Upbeat, life-affirming music reflects celebrated pianist’s vision of the world

It’s no accident that Michael Kaeshammer’s boogie-woogie piano music has upbeat, life-affirming vibe.

Canadian pianist Michael Kaeshammer appears at Sylvan Lake’s Jazz at the Lake Festival on Friday.

Canadian pianist Michael Kaeshammer appears at Sylvan Lake’s Jazz at the Lake Festival on Friday.

It’s no accident that Michael Kaeshammer’s boogie-woogie piano music has upbeat, life-affirming vibe.

“Most of my songs are about where I’m at in my life. And things are going well right now. I’m super happy,” said Kaeshammer.

But he wasn’t always that way.

The 34-year-old German-born Canadian has had to overcome a funk that settled upon him when he became fed up with touring about six years ago. “At the time, I was letting my career affect my happiness and my life,” recalled Kaeshammer, who performs with his trio on Friday at Sylvan Lake’s Jazz at the Lake Festival.

“I’ve since come to realize that happiness is about the people around me. Being with the person I have in my life is important,” he said, referring to his girlfriend, “and so is just writing and playing music, and listening to someone else’s music. . . . ”

By rejigging his priorities, he said his life and career have fallen into place. “I tour more than ever now but I do it the right way,” taking time to appreciate day-to-day things — even if they are just nice restaurant meals or a fine hotel room.

While composing, Kaeshammer said he’s “inspired by love, happiness and living in the moment.”

His tunes loosely fit under the jazz umbrella but in some ways, the singer/songwriter wishes they didn’t. A lot of people associate jazz with soul-less elevator music, said Kaeshammer, who admitted “there’s a lot of jazz I don’t like” — including music without passion, or with “15-minute sax solos . . . I don’t see the purpose in it. It becomes an ego trip.”

He believes his songs more closely resemble what jazz was when it was the music of the day in New Orleans or Kansas City. “It’s more boogie-woogie and the blues, but it has jazz influences in it.”

Whatever it is, Kaeshammer’s music has won him a lot of accolades.

The singer/pianist best known for the songs On a Saturday Night from the album No Strings Attached, Comes Love from Strut and Cinnamon Sun from Days Like These, has accrued four Juno Award nominations, as well as two Smooth Jazz Awards and three West Coast Music Awards in the last decade.

Awards are “cool,” said Kaeshammer, but he writes music mainly for himself. He believes “stream of consciousness” writing can be as therapeutic as logging into a journal. “It’s something in you and you have to get it out, whether you talk to someone or write music.”

The native of Offenburg, Germany, only formally studied classical piano for six years before his father introduced him to the ragtime, boogie-woogie and stride piano played by Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, Pinetop Smith and Fats Waller.

This music proved to be a revelation and precluded any thoughts Kaeshammer might have had about studying music in university.

“Learning jazz in the classroom never made any sense to me.

“The whole point is to find yourself and your own voice,” he said.

The teenager played in clubs and concert halls around Germany before emigrating to Canada’s West Coast with his brother at age 18. Their parents followed a year later.

The now Toronto-based pianist knew what to expect, since he’d been coming to Vancouver Island almost every summer to visit relatives. Canada is a much more laid-back country than Germany, said Kaeshammer, which suits him perfectly, since he loves audience interaction, including shouts and cheers during concerts.

“I’m a bit of a goof and I get pretty hyper on stage. I have fun and I talk a lot,” said the pianist, who hates the stuffy, formal vibe of some concerts.

Tickets to the 8 p.m. concert at the Alliance Church, at 4404 47th Ave. in Sylvan Lake, are $35. They are available from www.jazzatthelake.com.


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