Acoustic pianist Nick DeCesare believes in the power of gentle solo piano music to make a difference in people’s lives by helping the listener relax, relieve stress, calm down emotionally, become introspective and slow down to enjoy life more. With this in mind DeCesare (pronounced dee-chez-uh-ray) composed 13 peaceful tunes for his debut album, Openings.
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“In the world we are living in we find ourselves in a mostly stressful environment where we want everything instantly and we are frustrated if we don’t get it,” explains DeCesare. “Our attention spans are shortening because we get so much and get it so fast that we then hurry on to the next thing. As a species we are losing the aspects of our existence that are introspective and meditative. It would be best for us emotionally if we could learn to relax more, resist being so driven by impulse and success and instant results, and retain an appreciation for patience and reflectiveness. The music on Openings is meant to help with this, to facilitate peace of mind and combat stress. I practice yoga and I have an appreciation for the quieter parts of life that are not necessarily fostered by corporate America, ‘the gain game.’ Music is a great lifestyle tool to assist in soothing and expanding consciousness. This helps us determine what parts of life are really important.”
While DeCesare has been composing and playing solo piano music since high school, and part of his collegiate studies included classical music, he is most strongly versed in traditional jazz which he studied and avidly performed in college and after graduating. DeCesare has studied the styles of many of the jazz master pianists/composers such as Oscar Peterson, Bud Powell, McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Kenny Kirkland and Brad Mehldau, but also admires the recordings of new age pianists Michael Dulin and Christian Lindquist.
“My background is split between playing solo piano and performing in jazz groups,” explains DeCesare. “So I guess it makes sense that one of my greatest heroes and influences is Keith Jarrett, who not only played with some of the jazz greats and had his roots in the traditional jazz traditions, but became one of the best solo piano improvisers of all time. His music showed me the depth of possibilities of solo piano and how elements of jazz can be incorporated. Especially influential was his classic solo piano recording, The Koln Concert, from 1975.”
DeCesare received his Bachelors degree in Piano Performance from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, following four years of intense music studies. “My jazz professor was Ron Bickel who taught me how a pianist functions within a jazz group. We went through an extensive jazz repertoire from Cole Porter and Ira Gershwin to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie to Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock. Then I was lucky enough to study under Sean Jones [Nancy Wilson, Joe Lovano, Jon Faddis], one of the top trumpet players in the world who taught our improvisation courses. We started by transcribing classic solos and learning them. He also encouraged us to go out to jam sessions and apply what we had learned. That’s when I was fortunate to jam with the great jazz drummer Roger Humphries [Stanley Turrentine, Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie and many others] who organized jams in Pittsburgh on a regular basis. Studying under a great jazz player during the day and then going out to play with an acknowledged jazz master at night was the best experience and training I could have as a musician.”
In addition, DeCesare took classical music courses “to balance out my music.” Here the emphasis was on reading music, technique, articulation and expression. “I learned a lot from the contrapuntal language and harmonies of Bach, the Chopin waltzes and nocturnes, some of the Beethoven sonatas, and the melding of classical and jazz by modern composer and pianist Nikolai Kapustin.”
In discussing other influences, DeCesare remembers, “Early on I enjoyed the pop-rock stylings of Billy Joel and Elton John, and in recent years I have enjoyed Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater and his solo album Notes on a Dream.”
DeCesare, who started “tinkering” on piano as a small child and also played trumpet in the school band for five years, began composing solo piano music in high school. “It was something I really enjoyed, but I had little time for it during my upper-graduate years in college. After graduation I was finally able to devote more time to it again,” says DeCesare, who also writes jazz trio and quartet music. “This was a different fork in the road than the jazz I was doing in college. I used some improvisation when I was first developing ideas for the pieces on Openings, but by the time I recorded them the music was fully thought out and composed. Composing this type of music is like doing exercises in meditation and learning to keep my conscious mind out of it as much as possible so the creativity can flow.”
The Openings album is book-ended by the short “Prologue Anthem” and “Epilogue Return” which DeCesare explains “were born from the music I heard in church when I was growing up, a little formal, but uplifting and soul-stirring.” The inspiration for “Grace Rapids” came from a picturesque scene he envisioned with a stream of white rapids flowing over a waterfall and into a peaceful pond at the bottom.” “Joy” was so-named because “that’s what I feel in listening to it. Some music simply makes you feel good.” The music of “Morning” reminded DeCesare of watching a sunrise and he feels it symbolizes “having optimistic inspiration in the morning about how you can go about your day.”
The tune “Farewell” reminds DeCesare of “any change I have had in life that is difficult — going away from a favorite place, breaking up with a girlfriend, witnessing a loved one passing on, saying goodbye to a friend whom you know you won’t see for a long time.” He wrote “Ocean Waltz” sitting on a beach with a portable keyboard listening to waves roll in. “Sometimes waves look like they are dancing to the shore, and I also was reminded of Chopin’s crashing wave music.” The textures from the opening theme of “Rainy Day” were inspired by a Chick Corea composition, “Brasilia,” off Solo Piano Originals. “The rhythm of the rain can have its own melancholy beauty and is often a peaceful sound.”
DeCesare believes the melody of “Lullabye” came to him in a dream. “I woke up from a nap and within 30-seconds I was playing the opening theme.” The music and title of “In Love” capture “that special feeling when you know you have reached a deeper emotional connection.” A portion of Keith Jarrett’s famous The Koln Concert inspired “Moonlit Cathedral.” The other-worldly music of “Visit” stems from DeCesare ruminating on “what if we encountered a ghost or an extra-terrestrial?” The hymn-like “Sanctuary” also was influenced by the church music DeCesare heard as he was growing up.
“When you put out a debut album, for the most part it is the first idea people have of what you are like as a musician. That is why the recording is titled Openings. It is a beginning, an optimistic announcement that a young artist is getting his career rolling. But it goes a little deeper than that. The artwork shows our planet with doors marked on every country representing a whole world of opportunities out there for each individual including me as a musician. What doors will open and which ones will close and which ones will we walk through? Creating art, and for me it is making music, is full of open doors which means decisions — new age music, jazz, modern classical, ensemble, solo and on and on. There is much to explore.”
Openings is available to be purchased as either a CD or as digital downloads at a wide variety of online sales sites including CDbaby, Amazon, iTunes, eMusic, Google Play and dozens more. For more information about Nick DeCesare, visit his website at nickdecesaremusic.com.
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