Midnight Jazz

Gentle, soulful piano playing reflects the quiet heart of composer Bryan Rowe

August 16, 2008
Leave a Comment

Written by Julian Wilson

Bryan Rowe seems to have a quiet heart; you can hear that in his gentle, soulful piano playing. It is a soft-spoken personality whose fingers grace the keys, but one that has endured turmoil as well. His album, Songs of the Soul, is a contemporary classical piece with the evocative air of a soundtrack. However, it is not cinema that Rowe’s compositions conjure, but the reels of memory, unspooling in the deepest recessions of our imagination.

Julian Wilson: The depth of emotion in your work is quite extraordinary and, in the stuffy world of classical music, quite a departure. When you compose music, do you write from the images in your mind?

Bryan Rowe: As a composer, I create music, the melody being the most important, which reflects events that I have personally lived through or an event which has particular meaning to me that someone else has experienced.  This can be somewhat risky because the emotion that is involved in creating and playing this music exposes me to the listener.  Though risky, I have this hope that what I have experienced can relate to the listener’s life experience through my music.

Wilson: What are some of the things that move you as a pianist? Name one or two of your pieces that are especially close to your heart.

Rowe: The piano to me is such an intimate instrument.  The ability to let the piano play itself is an experience that I have when I play.  By this I mean that the piano is my conduit: the music simply pours from my being into the keys.  The ability to caress each key on the piano strikes me – this allows me to not only create evocative melodies but couple the music with emotion and sensitivity. Two pieces of my own that quickly come to mind are pieces I have written for certain people who have touched my life:  “Laura’s Dance” and “Nocturne in a,” both from the CD Spiorad.  Two pieces from the classical world would definitely include Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata  and Chopin’s “Ballade in G Minor,” both pieces I frequently play in concert.

Wilson: How did it begin, such unbridled passion for the melodic and sublime?

Rowe: Playing the piano began at age four when my dad brought home pieces of a piano and put it together in our basement.  I began playing by ear.  I mention this because the music I hear in my head as my own lives there for a while until I sit down and play it.  I would be remiss if I did not mention that I believe I have been given the gift for creating melodies which evoke emotion.  Knowing something of mathematics, it is easy for me to analyze why certain melodies have an effect on the psyche and heart.  However, I do not use mathematics in my creation of melodies.  These come naturally to me; I do not sit for hours at the piano and try to come up with tunes which I think will touch people.  A recent experience was the creation of music for my daughter’s wedding.  I created a suite of three pieces for the ceremony, each of these incorporating tunes which focus on the love and devotion that I have for my daughter.  Again, the music takes on a personal, autobiographical nature that others can relate to.

Wilson: What artists, classical and otherwise, do you feel embody your elegant sense of taste?

Rowe: As a composer, I am, of course, influenced by the sounds of others that are not my own.  These find their way into my psyche, and together with my gift of melody, music is born which is emotional and, as you put it, sublime.  I would have to say that some predecessors would include Johann Sebastian Bach, Frederic Chopin, Maurice Durufle, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Samuel Barber, and Eric Korngold.  Through their film scores, contemporaries would definitely include Ennio Morricone and John Barry.  

Wilson: How often do you compose music? Is it a spontaneous process or something that is more thought out?

Rowe: Though I work best under pressure when I know I have a project to complete, I compose music when it has lived in my head long enough before I sit down at the piano and play it. To me, it is like the performer of any piece who plays or sings in public in a concert or recital venue; living with the music long enough is an essential part of composing and/or performing music. However, I am a lover of improvisation;  I am able to, at any time, compose a piece which is based on a spontaneous melody. I have been improvising since I was 4 years old.  Of course, the melodies have become more sophisticated yet economical in the use of notes. The additional component of living through more life experiences has had an integral effect on the creation of my music.



Pianist Bob Geresti dazzles with large body of work

May 1, 2008
Leave a Comment

An Interview with Bob Geresti

Written by Vivian Fields

Some people have discographies; for pianist Bob Geresti, his body of work could be called a library. Since the early ’90s, Geresti has recorded and self-released one album after another, stretching his creative vision across the musical landscape. Among these is “Keys into the ’70s,” wherein Geresti covers classic-rock favorites such as Styx’s “Babe” and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and transforms them into cinematic piano instrumentals. There is emotion in Geresti’s playing; these aren’t soulless paint-by-numbers makeovers for the Muzak set. Geresti is an artist, and most definitely a prolific one.

Vivian Fields: You have recorded in a few years more albums than people have in a lifetime. What brought forth such a massive output of creativity?

Bob Geresti: I started in 1992, selling my first three albums to gift shops and my sales skyrocketed in the next several years with fans wanting more from me. I felt that my years in piano bars were informative years for me. Those years helped me to see what songs the public really liked. My arrangements of songs and my style was what people really enjoyed. I liked learning songs by ear, even though I can read music, because I could put more of me into the songs. I’ve always had an extensive repertoire and enjoy all kinds of music.

Fields: Your albums always have a theme to them, whether they’re ’70s rock songs covered as piano instrumentals, Christmas discs, film scores, or spiritual pieces. What goes into your decision-making process in figuring out what you’re going to do next? Is it just your mood at that moment or have these styles always interested you?

Geresti: I tried to do what the public asked for as far as songs and then use a theme for the album. My mood would have some input as to how I would come up with the arrangement. I would play songs each night and some nights I would come up with a great arrangement which I would then keep and record so I would play it the same way each time. All of the different styles have always interested me. I enjoy coming up with a way to play a song that you would never think of, but would really sound good whether it was a religious song, a love song, or a classical tune to which I add my own flair.

Fields: Of all your recordings, name two that you are most proud of and why.

Geresti: It’s tough to name only two when I’ve had several. My first original album would have to be one since I feel it’s hard to get people to listen to or buy original music since they don’t know those songs.  However, during my live performances, I play my originals and people love them and always come over to comment on how well they liked the song and which album it was on.  Also, cable companies began playing my songs as well as most recently the Weather Channel. They played an original from my first album on the local on the 8’s and has received a great response. The other recording would be “Speak Softly To Me,” which has been my best seller since I released it. One song on this album I feel really sells it is Pachelbel’s “Canon In D.” I’ve had several people come up to me and say that they were big George Winston fans, but that they really liked the way I played the “Canon.” I like the way George plays it too, but my arrangement is different and has captured many fans for me.

Fields: Which of your albums have proven to be the most commercially successful, and why do you think people were so attracted to them?

Geresti: This I somewhat answered in the question above with the “Speak Softly To Me” album but the “Divine Devotions” album has been a very successful recording. As a matter of fact, it sold faster than any album when it first was released. I think my arrangements of a few of the songs on those twp albums is what really attracted people to them. I had well-known songs on each album with great arrangements.

Fields: When did you start playing piano? At what age did you feel you mastered the instrument? Or do you feel you still have more learning to do?

Geresti: I started at the age of nine and then took lessons when I was 10 through my senior year in high school. I majored in piano at West Virginia University for four years, of which two of those years I took lessons. It’s hard to say at what age I mastered the piano but after a few years of lessons, I was impressing people at malls where I would sit down and play and in school. But in college is where I really started to play songs with my current style, doing them the Geresti way which I have continued through today. As far as more learning, I still find new songs and come up with great arrangements of them during my practicing (which I still have to do!) I really still enjoy practicing especially since I purchased a Yamaha concert grand piano two years ago.


About author

Julian Wilson, Editor, has been writing about different genres of music, from jazz to techno, for nearly two decades in print.