Kaeshammer Struts On A Bigger Stage

Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.

The recent international success of such jazz-styled acts as Norah Jones, Diana Krall, Jamie Cullum and Michael Bublé bodes well for Canadian jazz pianist Michael Kaeshammer.

The artist's fourth album, "Strut," was issued Nov. 25 in Canada by Toronto-based independent Alma Records, initially as an online-only release. A Japanese release by JVC Victor followed Dec. 8.

Kaeshammer says he relishes performing boogie-woogie and stride styles. "I can't believe I do something that I would do anyway at home," says the 26-year-old German-born pianist who lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

Until earlier this year, Alma was distributed in Canada by Festival Distribution in Vancouver. It is currently in final negotiations with a new distributor. The album will be released in Europe through Sony Music in early 2004. Kaeshammer's recordings are unavailable in the U.S., although he often tours there.

According to Alma president Peter Cardinali -- who also produces Kaeshammer -- the pianist's previous two Alma albums have sold "30,000 to 40,000 units" in total, mostly offstage. "We've had good numbers with him," he says.

"Strut" includes a handful of Kaeshammer originals and his take on American standards "Blue Skies," "When It's Sleepy Time Down South" and a medley of Fats Wallers' "Sunny Morning" and "Handful of Keys."

Its 2000 predecessor, "No Strings" (Alma), which was partly recorded in New Orleans, and "Strut" have echoes of that city's musical past. On the Kaeshammer original, "Almost a Rag," he melds Jellyroll Morton influences onto a Professor Longhair-like backbeat. There's also a cover of Longhair's "Cry to Me," featuring one of Kaeshammer's occasional lead vocals.

"Strut" was recorded at Bad Manors studio near Peterborough, Ontario. Joining Kaeshammer are veteran New Orleans drummer Johnny Vidacovich (who also played on "No Strings"), bassist Ben Wolfe, guitarist Kevin Breit and keyboardist Richard Bell.

Kaeshammer studied classical piano as a boy for seven years in his hometown of Offenburg, Germany, but also absorbed his father's collection of records by Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines and Sydney Bechet.

At 13, recordings by fellow countryman Vince Weber inspired him to seek out the recordings of such American boogie-woogie masters as Albert Ammons, James P. Johnson, Meade Lux Lewis and Pinetop Smith. New Orleans pianists Professor Longhair and James Booker also figured heavily. "Those two are my main guys," Kaeshammer says.

The release of Kaeshammer's debut album, "Blue Keys," in 1996 on BSB Productions -- which Cardinali estimates has sold 7,000 copies -- led to performances with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, two European tours and dates with Ray Charles and Taj Mahal.

Cardinali says he immediately recognized Kaeshammer as a remarkable pianist, with boundless potential. "I saw an old soul in a young body," he recalls.

Excerpted from the Dec. 20, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com Premium Services section.

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