Pianist, vocalist and composer Michael Kaeshammer is one of Canada’s most dynamic performers.
He has recorded 13 albums as a leader, he’s toured the world, and he’s been nominated for seven Juno Awards. Over the course of a decades-long career, Kaeshammer has developed a style that weaves together classical, jazz, blues, boogie-woogie, stride and pop into a signature sound.
Last year, he released the album Live in Concert, which was recorded at the Charlie White Theatre in his hometown of Sidney, B.C. and initially aired as an hour-long special called Boogie on the Blues Highway on American Public Television.
Kaeshammer had actually planned to record his 11th studio album Lucky Man in the spring of 2020, but those sessions have been set aside throughout the pandemic. As a result, Kaeshammer has spent more time than ever revising his work, writing new material, sifting through notes and preparing for the day when he can finally perform again.
In the meantime, Kaeshammer joined us to talk about how he’s been spending his time lately.
How have you been doing over the last year or so?
Definitely in a positive mindset, I have to say. You have to make the best of the situation. For me, it was a chance to tackle different projects that I had in the back of my head but didn’t have the time to pursue. I had planned to make a record that kept being pushed further and further, so I kept writing. I’ve got more material now to do this record, and it looks a little different than it did in March, 2020. I put my thoughts and journals that I kept on my tours in China into a book. There are lots of positives that came out of it, and I’m in a really positive state of mind.
Reading those notes from on tour, was that a way of having that feeling of being back out on the road?
For sure. In November of 2019, we were still in Wuhan performing. It was an interesting flashback to read what my experience was with that city before any of this happened.
Do you think those notes will see the light of day?
That’s the plan. I started writing in August of last year, and I’m done with it now. We’ll see what happens. We’re working on trying to get it published.
You mentioned the additional music you made for your album. Was this for Lucky Man, which was supposed to come out last spring?
Yes. I had a whole album written, and we had the recording sessions booked for April of 2020. Obviously, that didn’t work out. We moved it to the summer, and then it was the fall, and now it’s just… well, whenever. I do want to have the whole group assembled in the studio. Some of them are in the U.S. and others are across Canada. It does make a difference if you have the band in the studio, rather than doing it virtually.
A lot of people did make the choice to swap audio files over the Internet and put it together. But you want the musicians in there with you.
Since I’m not really under any pressure to release anything, I am looking for that vibe in the studio of having people together. I might as well just wait, and the record will evolve until then.
When you look at the material you wrote for Lucky Man before and then during the pandemic, is it different lyrically or musically? Would you be able to tell which tunes were written at each time?
In some of them, for sure. You get into a routine of going on the road and looking forward to it, and although I’ve valued it in the past, I have not valued to this extent how fast it can be taken away. Finding what it’s all about, why I’m doing this, that has definitely influenced my writing and grounded me.
Is it about what the audience gives you on any given night that isn’t there, or is it something even harder to describe?
I do play a lot of piano at home and I love it, but the two things I miss the most are hanging out with my band — because we’re all friends — and then exactly what you just said: the interaction, feeding off an audience. As hard as I try, I can’t create that at home.
Are you surprised by how much you miss it?
I knew I was going to miss it this much, for sure. I always loved playing live, and I feel so comfortable on stage. It’s feeding me just as much as anything else. At the beginning of the pandemic, everyone was planning for 2021. It seemed like the year would be different, but we’d come back the next year. Now, 2021 won’t be any different in the live performance industry. I did not expect it to go that long — and who knows what happens over the next year or two. So, I’m missing it more and more.
This interview has been edited and condensed.