on the Making of Whisperings Solo Piano Vol. 1
With the recent release of Whisperings Solo Piano Volume 1, it seemed like the perfect time to talk to David Nevue and Joe Bongiorno about the making of this long-awaited compilation of sixteen Whisperings artists. Conceived by Whisperings founder and beloved owner David Nevue and recorded at Joe Bongiorno’s Piano Haven Recording Studio near Seattle, WA, this CD blew me away with it’s beauty, flowing and consistent qualities, and the wonderful piano sound. This interview will give you a good idea of how this album came into being.
Joe Bongiorno front & David Nevue right
Click the album cover to read Kathy's review.
KP: Hey David and Joe! Congratulations on the completion of the huge project of recording the first Whisperings Solo Piano Radio compilation CD! What an incredible album! I’ll bet you feel like you’ve been through a particularly difficult labor process giving birth to an album that features sixteen different artists!
DN: The album has certainly been a long time coming. It feels great to have the project completed!
JB: Hey Kathy, this album was really a joy to produce - all of the artists have been extremely easy to work with. They are all professionals, and more notably, all wonderful people. I can honestly say that there wasn’t one negative incident during the whole process! Many artists traveled quite a distance on their own dimes to be involved in this project. I did my best to coordinate concerts at Piano Haven for many of them, to help offset their expenses. It took about seven months to get all the tracks down. The sessions were a blast. A number of artists are very computer savvy so I showed them the software, got them started recording, then left them alone to make their magic. That right there is the reason I started my Piano Haven Studio - I wanted to be ALONE while recording. In my own world, my own space, and with my dream piano. It’s a dream come true to be doing this!
KP: David, how long has the Whisperings album been in the works? Was it part of your original vision for Whisperings?
DN: Yes, I've been wanting to do a Whisperings Solo Piano Radio compilation CD for YEARS. It's been in my plans for Whisperings since the very beginning (2003). I've just never had time to organize it with everything else I'm doing, but once Joe started up the Piano Haven recording studio and Whisperings artists started recording and performing there (Joe hosts concerts at the studio as well), it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to start the process of recording songs for the Whisperings album project.
KP: How was the idea for this album born?
JB: About two years ago, David Nevue was up here recording Revelation. We were chatting after a long day of recording and I mentioned that I was starting to build a nice collection of recorded music by fellow Whisperings artists. I was hoping we’d discuss a collaboration. He mentioned that part of his vision for Whisperings was to have a compilation CD, and I said “Let’s do it!” I volunteered to donate all the session time and David agreed to finance the hard costs and production of the album. We agreed that we did not want it to sound like an average compilation. One piano sound with continuity and a flow to the album from start to finish. I went right to work arranging sessions that week.
Joe in the Piano Haven Recording Studio
KP: One of the things that struck me right away is how well the album flows. Each piece is distinct and I was able to recognize most of the artists without looking at the liner notes, but there were no jerky transitions from one piece or artist to the next. You guys did a phenomenal job with that!
With at least two hundred artists to choose from, how did you narrow it down to sixteen? Did you work on the selection process together?
Many artists were coming to Piano Haven to record their albums (or perform a concert) anyway, so since they were there, we had them record two or three tracks. When Joe gave me the heads up that an artist was coming, I'd give him a list of the two or three songs that were that artist's most popular tunes on Whisperings. We then suggested the artists record new versions of those two or three specific tunes. That way the songs being recorded were songs that were already tried, tested, and popular on the broadcast.
JB: David ultimately made the final decisions, but we worked together closely. The two determining factors were, first and foremost, an artist’s activity and participation within the Whisperings community; and second, their proximity to Seattle and/or willingness to travel. We made a long list and slowly pared it down to about 25 artists. Then it got really difficult, and we were disappointed that some people we really wanted involved had to be passed over this time around.
Tears of Joy
KP: That had to have been a strenuous process, but then to have to choose only one piece from each artist’s output - how did you do that?
DN: Sometimes we picked our favorites and sometimes we chose the songs that fit in best with the other selections. It really wasn’t that difficult. I think the pieces that were supposed to be on the album made it easy - they seemed to choose themselves.
JB: We had each artist record a number of songs. David suggested pieces that were either very popular on Whisperings or favorites of his, but each artist ultimately got to decide what they would record. When dealing with talent of this caliber, you KNOW you’re going to get some great tracks! Nobody was guaranteed a spot on the album, nor did they know which song would be chosen from the four to six pieces each artist submitted. After the sessions were complete, I collected the tracks and sent them to David. I indicated my personal favorites and we discussed our options. I think David agreed with almost all of my suggestions! I have learned a lot from David over the years. He has a great ear for piano music - possibly the best - next to yours of course, Kathy : )
KP: Thanks for that, Joe! David and I are often listening for different things, so there is no need for competition! =)
I know several of the featured artists have recorded full albums at Piano Haven Studio. Are the pieces on the compilation the same as the ones on the albums, or did all of the artists do fresh takes?
