We did one performance last year at an informal venue, but that was all. There is a clip on YouTube from that performance where I am playing “Change of Season” from Set on a Hill and the drummer, Al Sergel, begins to play cymbal swells. That led into a whole other thing that was unrehearsed but turned out beautifully. I love those guys (Al Sergel – drums, Zack Page – upright bass).

We’ve been asked to appear on a nationally syndicated radio program and Summit is ready to release another album once it’s recorded. We will, it’s just a matter of timing.

Summit released a single of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” right before Christmas last year. I was told they’ll be promoting it once this year’s season comes closer.  It was such a last minute thing that I’m surprised it was released before Christmas.  Summit has been really good to us, and we (the trio) couldn’t be happier with them.

KP: Is the trio called The Chad Lawson Trio?

CL: Yes. In all honesty, it just happened that way. I had originally recorded the first trio album as a Christmas present for my mom back in 1997. Since she was the only intended recipient, I put Chad Lawson Trio. Through a course of events, the CD found its way to a jazz disc jockey and I woke up one morning to find it on the charts.  Go figure!  At that point, we kept the name since the album was gathering momentum.

KP: How many CDs did you record with the trio?

CL:  Three. The debut was self-released; Dear Dorothy; the Oz Sessions (Summit Records), and Unforeseen (Summit Records).  Dear Dorothy; the Oz Sessions was a blast to arrange. It’s all of the songs from The Wizard of Oz in a jazz trio setting. We had a lot of fun with that album.

KP: Are any of those recordings still available?

CL: Yes. All three albums plus the Christmas single are on iTunes, Rhapsody, Amazon, etc.  You can also order them via Summit Records.

KP: Have you done much performing as a Whisperings Artist?

CL: Unfortunately I haven’t. The one Whisperings concert that I HAVE done was with the ever-wonderful/ ever-crusader/ torchbearer, pianist David Nevue. If you’re only gonna do one concert with a Whisperings Artist, wouldn’t he be the one?!?!

I am scheduled, however, for the Piano Haven Concert Series in January of 2011. I’m very excited! Joe Bongiorno’s concert series has presented some wonderful talent and I couldn’t be more honored by his invitation.

My wife and I are expecting our first child in a few weeks (mid-August), so once things become more routine (if there is such a thing!) I plan to add more performance dates.  There are so many Whisperings Artists I would love to share the stage with. Whisperings is a community in every sense of the word, and is an open-armed, sharing, encouraging group. If one artist has great news, everyone celebrates and shares it with somebody else.

KP: I admire David Nevue so much for his vision and drive to see that vision through. Also, congratulations on your forthcoming addition to the family! Where did you grow up?

CL: I was born and raised in the small town of Morganton, North Carolina.  The population is around 17,000. I remember wanting to graduate from high school so I could go as far away as possible for college (Boston), but looking back I wouldn’t change being from a small town for the world.

KP: Are any other members of your family musicians?

CL: Not a one. My brother took a liking to the drums in his teens and really had a talent for it, but he decided to move on to different things. I’ve heard rumors that my dad played the saxophone in high school but I’m still waiting for the pictures to prove it.

KP: When did you start playing the piano?

CL: When I was five years old, Sha Na Na had a television show we would watch religiously. I would sit in awe watching the pianist go to town! I had no idea what he was doing or even what a piano was, but I knew THAT’S what I wanted to do. Later that year, my folks took me to see Sha Na Na in concert and the piano lessons followed shortly afterwards.

KP: How long did you take piano lessons and how old were you when you started?

CL: I went into a music program at five where kids tried different instruments. Then I started private piano lessons when I turned six. I never stopped. I wanted to quit when I was 13, but that lasted only a moment. I still study with different professors and professionals. There’s always something to learn and avenues to explore.

KP: When did you start composing?

CL: I DREAD the day those tapes find their way to the surface! I’ve confiscated all that I could get my hands on, but I there are a few more out there.

I really started writing when I got my first keyboard, a Korg M1. That keyboard was amazing. It was the big thing when it came out in 1990 or so. The piano sound is unique, like Michael McDonald. He could be singing in a choir the size of the World Cup Soccer Stadium and you’d say “Hey, is that Michael McDonald singing?” The M1’s piano sound is that recognizable.

Anyway, it had a built in sequencer. I started writing my own songs and layering different sounds and textures. I remember doing this huge arrangement of a hymn and using all 16 midi tracks – I pushed that poor sequencer to the limit as much as I could! That’s really where I started composing.

