David Lanz has been a fixture in the solo piano world since the release of his first solo album, Heartsounds
, in 1983. Considered to be one of the founders of the style that came to be known as New Age Piano (or, according to David, "Smooth age," "New and Improved Age" or "Heavy Mellow"), David's music has had a huge influence on pianists of all ages (as well as his fans) all over the world for going on four decades. I taught his music to my piano students for much of my teaching career and would often order 10-20 copies of his songbooks at a time to use in lessons. We met in San Francisco at David's first concert there in 1991 and became very good friends over the years. He performed house concerts in my home in Florence, OR in 2008 and 2013, and some people came from out-of state to see their favorite pianist in such an intimate setting. Not long after that, David moved to New York and then to Europe with his wife, Kristin Amarie, where they settled on the island of Cyprus.
There are five other interviews with David that we did over the past 30 years here on MainlyPiano.com, so if you are interested in David's history, there are links on his Artist Page
. We covered a LOT of territory in this interview, so enjoy getting caught up with The Legendary David Lanz!!!
KP: David! It's been a while! How the heck are ya?
DL: All things considered, we are doing well. Being here in Cyprus, US politics is a distant dream and Covid has been much easier to deal with. Very low death rate and low percentages of positive cases spurred on by enforcing lock downs and health security measures early on. This has kept the virus under control more or less.
That's good! I still feel very cautious about things opening back up too quickly, but we'll hope the worst of the pandemic is over.
David, Kathy and one of Kathy's students in California 1992.
David & Kathy in 1995
Can you believe we've known each other for 30 years? You must be getting old! Haha! I met you at your first concert in San Francisco at Davies Symphony Hall in 1991 and we did our first interview
in 1992! I took many of my piano students to your various concerts around the Bay Area for the next fifteen years, and you provided such an enormous amount of inspiration for them! Thank you for that! Even more inspiring were the two workshops you did with my students in my home in Hercules, CA where the kids played your music and you critiqued it and then did a shortened concert for them. Amazing! Thanks so much for that! Did you do many workshops like that with other piano teachers when you were touring?
DL: Yes...and I also had several key teachers that I went back to time and again in the NW, Idaho, Colorado etc. And yes, there were a lot of opportunities through music and piano stores that stocked my songbooks along the way as I toured. It seemed that there was always at least one pro-active teacher, like yourself, in the various cities that would contact me or the music stores directly in the cities I was touring, to get the ball rolling. I met so many wonderful young students who were not only playing my music, but were composing their own. Very inspirational!
You've been a huge and very positive influence on so many piano students AND piano teachers!
This is our sixth interview, but the last one was in 2008
. Back then, you were still a fixture in the Pacific Northwest and I had moved to the Oregon Coast from the SF Bay Area the year before. Now you are living in Europe and the father to twin girls! What else is new? (laughing)
DL: Isn't that enough? I guess like most everyone, Covid has really changed the day to day way we live. Having two 3 1/2 year-old baby girls, we had already stopped going out to eat much, spending dinnertime at home. Much easier than trying to run after two babies going in two different directions! Covid has kept us pretty much from going out in public, except to grocery shop and taking walks along the sea We have a view of the Mediterranean Sea from our home and are about 15 minutes or so away by car. Love that!
We bought a fixer upper several years ago, and have the major work completed. A total redesign and remodel. It is a very large home and has a garden that wraps around the property. I am not a handyman, but my musical efforts over the last three plus decades have afforded the means to create a beautiful home - of course, with a tremendous amount of help from Kristin! This has been a major life project and seems to keep us very busy!
I can only imagine!
Click on covers to go to Kathy's reviews.
Your most-recent album, Water Sign
, was named the Best Solo Piano Album of the Year by One World Music in England and the "2020 Contemporary and Modern Album of the Year" on SoloPiano.com. What was the inspiration for that album?
DL: Let me cheat here a little and give you an excerpt from the Water Sign liner notes. This pretty much says it all:
"Most of my life, I have lived near bodies of water. Small lakes, the Great Lakes, streams, canals, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and now the Mediterranean Sea.
"I grew up in Seattle, which has quite a reputation for its rainfall and I was born under the astrological sign of Cancer, which is of course known as one of the water signs.
"I've written songs with titles like RAIN FOREST, BEHIND THE WATERFALL, DESERT RAIN, WATER FROM THE MOON, NORWEGIAN RAIN and here, the six pieces from the WATER SIGN SUITE: WONDER WAVE, RAIN DANCER RETURNS, AS RIVERS FLOW, THE WATER BEARER, MOONLIGHT LAKE and NEPTUNE DANCING.