JB: Just a few pieces were from other albums. Louis Landon’s “Seattle Morning” was one. He was here earlier in the year recording Solo Piano for Peace, which was largely improvised. The take of that piece was so perfect. The same with Christine Brown’s “A Sunset’s Promise,” a one-take masterpiece! Greg Maroney’s “Prayer for the Planet,” my personal favorite, was originally recorded for the Whisperings CD. He decided to stay here an extra day and record his whole The Journey album. Wayne Gratz was here, too, so he and I left for the afternoon. When we came back, Greg had recorded the entire album! My “Tears of Joy” is the same take from my Somewhere Within album. The rest are new recordings.
KP: Is Steven Cravis’ piece (“Why?”) the only one that was recorded exclusively for this album? That’s one of my favorite pieces.
Yes, that's a brand new piece from Steven. I just love it. It's unique, and I think it really stands out on the album. It has a very distinctive voice.
JB: Yes, that’s the only song that is entirely new and exclusive. It was one of his first takes upon arriving here from San Francisco. I showed him the software and left for a while. When I came back, he showed me this brand new song he had just composed and recorded. My jaw dropped - the take was fantastic, the energy amazing! We spent the next day recording a bunch of other songs, but he had me sold the moment I heard “Why?” Steven’s skill and creativity shine so beautifully. He stayed another day and recorded his Healing Piano album, which I believe is one of your favorites this year!
A Silent Tear
Scott D. Davis
KP: Yes, Healing Piano is an incredible album! I’ve always liked Steven’s music, but he has really been outdoing himself lately!
Have you started recording Volume 2?
JB: Yes I have! I have recently recorded tunes from Philip Wesley, Tim Neumark, Isadar, John Nilsen, Mike Strickland, Chad Lawson, Amy Janelle and John Albert Thomas. I have had each of them lay down some Christmas tunes, too, with hopes of doing a Whisperings Christmas album. I think that would be a HUGE hit! One project at a time though. We are focused right now on promoting this album, but we certainly want to continue with a series of Whisperings albums. We hope this album generates enough sales to warrant a follow up or two!
DN: We already have a number of songs recorded for a possible Volume 2 and over the next year or so we'll have many more to consider. Before we proceed with Volume 2, however, I need to recoup my expenses from the first album. Once I do, we'll start working on the next one and possibly a Whisperings Christmas album at some point.
KP: Working with that many artists over a period of time must have generated some great stories. Do you want to share any of them?
JB: David Lanz’s song “Lover’s Tarot” was recorded live at a Piano Haven concert in June 2009. It was actually the world premier of Painting the Sun and the first time David had performed any of the songs from that album live. The sun was setting and shining through the bay window behind him, onto the piano and through David’s silver hair as he played. There was a magical glow, like an aura around him for about ten minutes, and he played right through it. Everyone was in awe!
After recording Rebecca Oswald and Joseph Akins, we all headed out for dinner to meet up with Joe Yamada and Amy Janelle. Within a block of the restaurant, my car ran out of gas - DOH! We had just passed a gas station about a hundred feet back. Rebecca jumped behind the wheel while Joseph and I got behind the car and pushed it back uphill to the gas station. Luckily, a couple of guys jumped in and helped us. It took everything we had, and Joseph and I really felt our age the next morning! At the restaurant, we introduced Joseph to calamari (squid) for the first time. He was a trooper and tried it after some jolly bantering from Joe Yamada and myself. Joseph now often refers to me as “squid boy” because of my passion for good calamari!
KP: Try introducing Joseph to raw oysters next time he comes out! But don’t tell him I suggested it!
Where is Whisperings Solo Piano Volume 1 available for sale?
DN: The CD is available for purchase via the Whisperings web site at http://www.whisperings.com/solopiano. The digital download version is available from iTunes or Amazon MP3.
KP: David, for those who are new to Whisperings, can you give a brief history of how it started and how it has evolved?
In the beginning, the Whisperings Solo Piano Radio broadcast was simply a by-product of my efforts to promote my own solo piano recordings.