My parents were hesitant to buy a keyboard for fear it would distract me from the piano.  Fortunately a guy at the local music store convinced them, saying “Sometimes the piano can get pretty dull. He can write his own songs and it’ll keep his interest.” I guess it worked!

KP: I guess so! Were you encouraged to improvise or compose by your piano teacher(s) or anyone else?

CL: Not really. While in high school, I started playing with a cover band that took me under their wings. I was learning Steely Dan, CCR, rhythm and blues, a lot of Stevie Ray Vaughn, etc. and I started to understand the idea behind improvising. I was classically trained all through high school, so it didn’t leave much room for improvisation or compositional theory.

It wasn’t until I went to Berklee College of Music that an emphasis was placed on improvising and creating on the spot. It was quite a turnaround when I was so reliant on sheet music and then found myself having to focus on listening and playing by ear.

KP: Do you play other instruments?

CL: I dabble at the guitar and even that is far too generous of a term. 😉

KP: How old were you when you started improvising?

CL: I really didn’t understand the concept of improvising until I arrived at Berklee. I was playing at church since I was knee-high with the music mostly being chords, but in all honesty, I really don’t think I had a grasp on what I was doing at the time.

KP: How old were you when you wrote your first song?

CL: Probably around 14-15. Once I had my first keyboard, I don’t think I ever left my room! If I did, it was to go downstairs to the piano. Everyone knew that’s what I wanted to do in life. There was/is no other option. I had a high school teacher who would let me out of class early so I could go practice! It’s who I was!

KP: Were you a music major in college?

CL: I was. I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston where I majored in jazz performance and did a little film scoring as well.

KP: Do you have sheet music for any of your pieces?

CL: I do. I had a lot of requests for “Change of Season,” so I had that piece transcribed.  I was in the middle of transcribing and notating an upcoming Broadway musical and the LAST thing I wanted to do was transcribe one of my own songs. I plan to have more sheet music available very soon – it’s just a matter of carving out time. Oh, and did I mention a newborn in a few weeks?!?! 😉

KP: Was your musical training in classical music?

CL: I was classically trained all through high school. Once I became serious about going into music, all I could think about was The Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore.  I had the poster, I practiced six hours a day, I was focused! I’ll never forget the audition. One of the professors asked, “Where is your place in music going to be?”  “I want to be a studio musician” I replied.  Deadpanned and without batting an eye, the professor said, “You’re in the wrong place.” Talk about a shock! But, she was right. I didn’t see it then, but that wasn’t where I was supposed to be.

I still love and practice classical music, though. I’d give the world to sit and play Bach for hours a day. I probably wouldn’t get anything else done if I did, though.

KP: Who or what are your biggest musical influences?

CL: That is such a loaded question. You have to know that growing up I wanted to play every style of music. Anything. I didn’t care what style, who sang it, what year it came out. I listened to everything and it became an integral part of my playing. The more you open yourself musically, the wider the canvas on which you paint.  You begin to see new colors and create textures you’ve never heard before.

I know this can be rather vague but the artists that influence me most are those that have mastered the craft of being patient. They relish the process of anticipation. It’s so easy to become “hurried” in writing or in performing.

I’m going to get slightly off course here but I promise I’ll come back. The biggest challenge for me as a performer is letting go of my surroundings. Instead of solely focusing on the music or the moment, I’ll wonder about the room or the audience.  Are they being entertained? Is the song too long? Are they bored with this section of the piece? Should I have not repeated that part and gone on to the bridge? They probably don’t like the shirt I’m wearing.  Do I smell funny? STOP!! What does ANY of that have to do with crafting a piece of music? Nothing! But it’s so easy to become distracted with all of these things, thinking the song has to be X amount of minutes or else the listener will move on, etc. It can be nerve-wracking and completely destroy the energy in the room if it dominates the performance.

Throughout the recording of Set on a Hill, I continually reminded myself, “you don’t have to entertain. Be patient and allow things to build.” When I released the idea of having to “perform” for everyone, it became the most freeing record I had made to that date.

The opening piece of Set on a Hill is 9 minutes and 12 seconds long. People were telling me it was artistic suicide to start the album with “Will.” They said, “You should start with ‘Sojourn,’ something catchy, something that grabs you!”  While I valued that input, I have enough things “grabbing” at me every time I turn around. Why would I want to add another? Artists, especially pianists, have to be comfortable with themselves. It’s what makes us unique. We have our own voice and process of creating. I’m not entirely sure I’ll ever be completely comfortable with myself, but that’s probably what pushes me to work harder.

