Strutting his stuff 

Michael Kaeshammer makes album No. 3 his own

Who: Michael Kaeshammer

Where: MY (Millennium) Place

When: Saturday, Nov. 8, 8 p.m.

Tickets : $22/$27

At 12 years old kids who study classical piano really start to hate it. It’s hard to sit and practise a Bach minuet when MuchMusic is on in the TV room. It’s hard to focus on a Haydn Sonata when Nelly is bopping to Hot in Herre. There should be a Hallmark card specifically for piano teachers to congratulate each other when they manage to keep a student past the age of 12.

Michael Kaeshammer was a typical pre-teen classical piano student in that he started to lose interest in his lessons. The difference, however, is instead of abandoning Beethoven for Blink 182 he turned to… boogie-woogie?

What kind of kid abandons classical piano for the rollicking ragtime of the 1930s?

"A kid who loves the piano," says Kaeshammer, chuckling. "I always loved the piano and I grew up listening to a lot of jazz in my house. My dad has a huge record collection."

Inspired by the boogie-woogie piano of Albert Ammons and jazz stylings of Louis Armstrong collaborator Earl Hines, Kaeshammer threw himself into learning how to pound out enthusiastic ragtime classics. By the age of 16 he was touring Europe.

He recorded his first album, Tell You How I Feel, in 1998, and followed it up with the Juno nominated No Strings Attached in 2001. Now, at just 25 years old, he’s mere weeks away from the release of album No. 3, the aptly titled Strut .

It’s appropriate since Kaeshammer has come to a point where he truly can strut his stuff. He’s not blanketed by the disproportionate adulation youthful players receive simply for being young anymore. He’s earned a position as a respected jazz pianist and now he’s beginning to express himself.

"There are people I respect, that I grew up listening to that I’ve played with or I’ve met who like what I’m doing and for me that’s the biggest compliment I could get," he says, "another musician saying you’re doing something right."

For Strut , he eschewed the sterile jazz studio recording process favoured by traditionalists and set up remotely in Ontario cottage country.

"I thought it was great because there was nothing around but nature," says Kaeshammer. "We just set up a studio in a barn, brought in a piano, and just hung out for a week. It became really personal. It was just this group of people hanging out, playing music. So I’m really happy with the album, confident, and yeah, ‘ Strut ’ just means, I’m struttin’ my stuff."

In addition to the more relaxed recording process, Kaeshammer says he made a greater songwriting contribution on the latest album. While Strut is no radical departure from the established style he plays, he says his original compositions made for a more "contemporary" album, rather than another emulation of the old school.

"I listen to all kinds of music, it doesn’t have to be old-time jazz," he asserts. "I listen to pop and rock. The new album is still very organic and rootsy, all acoustic instruments, but it’s a little funkier."

His upcoming tour, included in which is the Saturday date at MY Place, will showcase a lot of the new material, mixed in with the old-time favourites he deems the "crowd pleasers." But young and old fans of Kaeshammer know that he could probably bring the house to its feet by adding his special sparkle to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. He’s among those artists that simply have the knack, the charisma, the talent to pull that sort of stunt off.

Michael Kaeshammer will be accompanied by Marc Rogers on bass and Damian Graham on drums this Saturday evening at MY Place. Tickets $27 adults, $22 students and seniors. Call 604-935-8418 for more information.

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