"Living now on the island of Cyprus, the sun plays a role in my musical life as a source of inspiration. But water and the flow of life speaks to me at the deepest level. I am truly all about flow.
"So with that in mind, I offer the WATER SIGN album...inspired by the sun, the moon, family, romantic love and of course water."
KP: You could probably say that the centerpiece for the album is "The Water Sign Suite," a suite of six pieces about the various qualities of water. Let's talk about those pieces.
Let me give you a little bit of the back story and then I will highlight a few of those pieces:
I had written a lot of music since 2016 when Norwegian Rain
was released. There was more than two albums worth, before "The Water Sign Suite" even took shape. Actually, I thought I was done composing for the album, but my wife and co-writing partner Kristin, said she thought we should continue to write and explore a bit more.
David and Kristin Amarie Lanz
This resulted in composing "Wonder Wave," the opening piece of the suite. This got the juices flowing again...and then several other additional new pieces followed. I had already settled on the title Water Sign for the album, so in putting together the suite, I wanted water as the overall theme reflected not only in the music, but in the titles as well. Oceans, rivers, rains, fountains, lakes and even Neptune, the Roman god of the Sea, were all represented in the Suite.
Of note, the very last song composed, "Moonlight Lake," may be my favorite...well, at least one of my favs. It really transported me to a visualized place where moonlight was being reflected on calm waters. I used a fair bit of chromaticism in the melody and chord changes, giving it an impressionistic classical feeling.
You know, it seems most contemporary music, including solo piano, is primarily constructed with just major and minor chords. When I first started writing in this style, I made a conscious effort to do the same. I wanted to keep things simple. This was an important first step and a personal challenge for me at the time, but I really encourage composers in this style to also investigate poly chords, i.e. putting your major and minor chords over bass notes not in the chord. Don't be afraid of diminished, half diminished, or augmented chords, etc. They all have their place and will add more lushness to your music when used sparingly in the right moments.
My sermon for the day!
Click on album covers to
go to Kathy's reviews.
"The Water Bearer" was another of the last pieces composed. I spent a long time putting this piece together. I usually get all the sections composed: intro, verse, bridge etc, but getting them to balance out in the right sequence takes time. And I almost always struggle a bit with endings. This piece was unique for me as the intro and the ending are exactly the same! That has never happened quite that way before.
"The Rain Dancer (Returns)" was included at Kristin's behest. She loved the original version from the Living Temples
soundtrack, and she insisted that I revisit this piece and turn it into a solo piano version. It nicely fit into the Suite, and being from Seattle, it reflects a form of water I am very familiar with...rain.
I am very proud of this Suite and I feel it does a really nice job of representing water in its many forms. In the end I guess you could just say... I'm really all wet.
KP: (laughing) I really enjoyed proof-reading the sheet music book for Water Sign and several other of your other songbooks. With all of the changes in the recording industry, it seems like the sheet music books will be the most durable and lasting form of contemporary music. Do you still sell more books than downloads?
DL: Since moving to Europe, and now with further mailing restrictions to the US, I no longer sell books or CDs from my online store, just music downloads. Hal Leonard and SheetMusicPlus.com do a fine job of selling my sheet music and songbooks, though!
KP: I'm really afraid that at some point the "cloud" will blow up or become obsolete, and there goes everyone's photos, sheet music downloads, books, recordings, etc. What a nightmare! What are your thoughts about this?
DL: This modern techno world we live in is all a bit of a mystery to me. I try not to think about it really. I stay focused on music. That is why I am here to do what I do and besides, my piano is here firmly on the Earth...not in the Cloud.
KP: That's a good thought! There is no way a grand piano will stay in any kind of cloud!
All of your recent albums and songbooks give composer credit for all of the music to both you and Kristin Amarie Lanz. Do you have a process for co-composing?
I have never had a writing partner in regards to my composed piano music. I really resisted Kristin's input at first, but I slowly opened up to her take on composing and was pleasantly surprised how we were able to blend our talents.
Most folks know she is a great singer, but winning the IMA Best New Age Album of Year Award was not only based on her vocal performance, but on her composing skills!
Generally, I start with rough ideas and after hearing me play those umpteen times, she will sing her suggestions for changes in the melody or ideas to shape the piece.
Sometimes these are drastic changes, or subtle shifts in direction. But I have to say, that she has pulled me out of many ruts I found myself in over the last few years! Her critique and criticism sometime sting a bit, but she is usually on the mark!
David in Hercules, CA with Kathy's students. 2001
Playing Kathy's piano in Hercules 2006
I do find myself falling back on familiar patterns as I compose, so having her shake things up a bit has been invaluable and has helped me to continue to grow and evolve as a composer.
KP: Fascinating! I have been wondering how that worked!