Now, back to your question; one of the biggest influences has been the band Sigur Rós.  Particularly the singer, Jónsi Birgisson. They’re an Icelandic group with this beautiful, haunting, ethereal sound. I have found myself hearing their influence – especially on albums besides mine that I’ve worked on. Their piano work is very, very subtle – almost minimalist, which I’m learning has a greater impact than over-playing. Their recordings have really made me reevaluate my playing.

I recently returned to my Led Zeppelin phase a few weeks ago (great music to mow the lawn to!). I never realized how patient they were as a band. They were in no rush to get from one part of the song to the other. If they found a groove and liked it, they’d stay there for a while and create this underlying tension. And when they came back to the chorus or to the hook, it’s like “Pow! There it is!” It can be almost magical.  All because of patience.

Another artist who has had a huge impact on my life musically is Keith Jarrett. Keith Jarrett Trio’s The Cure was the very first jazz recording I bought. Hated it. Couldn’t STAND it. My private instructor at Berklee had me transcribe the piano solo to “Golden Earrings” from that album (an ambitious request since I didn’t have a clue about jazz at the time). Over time, I began to hear how melodic Keith’s playing is. A lot of jazz snobs complain about the lack of harmony in his playing. “Too inside,” they say, “mostly pentatonic.”  “Whatever,” I say. The way that man plays a ballad makes him sound like his heart gets broken on a daily basis. Patience? That trio can sit for hours on a vamp and I would listen just as long. It just feels so good.

On my iPod you’ll find a number of Whispering Artists, Lokua Kanza, Ivan Moravec, Modest Mouse (I love Modest Mouse), The Bad Plus, Fred Hersch (big Fred Hersch fan), Balkan Beat Box and the ever loverly Alison Krauss to name a few. I will listen to ANYTHING!

KP: What inspired you to start composing your own music?

CL: Honestly Kathy, I’ve never really thought about it. I think I started mostly out of curiosity. I was never the guy who said, “I’m going to write music. Listen to my songs!” I really think it was simply playing melodies on the keyboard, adding layers, seeing what worked and what didn’t. Going back to the first trio album, it was intended solely as a Christmas gift. I had no intention of recording an album for the sake of committing my music to tape. I wasn’t trying to write songs for radio or to promote myself. I just wanted to see what happened when I put a melody over a few chords. It all just kind of happened.

KP: One of life’s happy accidents! Have you done any composing for films and/or TV?

CL: I have and would love to do more. I’ve done a few indie films, a television pilot and oddly enough a video game! The indie film was called Doughboys. It starred and was written and directed by Louis Lombardi (Edgar on the show 24). The video game, Just Cause 2, used an earlier piece for a trailer, which is hysterical to me. It’s a pretty violent game and they’re using this calming music in the background. It’s on my YouTube channel if you would like to see it.

KP: Have you done much session work as a musician?

CL: I have, although over the years I’ve moved from the mindset of being a studio performer to a live performer. But, I have been blessed with wonderful opportunities.  One album was with Christian artist, Jason Upton. The drummer in my trio tours with Jason so I’ve known him for a while. When he recorded his album Beautiful People, he asked if I would play some Hammond B3 and light keyboards. I was really honored to record with him. Jason is such a beautiful spirit; I’ve never met anyone like him. His music is as sincere as his heart is.

I also worked with a very talented vocalist in New York for over a year.  The band was ridiculous. She was being distributed on the Sony Red label so rehearsals were at Sony in New York before they closed the doors on the place. That was really an education as well. I worked closely with Jack Douglas, Phil Ramone, Billy Joel’s musical director David Rosenthal, and so on. That is really where I learned the “Less is More” approach.

KP: What has been your most exciting musical moment or experience so far?

CL: That is a difficult one to answer. There have been a few. The two that come to the top of the list would be the first night with Julio, and then David Nevue’s email announcing Set on a Hill had won Album of the Year on Whisperings.

