A Pilot's Musical Journey
I grew up in a house full of good music. My mom is an amazing artist and through most of her life, a very competent pianist. Early on, I listened to music on the radio and later, the stereo. Saturday was the day Mom listened to the opera. Other household favorites were Bennie Goodman, Artie Shaw, Count Basie, and Marion McPartland.
Everyone asks if my parents “forced” me to take piano lessons. My response is “No”! When I was 8 years old, a piano was wheeled into our house and I couldn’t wait to learn to play. My first teacher taught me the fundamentals and focused on easy classical. I was a quick study and advanced fairly rapidly. (Mom says she was ready to quit when hearing how fast I progressed.) Mrs. Simon was elderly and unfortunately passed away before I logged a full year of lessons. Enter Mr. Paris – my second teacher – a guy who made the piano lots of fun. He focused on more contemporary music – themes from musicals, Standards, The Beatles, Burt Bacharach, Herb Alpert, and boogie woogie. My third teacher, Dave "Cat" Cohen, helped develop my ear and taught me improvisational skills, blues/jazz scales, and song architecture. Dave was instrumental in shaping me into the player I became.
My early influences were The Beatles, Ray Charles, Oscar Peterson, Vince Guaraldi, Neil Diamond, Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, The Beach Boys, Stevie Wonder, Hendrix, Cream, Blind Faith, Traffic, Blood Sweat & Tears, The Doors, Jethro Tull, and Simon & Garfunkle. I played the acoustic guitar for a couple years and fell in love with traditional folk music. I was a big fan of the folk/rock movement growing up – Dylan, Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, James Taylor, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
The blues were part of my mix as well. Robert Johnson, Sonny Terry & Browning McGhee, Muddy Waters, B.B, Freddie & Albert King were some of my favorites. During the ‘70s, I filled up with Leon Russell, Joe Cocker, the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, Fleetwood Mac, Todd Rundgren, Hall & Oates, Steely Dan, Supertramp, Billy Joel, Elton John, and the Allman Brothers.
As early as age 14, the word about my musical abilities got out in West LA and the phone started to ring. I regularly started jamming with different rock bands and playing the blues with local guitar prodigy/maestro, Jerry Feldman.
Maidenhead was a popular West LA band – Hank Mann/Vocals, Bob Mizrahi & Mark Caine /Guitar, Barry Squire/Drums, Jeff Landsberg/Bass. The band had been together for a short time and asked me to audition. I passed and, while still in high school, became the band’s newest, youngest member. The group had a lot of talent with good musical chemistry. We covered some cool artists from Supertramp to Steely Dan and specialized in unique arrangements. We frequented the Hollywood clubs such as Gazzari’s and The Whisky A Go Go. We shared the stage with several up and coming bands, including Van Halen & The Runaways. I believe Maidenhead had the potential to make it as a band but lacked original material.
I did a stint with an excellent band called Games, which played all original music and possessed a high level of musicianship. We never made it, but we did share the stage at the Troubadour with the Knack while they were creating the hit single, “My Sharona.” Good memories for sure.
After high school, I attended Santa Monica Community College as a music major. I took several theory classes and realized that studying music is harder than playing it. I eventually switched my major to business. I did take a piano class while at SMCC and focused on mostly classical, which I lacked as a kid. I developed a strong love and appreciation of Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart and actually got good at classical. The discipline helped strengthen my reading and scale skills.
After playing in bands until I was 19 or so, I gave up on becoming a rock star. I was always fascinated with flying & loved planes. Shortly after graduating from High School, I began taking flying lessons. I attained all my ratings at a rapid pace and before long, was earning a living flying airplanes. My first job was as a flight instructor, and later by flying charter and corporate aircraft, and eventually becoming an airline pilot (my present gig since 1986). One of the more memorable flying gigs I had was a two-month stint flying some “real” rock bands on tour. This was the mid ‘80s. I spent a month flying "Loverboy" followed by another month flying "Aerosmith". It was great being on the inside with these musicians and getting to know the bands personally.
I kept playing piano and always enjoyed writing a nice melody. I had a wide range, from classical to the Beatles, with everything in between. Music was and always will be a huge part of my life. It’s in my DNA and soul. I was always proud of my work and loved sharing music with family and friends.
My first project, “Musically Speaking,” is a compilation of songs I’ve written over the past 30 years. A lot of good fortune came my way with this project. I met singer Cassandra Ward (vocals on “I can see clearly now”) on a cruise ship where she was a performer. I loved her voice and asked if she’d be available for some demo work after the cruise. Mixing and Mastering Engineer Matt LaPoint is a good friend who introduced me to digital recording. Matt played a key role in helping me lay down a foundation of work to build upon. Rong-Huey Liu, a world-renowned oboe player, recruited me for a chamber ensemble class she was teaching. It was a great challenge for me, and we did some beautiful performances together. We became good friends and she graciously accepted my request to play oboe on “Laurie’s Lullaby.” Lastly Rick Braun. Not only is he a world-class musician, producer, and performer, Rick is also a great person. We met through a mutual friend. After hearing I was a good piano player and songwriter, Rick asked me to send him some of my tunes. He called me later in the day telling me he was serious about sending him some of my work. I sent Rick some MP3’s and he liked my compositions and offered to help out with the production of some of the tunes. I just can’t say enough good things about Rick Braun! And I am so grateful for my small but “mighty” team. Thank you!