Prior to the release of his stunning new album Piano Blues, we caught up with the superb Chris Nole to find out more about his journey as a musician and composer so far, and what this album really means for him. Here’s the conversation in full.
* * *
Hi Chris, great to chat with you again. Stunning new album – what inspired you to create a collection of originals that celebrate the blues?
Thank you so much, I’m very happy to hear that you enjoyed listening to my new Piano Blues project.
I try to celebrate the Blues whenever I get the chance! The rhythms and sounds of the Blues gave birth to American Rock & Roll. R & B, Soul, and also some Pop music is directly inspired by the Blues. Since my early days as a musician, I was amazed and intrigued by the raw sounds happening on those old scratchy recordings. Throughout my career in music I’ve been studying the piano greats in the Blues genre – Piano Blues is my latest effort and contribution to this vintage piano style.
For those who don’t know, how long have you been making music and performing, and how many projects do you have under your belt at this point?
I started playing the piano when I was nine years old, and thankfully, have been at it ever since. One of the first piano blues records to grab my attention was Dr. John’s Dr. John Plays Mac Rebennack – The Legendary Sessions | Vol. 2. I am also a huge fan of Professor Longhair, Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, Otis Spann, Pine Top Perkins, and Johnnie Johnson (to name a few). Johnson played a lot of the great piano that you hear on those old Chuck Berry records.
I think I’ve released about eight or nine solo projects to date – I really should do a count! These days my creative goals keep me thinking about and working on whatever my next album, single, or EP will be. I try to be as creative and productive as possible without sacrificing the quality of the work I’m doing. I have a writing and recording pace that’s been working out pretty well for me lately.
For those who do not know me, I’ve spent a good portion of my career as a session and touring musician for some really talented (and famous) recording artists. My own recording efforts are yet another piece of my musical career. I’m happy to say that my solo works have gained some decent traction over the past 10 years with streams and such.
Do you think the reception to the blues has changed at all over time, and what are your hopes for the genre in the future?
Great question – there are definitively some youngsters coming up through the ranks (I get my Google alerts and try to listen to most every new artist that pops up on the radar). There are also the bigger acts like Bonamassa and Tedschi Trucks Band that are really bringing it to the masses. My compositions and recording approach on these tracks is a bit more subtle and retro. It’s kind of a throw back to the smoky clubs and small piano ensembles. Hopefully there are listeners out there who will enjoy and appreciate the tone that I set on this project. With all of the different blues styles and top notch talent, I think the genre is definitely here to stay – not to mention the historical significance of the Blues.
Is live performance important to you? How does the live experience compare to composing or playing in private?
Being on stage reminds me of why I got into the music business in the first place… for chicks! Just kidding – it’s for the thrill of (hopefully) pulling off something in front of an audience that you’ve been working really hard to get good at.
Performing live for me is a totally different animal than being in the recording studio. When I’m producing or playing on a session, I am a big fan of getting my ducks in a row and doing the prep with the writing, arranging, tempos, grooves, and anything else that might effect the final outcome. I also do my fair share of preparation for live gigs – but when it’s showtime… it’s time to let loose and have fun. If the folks on stage are not enjoying themselves, then the audience probably isn’t either.
Where can people catch a live show from you?
My live shows this year have been intermittent. I’ve got some fun shows happening this fall and winter. The best way for anyone to stay up to date on where and when I’ll be playing live would be to check out my website.
How long does it take to become a master of the piano, and what advice could you give to newer or perhaps impatient players who want to improve without losing their passion for the music they make?
I realize that I’ve definitely acquired some skills and instincts since I first sat down at the piano in the early 70’s. But for me, it’s about always reaching for the next level – whether it be a new way to play a scale, chord, progression, or a unique way to phrase a lyric. Try putting your hands in a new position on the keyboard (that’s harder than you might think). Try to compose tunes that have something fresh, new, and/or original going on. Yes, it’s common to have some similarities with the music that has heavily influenced you – but you should always be searching for new territory. If you have the calling to learn, then you will put in the time. I consider myself a slow learner – but every time I sit on the piano bench I try to do something just a little bit better.
Where do you imagine is the best setting for people to listen to this album?
I have never actually thought about that. Hmmm – let’s see – everywhere and anywhere of course! Seriously, Piano Blues is a moody bluesy instrumental record with an old school sound. I’d say experiment with it in different environments and dial in what best works for you. I am open to suggestions! I’d love to hear back from listeners about what they think.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Thank you for the conversation. Chattin’ about the process is always fun for me. It’s a cool feeling to know that my music can be, and is being heard around the world online. The connection feels good and inspires me to keep at it.
* * *