When David emailed me, I had just finished teaching for the day. I had placed my things in my bag and began walking out the door while reading the message on my phone.  When I read the email I stopped in my tracks. I absolutely could not believe it! I was smiling ear-to-ear and floating about 30,000 feet in the air. I went to my car and just sat in disbelief. Here was an album I had always wanted to record, but when I released it I was thinking “the world doesn’t need another solo piano album.” Then it was named Album of the Year!  It truly came out of left field for me. There were some beautiful albums nominated in 2009, and I really, really, thought one album in particular was going to win. I was so excited for this artist that I had already mentally prepared the congratulatory email. That is a moment I’ll never forget.

KP: Is there a particular philosophy that you try to convey in your music?

CL: Not really, but I think the environment creates the art. For me, each recording represents where I am in life, be it in a large city with lots of energy or in front of a fire drinking hot chocolate. These elements can dictate the direction of what I play.

Set on a Hill’s recording was entirely different from Summer Suite’s recording. With Set on a Hill, there was a stillness to the recording because of everything I was going through physically. I was very ill for a long period prior to and during the recording. I remember lying underneath the piano while Will, Corin and my wife listened to the playbacks. The start of the second day, I couldn’t get through the first song because I was just zapped. It was really difficult. The last song of those two days of recording was “Set on a Hill” and I didn’t have an ounce of energy left once that last note rang out.

Recording Summer Suite was entirely different. My wife and I were expecting our first child, my health being great, so many positive things at this point in life. I told Jim, the percussionist, that I wanted this to be a celebration, a time of rejoicing. When you listen to Summer Suite you’ll notice there are parts where he’s clapping. He later pointed out that it was his act of celebration. I think about it every time I hear it.

KP: Who are your favorite composers?

CL: If I could stay home and play Bach for hours a day, I would. I overheard a conversation where a friend asked another, “What would be your perfect retirement?” and that was the first thing that came to mind. Bach, for hours. But then Chopin and Beethoven would probably create a coup and overthrow Bach’s monarchy. I dearly love those three composers. You can generally hear them coming from my house when I have time. That and finger exercises. I’m such a geek. I found a book the other day of Brahms’ 51 Piano Exercises and you would have thought I hit the lottery. A collection of insanely difficult, mind numbing, finger burning pages of bliss!

I love Philip Glass, probably too much. I’ve had to stop listening to him for a while because it was influencing my recent writings; at least where his solo piano works is concerned. I have so much to learn. Philip has this minimal (obviously) approach that is so patient, so seasoned, unique and just so Philip Glass.

Gustavo Santaolalla, an Argentinean composer, is absolutely brilliant in my opinion.  He did films such as BabelThe Motorcycle Diaries, etc. His palate is unique and very creative.

Danny Elfman goes without saying. I pull out Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas every year (much to my wife’s dismay!) and watch it countless times. The entire score is in-cred-i-ble. He’s ingenious in my book.

Bill Frisell. He’s a contemporary guitarist who tends to push the envelope a bit more each time. In 1996 he released an album titled Quartet.  “Chamber Jazz,” as Wikipedia defines it. Trumpet, guitar, violin, trombone/tuba. That’s it. Nothing else. It’s almost like the Food Network’s show Chopped.  “You have grape leaves, sumac and salami; now make something!” The album is so strangely beautiful and dissonant. I have to wonder, though, if Frisell ever thought “What am I DOING!?” while he was writing the album.

And finally, I really love pianist Philip Aaberg. The very first time I heard his album High Plains I was mesmerized. What an amazing talent. I’d love to have lunch with him one day.  We wouldn’t even have to talk about music. We could talk about Montana, cheese, moose, I don’t care. I’d simply like to hang out with him. His writing is playful with lots of color, and his technical skills are super. What COULDN’T one learn from sitting across the table from him?

KP: If you can believe it, Phil was the first artist I did a live interview with when he still lived in the SF Bay Area! We met for coffee and had an amazing conversation. Over the years, we did several more interviews, and he is always among my very favorite composers and artists. I’ll put in a good word for you! Who are your favorite performers?

CL: I just saw Paul McCartney last week and I have to say it was crazy impressive! He kinda has a step ahead being that he wrote songs that changed the course of history (at least in my opinion) if not only musically but also politically. He did a three-hour performance without taking a break. His voice never tired and at 68 years old, he looked as if he wanted to go another hour.

