Watch Michael Kaeshammer play piano, and you’ll have the sense he’s not playing so much as embodying joy.
Every part of him seems to come alive with the sheer delight of making music — a delight that hasn’t, by all appearances, worn off one iota more than 25 years after he released his first studio album.
But is that joy real, or is it just for show?
“Completely real,” Kaeshammer says, in a tone that carries a smile through the phone line from Moncton, New Brunswick, where he’s just checked in to his hotel. “I love it so much. It’s my favourite thing to do.”
If it weren’t, he says, he wouldn’t take on the task of touring — which he says he loves, while confessing it can still be exhausting. The internationally acclaimed Canadian pianist is part way through his 24-date Canadian tour, which started Nov. 9 in Pictou, Nova Scotia and winds up on Vancouver Island, with concerts in his hometown Sidney on Dec. 5 and 6.
He’ll also make two Metro Vancouver stops: at New Westminster’s Massey Theatre on Saturday, Dec. 3 and at West Vancouver’s Kay Meek Arts Centre on Sunday, Dec. 4.
“It’s definitely nice to be back on the road. That whole connection with an audience, playing in front of people, for people — it’s what I do,” Kaeshammer says. “It’s so beautiful out there, and the people are so nice. Everyone is so excited to be at shows again. We hope we’re going to move the positivity with us right across the country.”
Kaeshammer says there seems to be a special excitement in audiences right now, as the world emerges from the dark days when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down live performances around the globe. Though he says the pandemic was time well spent for him — “there’s a lot of projects I worked on that I probably wouldn’t have had time to do otherwise” — he’s enjoying the feeling of playing to live audiences again, just as much as those audiences are.
“There’s a bit of a feeling that everything is back to where it was. The audience, the fans who have seen me before, they’re back, but there’s this extra, underlying feeling everyone has of ‘Wow, we can’t believe this is happening,’” he says, adding that feeling extends to him, too.
“Not that I’ve ever been any kind of prima donna or anything, but knowing it could just disappear like that, as it did for two years? Anything I could have complained about before — sound check or bad pianos — I just don’t.”
From teenage prodigy to international star
Kaeshammer has been at the keys his whole life, since his childhood in Germany when his dad introduced him to the piano at age four or five. He followed the classical, conservatory path from age seven to 13, when he decided that wasn’t the way he wanted to learn.
After that, he just started teaching himself, playing for hours every day.
It wasn’t until Kaeshammer’s family moved to Vancouver Island when he was a teenager that he started to believe piano was something he could do for a living — when he saw musicians playing in pubs and bars four or five nights a week, making a living doing it.
As it turned out, Kaeshammer would go much further than the pub and bar scene.
His first album, 1996’s Blue Keys, introduced the world to a teenager with talent to burn. Over the decades since, he’s grown up and evolved in the spotlight, making the shift from child prodigy to full-fledged international phenom and singer-songwriter.
Kaeshammer says he’s grateful for those loyal fans who’ve followed him throughout that journey. In Chester, Nova Scotia, he encountered one fan who said he’d first seen Kaeshammer play at the age of 19 and who’d been a fan ever since.
“I must have done something right,” the pianist says with a laugh.
Kaeshammer promises he’ll treat tour audiences to old favourites from his extensive repertoire of genre-defying music that wraps classical, jazz, blues, boogie-woogie and pop into what’s been described as a “sonic tapestry.” Plus, he’ll offer up a preview of some of the new, pandemic-inspired work from his forthcoming album Turn It Up, which will be out in March 2023.
What exactly you’ll hear in his Massey Theatre performance, though, is a surprise — even Kaeshammer doesn’t know yet. In all his shows, he says, he gives the band the first couple of songs, and that’s it.
“When we walk on stage at night, I say, ‘We’ll do this first and this second, and then we’ll see where the audience wants to go,’” he says.
There’s an added treat in store for New Westminster audiences, in the form of hometown saxophonist Steve Hilliam, who’s part of Kaeshammer’s band.
“We’re a really tight combo. We’re having fun playing music. For me, the music is just a vehicle to get everyone in the room to have a good time and get away for a couple of hours, to be joyful and positive,” Kaeshammer says.
“In the end, I just play the piano the way I want to hear it.
“As an artist, if you please yourself, an audience will gravitate towards you. If you are true to yourself, that is the best art you can make. I don’t really care what anyone thinks. I do what I think serves me, and in turn it serves the audience. That’s a very liberating feeling.”
Catch Michael Kaeshammer on tour in Metro Vancouver
- Where and when: Massey Theatre (735 Eighth Ave.), New Westminster, on Saturday, Dec. 3 at 7:30 p.m.; Kay Meek Arts Centre (1700 Mathers Ave.), West Vancouver, on Sunday, Dec. 4 at 7:30 p.m.
- Tickets: Buy for Massey Theatre ($35 to $50) through www.ticketsnw.ca. Buy for Kay Meek Arts Centre ($29 student/$46 senior/$49 regular) through www.kaymeek.com.
- More info: kaeshammer.com