He sat down for an interview with Hot Air host Margaret Gallagher on CBC Radio One to talk about his unique style and how it's evolved over time.
You always bring such exuberance and joy to your music. Where does that come from?
It's the reason why I play music. My dad played a lot of boogie-woogie,and Basie and Ellington — jazz with a groove, and jazz that is happy and that people dance to. That's what captured me. That's the coolest thing about any type of music, I find, is the rhythm, even if it's sad. But I'm a happy guy. I love music. I love life.
What drew you to the boogie-woogie world, besides the fact that it brings you joy?
That's all I knew as a kid. My dad played at home. He played some ragtime, some blues, boogie stuff. Just very amateur, but for himself. My parents used to have people over, and at the end of the night, my dad would play some music. It was the highlight of the night. I remember watching him and thinking, "That's what I want to be like." If he would've listened to Paul Horn or something, I might have had a very different career.
You give a killer live performance. How important is the live experience to you as a musician?
It's everything. I've always been really comfortable on stage, and I love talking — too much, sometimes. To me, the music is almost an excuse for everyone to hang out in this room, wherever we're playing.
When did you figure out that you had this special gift for the piano?
I played a lot as a kid. Although I had classical lessons, I would never — I probably shouldn't say this, in case there's any piano teachers or students listening, but I would never practise the stuff my teacher gave me, because it was Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky, and I was ten. It was really dark music, and I was not into sitting in my parents' basement and playing that kind of stuff.
I was listening to all these records we were playing here and figuring stuff out that I wanted to play. I sat there for hours and hours. I think that's what made the difference. Rather than sitting down and practicing scales, and practicing songs, and making sure you practise a half hour each day, play something you love to play, and then spend time with the instrument. For me, it was just the fact that as a kid, I played countless hours. It just became second nature.
You were born in Germany, where got your start playing, and then you moved to B.C. as a teenager. What was that transition like for you?
To this day, the best thing that could've ever happened. Honestly, I'm not sure — this is a weird thing to say, because now I cannot imagine not doing what I do the way I do it — but I don't know if I would've had a career as a musician, because I grew up in a small town where there was no one making money with music. My parents were pretty adamant about me going and getting an education in another field, just in case it doesn't work out. I was so in the clouds I didn't even see anything else.
Where I grew up, there weren't pubs where people would perform. There weren't any clubs. Moving to Victoria, I saw all these guys in bars and clubs playing for not great money, but making a living and making it work. That's the first time I saw anyone doing that, purely performing, and not having to be on a big stage to make it work. I didn't know that was possible before.
You achieved great recognition for your boogie-woogie style at a young age. Do you feel any pressure to live up to that early reputation as the man with the fiery fingers?
Luckily, I still love playing that stuff. When I'm at the piano, and I play stride or boogie-woogie stuff, I feel like I'm back at my parents' house and ten, twelve years old. It's so much fun to play that type of music.
My playing has become a little more dynamic in that there's more quiet parts in there, but then also I play a lot harder than I used to. Last year at the Dream Cafe, I broke four strings, which didn't happen before. Maybe I have some anger issues. I don't know.
To hear the full interview with Michael Kaeshammer, listen to the audio labelled: Michael Kaeshammer.