A few years ago, I saw pianist Kenny Werner with his trio at the Blue Note in New York.  He was on the same bill as Hank Jones.  A rather odd pairing, I thought, but I truly adore Hank Jones’ playing and savor the fact I saw him before his passing.  Anyway, I’m convinced Kenny and his trio are aliens! With Ari Hoenig on drums and Johannes Weidenmueller on bass, the three of them communicated telepathically. I don’t know how, but they did. I’ve seen some amazing artists in my life, but I’ve never seen a trio with such oneness as his. Their timing, their ability to play over the bar in a crazy 113/18 time signature (not a real time signature but I’m sure they’d nail it) – just all of it.  It was almost esoteric in a way, but so incredibly awe-inspiring. Kenny has a number of lecture videos on that I HIGHLY recommend.  He wrote the wonderful book Effortless Mastery which is a great read for any musician.

KP: If you could have any three wishes, what would they be?

CL: (1) For the public to realize how imperative the arts are in schools.

(2) For the hearing impaired to hear sound. It doesn’t have to be music or even a single note, but simply sound. Crickets, the way leaves rustle in a breeze, kids laughing. All of these things we just take for granted.

(3) This one is towards myself. My third wish would be to recognize what is important in my life. Slowing down enough to understand life truly is about the simple things. “Is this going to matter in five years?” I ask myself. Is there any reason to worry or stress about certain things when they will have come and gone in a week? I’ve started leaving my Blackberry in the car when I’m out with my wife, visiting friends or even having lunch.  Letting go of things that allegedly aid in communication but only distance ourselves further until we’re on an island of one.

I can become so easily frustrated and get crabby when I haven’t touched a piano after two days. But what if during those two days I had a life experience that would impact how I play the next time I DO sit down in front of the 88’s? Spending time with my dad while we try to figure out why my Jeep’s air conditioning isn’t working is more important than locking myself in a room with a piano because the next time I write music perhaps I’ll pull from that memory. If music is so relational, why do we want to isolate ourselves so much?  A year goes by without our realizing it.

KP: What’s up next for you?

CL: Probably a lot of diapers and not a lot of sleep. 😉 Musically, the Autumn Suite, Vol. One will be released September 21st (first day of Autumn/Fall). Troy Conn and I will be recording that in about a week. I’ve also started writing for the Winter Suite, Vol. One.  I’d rather not say what it is yet, but I have some things up my sleeve that I want to do. Not sure of the outcome, but I suppose that’s part of the intrigue of it all.

KP: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?

CL: I would like to say thank you. I mean this with every ounce of sincerity. What you have done with is so encouraging to artists. Without you we would not have a voice. The amount of work, heart and energy you place into this is immeasurable and at times you may ask “Why am I doing this?”.  But if I may say so, thank you.

KP: Thank YOU!

Summer Suite, Vol 1 Review by Kathy Parsons

If anyone has listened to more solo piano albums than you, I’d place a $20 dollar bill on it being Kathy Parsons of (with the exception of David Nevue, Whisperings Solo Piano Radio.  I’d still give him a $20 if he asked for it.  But knowing him, he’s far too polite to ask).    Her site has become the home of every pianist and she has been a cavalier in spreading the gospel of beautiful music from the 4 corners of the globe.  I couldn’t be more honored when I read her words about the Summer Suite, Vol 1 EP.  Please visit and drop her a friendly “Hello & thank you” for a job exceedingly well done.  I’m sure she’d love to hear from you.

Summer Suite /Volume 1

Chad Lawson

Hillset Records

31.3 minutes

It’s always interesting to discover things in our own and other people’s lives that were  simply meant to be. One such occurrence appears to be the making of Chad Lawson’s new release, Summer Suite, Volume 1. On Chad’s birthday in late March, he had a call from a friend who wanted to test a new local recording studio and asked if he was interested in coming along to play. Chad had been thinking about doing an album with solo piano and percussion, so he called percussionist Jim Brock about doing a trial run to see if they could make it work. The two artists hadn’t played together in this format, so they basically turned on the recorder and “went for it.” They played through an idea for the main theme and then improvised from there. “Summer Suite” is a continuous 25-minute improvisation and the only edit/overdub is where Jim Brock went back and recorded one additional track to color what he had done previously in the Suite. There are nine tracks designated in the Suite (plus a separate piece at the beginning of the album), but there are no stops between the tracks – the implied divisions are simply there to make navigation easier to find specific parts of the piece. Summer Suite is quite different from Chad’s award-winning Set On A Hill in that it is more jazz-oriented and free. Chad is so pleased with the results that he plans to do a series of albums featuring himself with various other artists – a very exciting proposition! What is not different from Set On a Hill is that this is music that is meant to be listened to, not relegated to background music. The music is more than enjoyable, but it is also amazing to realize that it just poured out of two artists with very little preparation.