I recently read and reviewed Robin Meloy Goldsby's new book, Piano Girl Playbook, and one of the chapters was about the bear that lurks around waiting for wrong notes whenever someone performs - obviously a metaphor for performance anxiety. That anxiety is the main reason I was an art major rather than a music major in college. I remember talking to you about that early on. Joe Bongiorno also mentioned in a recent interview that you really helped him with performance nerves. You have always looked so relaxed in concert, but you told me a long time ago that it wasn't always that way. How did you tame the bear and get past that?
DL: Ah.. the Bear! Well, early on I learned self hypnosis. Sort of pro-active meditation where you focus and visualize what you want and learn not to dwell on your fears. One of my teachers used to say, "...your reflexes follow your imagination. "
Think on that, fellow students!
Your 2017 album, French Impressions, was all solo piano improvs and was quite different from most of your other albums. Do you have any plans for more improv albums?
DL: No plans.. but with improvisation, you never know. And, I have too much composed music waiting to be finished and recorded at the moment.
KP: You must have at least 50 solo and collaborative albums to your credit by now. Not surprisingly, you are the most-reviewed artist on MainlyPiano.com. Do you have any favorites?
DL: That is a loaded question as I love all my children so to speak. I know everyone has favorites. I can't really settle on my favorites, but I am excited about the new music currently being created!
I was pleasantly surprised to see your 1990 album, Skyline Firedance
, mentioned several times on Facebook recently as a favorite. I thought it was just me! I taught music from that album all the time with my students and still love playing "Vesuvius," "Dark Horse," "Dancing on the Berlin Wall" and several others. I remember listening to the album for the first times while driving to various students' homes and having to stay in the car to hear the end of a piece, and thinking "WOW!!!" It must be an enormous charge to know your music has had that kind of an effect on people - and still does!
Click on covers to
go to Kathy's reviews.
DL: Yes, I am blessed in that regard. I, too, get a real charge from that record. The orchestra really brings the music to life!!
I guess I would have to put that record high up on a favorites list come to think of it!
KP: Do you have any plans for your next recording project?
DL: I will just continue to compose as I always do until it feels right. Then it is just a matter of arranging for my engineer's schedule and keeping my babies quiet, as I always record at home. I already have most of a new record composed, so I am sure it won't be long.
KP: What has/have been your favorite musical experience or experiences?
DL: Two come to mind right away. Hearing Procol Harum's Matthew Fisher's organ part for the first time on my reworking of their huge hit, "A Whiter Shade of Pale," was an epic moment! Also, being in the studio in Munich, Germany and hearing the live 80 piece orchestra playing the music of Skyline Firedance was beyond epic!
KP: Wow! Do you remember a specific favorite concert you performed?
DL: So many to choose from. There was one particular night in Guadalajara that stands out. Not sure what it was exactly, but it was magical and looms large in my memory. Touring Spain was a wonderful experience and playing the British House of Lords, members of Parliament's Dining Hall, where I met Matthew Fisher and Richard Olivier (Sir Laurence's son) for the first time was amazing. Richard was a fan and we were collaborating on music for a play staring his famous mother, Dame Joan Plowright.
I am sure I could go on and on. I will save that for my memoirs.
KP: Now that the COVID situation is improving where you are, will you be able to resume your workshops/retreats any time soon?
DL: Really not sure about the future.
KP: Do you have any plans to resume concerts?
DL: No plans at the moment. That part of life is on hold.
KP: Do you miss touring?
DL: I love performing, but the rigors of touring not so much.
KP: Very understandable! Especially with little ones at home!
Have you done many concerts in Europe?
Before moving here, I performed in England, Spain, Holland and recorded in Germany, Spain, Holland and England. Since moving to Europe, I have done very little touring and none of it here.
Performing in 2015
KP: With two musician parents, are your daughters showing an interest in music?
DL: They both love to sing, dance and have fun with Dad on the piano. Stay tuned!
KP: Here's a question I haven't asked you for a long time! If you could have any three wishes, what would they be?
DL: I wish everyone to find their road to happiness.
I wish to someday wake up in a world that is at peace.
I wish for more opportunities and the needed inspiration to create music that facilitates, in part, these first two wishes.
KP: Is there anything else you'd like to talk about?
DL: I'm good with what we have covered. I just want to thank you for your many years of support, not just of myself and my music, but of the entire independent piano community! You do so much and are well-loved and appreciated!
I also want to thank the many pianists and musicians who continue to follow their hearts and create music to uplift our beautiful, but troubled world.
Many, many thanks to David Lanz for taking the time (again!) to chat! For more information about David and his music, be sure to visit his website
and his Artist Page
here on MainlyPiano.com.