Hangin’ with Mike

It wasn’t my intention to interview Mike Kanan per se as pick his brains about piano. But given his greater stature in the music biz the questions just flowed on my part and with my my new toy the Zoom digital recorder in tow, I was able to capture the whole event.

I had first seen and heard Mike several years ago on a TV broadcast of vocalist, Jimmy Scott, where he performed his accompanist role and feature solos letter perfect. I was very impressed with his professionalism. He has since made several records with star jazz vocalist Jane Monheit. His work on her last album, Surrender is spot on and it includes some more pop and Brazilian influenced material. The first time I heard him in person was probably at least 2 years ago, where he was peforming with bassist Joe Martin and drummer Dwayne “Cook” Broadnax (an old cohort) at the midtown jazz piano haunt, Sofia’s. I had just started becoming part of the rotation of jazz pianists that play there. It’s quite intimidating to be part of a list of pianists that read like who’s who of jazz piano.

As is typical of Sofia’s, there were several people sitting in: a European fella who performed admirably on Hancock’s Dolphin Dance and a tenor saxophonist who joined the band when Mike took the reins again. What I was impressed with was Mike’s definitiveness and rhythmic certitude, nailing the pocket both in his comping and solos. This can be a deceptively difficult task at Sofia’s where a. sometimes it’s difficult to hear and get a blend and b. it’s hard to swing on the Sofia’s piano which has wear and tear from constant use, light action and a certain amount of unevenness that can throw you off. For whatever reason (fear, intimidation, shyness etc) I didn’t introduce myself but waved to Cook.

I first came into contact with Mike through the omnipresent social networking site, MySpace. He had sent a friend request (which normally gets pretty freaking tiresome) and I responded with a “hey man, thanks for request” type reply. He then responded and commented about our mutual acquaintances, Ed Fuqua, Eric Halvorson and Eliot Zigmund and also some kind commentary on the few cuts on my page. He had also mentioned he hoped to catch me play but given I’m only a part-timer I told him the likelihood was that I would catch him first. The reality was his showing up at one of my gigs would be cause for a certain amount of anxiety. It was a lot easier just to let him listen to my tidy little recordings.

Later on the game was brought to me. I was asked to perform with saxophonist Red Horndstrom for small a concert&lecture at bassist/teacher Joe Solomon’s studio at 26th st. Red, Ed and I had performed at Sofia’s and Joe cooked up the idea of Red giving a lecture/performance to his students after seeing us play. Drummer, Chris Roselli was added for the gig. Performing in front of students is one thing but in the middle of a tune, Mike walks in the door and it completely threw me. Joe and Mike know each other thru the Tristano/Mosca circle. We were in the middle of starting the tune I Fall in Love to Easily but it’s one of those tunes that it’s easy to Fall Into the wrong minor II-V if you’re not completely focused (I Should Care is like that too). And that’s what happened. I weasled my way out of my misstep on A-7b5 but the game was lost. I was completely out of it. So there I had done it. I f##$d up in front of a fellow musician whom I respect. For me that’s the cardinal sin, especially if you don’t know them because as the commercials say, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression”. I let off steam by acknowledging his presence to the audience and recover modestly on the next tune.

When I finish the set I introduce myself to him, make light of my performance and we shoot the breeze. He compliments me several times on my playing and frankly I’m shocked so I don’t know whether he was being polite or whether he really thought I sounded good. But a day or two later he reiterates his compliment by communication via MySpace email. I was delighted. Maybe I’m better than I think. I then ask if we could talk shop about some piano stuff and he suggests we get together at his Brooklyn studio. I will have a transcription of some of the highlights of the get together next time.

        
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