The album begins with “Heart of a Lion,” a joyous, uptempo piece that mixes dancing piano fingers with infectious rhythms. Chad Lawson is absolutely brilliant on this one! The next nine “tracks” make up “Summer Suite,” and, as I said, there are no breaks between the tracks. The music ranges from quiet and reflective to energetic and complex – sometimes melodic, sometimes repetitive, always interesting and inspiring. Percussion includes hand claps, ocean sounds, and many other instruments that enhance the piano rather than taking center stage.

It is my humble opinion that Chad Lawson’s little musical experiment succeeded incredibly well! He is asking an exceptionally reasonable price for this EP and download, so check it out! It is currently available from Amazon, CD  Baby and iTunes. Recommended!

Kathy Parsons


Summer Suite, Vol 1

It’s finally here. Summer. The season of lemonade, sunburns, bicycles, kiddie-pools, hot dogs and my favorite; ice cream. Oh how I love the ice cream. Häagen-Dazs has this flavor called Caramel Cone that I literally will run somebody over for. I’m not kidding, seriously. I will not hesitate. If it’s the last one, I’ll pull a Karate-Kid and sweep the leg. Buy it, and then ask for my mailing address. This will PROBABLY be the only time I’d make it public to a complete stranger. So good. So good. Here is the link again Yum.

Where was I? Oh yes, Summer. So, as I have mentioned earlier I have had this idea going through my head of an album consisting only of a piano and percussion. I know, it’s odd. I haven’t heard anything like it before either and I didn’t know if it would actually work. But, I thought I would at least give it some thought. In my close proximity lives a percussionist by the name of Jim Brock. His resume is only trumped by his beautiful spirit and ease of smile. To say he’s an artist of the percussion is a very grave understatement. I knew that if I wanted to execute this album idea, it had to be someone of Jim’s caliber. Someone that would think like Jim in a sense of allowing more space than noise. Of listening instead of speaking incoherently. Someone like Jim who would rather create a beautiful bed of sound rather than wait for those 2 or 3 seconds to through in a “lick” if you will. As you’ve probably already guessed, I stopped looking for someone like Jim, I humbly called and just asked.

We met on my birthday (March 26….I like ice cream, review previous paragraph if you need ideas) with neither of us knowing what to expect. We hadn’t rehearsed, hadn’t even talked about what we would do. I walked in feeling a wee bit of “oh crap-ness” what am I doing wasting everyone’s time, being that I hadn’t even written anything specifically for the occasion. Jim set up his entourage of noise makers while I sat at the piano and we just looked at each other. “Well” we both said without a word “now what?”.

What proceeded to take place is something that I thought could have happened, if two minds were of the same thought. And it did. I like space in my music, Jim likes space. I’d rather listen than talk (ask anyone who knows me and they’ll agree wholeheartedly). I played through a melody or two and then we decided let’s at least get something on tape (digitally speaking) and just go from there. We started with what are now tracks 2-10 on the EP. It starts with Jim creating sounds of the ocean with occasion birds (if you will) coming sparsely into the background. All percussion, all piano, nothing else. I then proceed to play exactly what in my mind was a release. A complete departure from Set on a Hill.

Before the recording, the only verbiage I gave to Jim was “Celebration”. Set on a Hill was recorded in a time of great struggle and hardship. That album sounds that way because it is exactly what I was dealing with then. With Summer Suite, Vol 1, it was time to rejoice, to celebrate new life. Not only in my life but also in knowing that my wife and I were (are) expecting our first child. This was a whole new chapter and I wanted to emulate such exuberance. If you notice, there are moments where you hear Jim clapping throughout the piece. Afterward, Jim told me the claps were that of rejoicing. He totally got it. I couldn’t have asked for a better fit.

So, here it is. Officially released today, June 21st the first day of Summer. I hope you enjoy it. It’s the first of a series that I intend to do, each volume being with a different artist, or perhaps just by myself at the black and whites. I’ll post the links below where it can be found. It’s only $3.99 as a download, or $5 for the actual disc. Stickers and t-shirts coming soon (if interest continues).

As always, thanks for reading. God bless.

Summer Suite, Vol 1 – Reviews New Age

How humbled I was to open an email containing the first official review of Summer Suite, Vol 1 by This EP was recorded entirely in improvised fashion, using only the piano and percussion. Not other sound effects, edits or ‘punch-ins’ were used in the recording. The only “additive” was the percussionist Jim Brock recording an additional pass to what he had already inked to add more color.

I think you will see that the fine people at Reviews New Age caught exactly what Jim & I were trying to do; explore, create and patiently await what happened around the next corner of every passage.

Summer Suite, Vol 1

Chad Lawson
Hillset Records
31.3 minutes

One of the most pleasant surprises this year 2010 is released the second album by pianist Chad Lawson, Summer Suite, Vol 1. A work consisting of ten pieces improvised and recorded in situ, one extensive piece and nine more shorter, called suites. Summer Suite, Vol 1 is the first CD which will open a series of works inspired by each season and that Chad will be surrounded by great musicians to accompany his fascinating piano. For this first publication, Chad wanted to have the assistance of the excellent percussionist Jim Brock, whose percussion provides an amazing warmth to each piece, as well as inspiring to Chad with the delicate rhythm to improvise each of the ten themes of this album.

The opening theme, over six minutes, is titled “Heart of a Lion.” The Jim’s percussion opens the theme, waiting for the improvised melody that Chad will play at piano. A simply surprisingly melody from the beginning is powerful and energetic shows. Fast and subtle touches of piano join the rhythmic percussion of Jim. It is amazing how both artists understand perfectly, following an incredible conversation. An amazing start, Wow!.

The sound of the sea and some songs of birds introduced to “Summer Suite – I”, a piece calmer than the previous one, in which Jim’s percussion is almost non-existent, almost negligible, as few accompanies with furtive hit hat smooth and quiet piano chords that draws Chad. With a relaxing and hypnotic first part, the piece is accelerated, but not excessively so as not to break the perfect stillness and ambient created. An ideal track for rest or for contemplation of a beautiful sunset to the sea. Sublime!.

In contrast to previous tracks in “Summer Suite – II”, the piano opens the piece. The delicate piano and percussion music give life to an upbeat and warm surrounding to the listener, while Chad’s piano introduces the main melody of the song that opens the album. In this case, variations of “Heart Of A Lion” are intimate. One piece with an amazing sense of liberation!.

In “Summer Suite – III” can be distinguished in its inception the percussion Jim’s and some palms that accompany the piano. One piece at a life-giving a rhythm percussion and that joins a delicate piano. The second part shows a quiet melody, in which only the piano is the star, using a succeeded chords that convey a unique strength.

Again, the birds make a brief appearance in “Summer Suite – IV,” while Chad plays a continuous alternation of notes remains unchanged until the end and Jim makes a roll, almost negligible. In this case, the melody is haunting and hypnotic, and has no major variations. Jim’s percussion rarely appears, allowing this piece make in the listener a soothing and peaceful feeling of comfort.

“Summer Suite – V” shows a strong start and optimistic. With joy Chad and Jim played a happy tune and positive, which slowly is becoming sad with a final upset. A perfect piece for the rest!. I love it.

“Summer Suite – VI” is passionate, the melody that draws the piano in the beginning is formal and convincing, while Jim goes with soft touches of percussion. A perfect piece to enjoy the sight of a beautiful stage. Another of my favourites!.

“Summer Suite – VII” is synonymous with energy and strength. The melody is powerful, fast. A perfect union between percussion and strings that leave you breathless. The tandem of Jim and Chad is spectacular, both created in perfect harmony this interesting piece that bears some resemblance to the touch of George Winston. It is simply amazing!. My favourite without a doubt!. Wow!.

“Summer Suite – VIII” is the calm after the storm. A melody with a more relaxed and romantic. A track that calls for peace, where the percussion plays a minor role, appearing on a few occasions to make subtle roll for piano. A piece appropriate to enjoy pleasant company. Pure delicacy!.

“Summer Suite – IX” is brief but intense. With joy becomes a familiar and catchy melody that we heard before and which serves to conclude this wonderful and exciting work. Amazing end!.

Summer Suite, Vol 1 is just unbelievable. An improvised album that has a great freshness and where Jim’s percussion and piano Chad can understand, providing a perfect connection in each track. Again, Chad takes advantage of the wide range of possibilities that shows him the New Age style, without restrictions or limits, giving life to an incredible job, halfway between the Jazz and New Music. Fascinating and VERY highly recommended!