A Sunset's Promise
Awaken the Dawn
Water of Life
Angel of Bliss
I was getting quite a bit of radio promotion through traditional broadcast radio, but not much on Internet radio. In the early 2000's, there really weren't any Internet radio broadcasts around that played my style of music. So, I decided to create my own and called it "Whisperings" after the title of one of my CDs. The name just seemed to fit the style of music I wanted to convey. Once I had the basic broadcast up and working, I contacted the dozen or so pianists I knew at the time, told them what I was doing and asked them if I could put their music in rotation with mine. They all said yes. So in 2003, with about 15 artists onboard, Whisperings started broadcasting. The station immediately found an audience and within just a couple months I was inundated with CD submissions from piano artists for the show. In those early days, Whisperings was broadcasting using Live365.com's broadcasting tools and within eighteen months we were the #1 broadcast on Live365's entire network. We stayed in that spot until just a couple of years ago when we stopped directing listeners to the Live365 player and started using our own player instead. The broadcast continues to grow. Our biggest day yet was just this last January.
KP: Are you still accepting new artists to the broadcast?
DN: Yes, and I usually receive three or four new CDs each week to review. I can't keep up with all the submissions.
KP: I hear you on that one! Is Whisperings still the #1 solo piano internet broadcast?
DN: Yes, we're still #1 based on the listening statistics I see other stations putting out there. For the first few years, Whisperings was the only solo piano broadcast on the Internet, so we had a nice head start capturing the market. We have a couple of competitors now, which I knew would happen. Anytime something is a success, people will try to copy it. I honestly believe we have the best music and selection, and that's why folks stay with us (or come back to us) for their solo piano music fix. I am very particular about which music makes the broadcast. I pass on about 75% of the submissions I receive. Only the best sounding, most melodic tunes make it into rotation.
KP: What do you see in Whisperings’ future?
DN: I'm working on some player improvements that will give us an even bigger edge over our competitors in terms of the "experience" listeners have at the Whisperings web site. Whisperings PureStream subscribers are going to really like what's coming next. We'll also be seeing more Whisperings concerts performed live over the Internet. Beyond that, I really don't know. It's hard to know what direction technology will move in the next few years. I do my best to stay on top of it, but that's not an easy thing to do. I keep pressing forward - I never stop.
KP: That’s an understatement! I worry about you sometimes!
How has the evolution of Whisperings changed your own life and music career?
Well, it's been very good for me as I now have a popular vehicle for putting my music in front of tens of thousands of people every day.
Prayer for the Planet
Beyond that, the Whisperings community concept was what encouraged me to start setting up my own concert tours. I never toured until Whisperings created opportunities to play with other like-minded artists. Whisperings has also given me the opportunity to meet and play concerts with many of my own piano heroes - David Lanz, Wayne Gratz, Robin Spielberg, Brian Crain and so many others. I think the biggest benefit of Whisperings, though, has been the solid friendships I've come to have with other Whisperings artists. There is a real sense of camaraderie and I've made many friendships that I believe I will have for life. There is a core group of artists that are very committed to the Whisperings idea, and I feel like we're all a team, working together toward the same goal of expanding the marketplace for ALL of our music. I see a bright future for all of us.
KP: Joe, your piano and recording studio seem to be poised for super-stardom. Tell us about the piano and your recording equipment.
JB: Wow, super-stardom! I’m all up for that! An accomplished solo piano artist recently recorded with me and said that I was destined to become the Will Ackerman of piano music. I’m not sure a finer compliment could be given ; ) Truthfully Kathy, Piano Haven is really a way for me to give back and support our genre of music. I have had surprising success with my own music. I didn’t really start composing piano music until I was 26. If you had told me ten years ago that I wouldn’t be slaving away in the restaurant industry anymore and I’d be making a living making solo piano music, I would have laughed!
My piano at Piano Haven is a Kawai RX-7. I fell in love with the RX-7 in 2003 when my great friend and fellow Whisperings artist Joe Yamada let me record my Destined album on his. Four years later, I bought my own! I have a matched pair of specialty microphones which hover right over the soundboard. They are routed through a vintage tube preamp and into my PC. That’s really it for recording. I have a set of Waves plug-ins that I use for mastering. I monitor thru a Soundcraft mixer and my favorite pair of powered Yamaha monitors. The set-up is quite streamlined. I have recently started offering consulting services to other pianists who want to record themselves. It’s not rocket science, although maybe after twenty years of sound engineering it all seems easy to me. You just have to know the sound you are after, learn some techniques, and be prepared to spend some dough!
KP: Nothing to it! Piano Haven is now the “official” recording studio for Whisperings. About how many artists are recording with you now?
JB: Just to clarify, you don’t have to record at Piano Haven to be played on Whisperings. It is an honor to have that status with Whisperings. Not including my own five albums, I have recorded twelve albums for Whisperings artists to date, and several more are in the works right now. I am working with another handful of artists that aspire to be Whisperings artists. I have taken on a limited “producer” role with a few of them as well. I love to help artists develop their raw talent. It wasn’t long ago that I was pretty raw and just entering the genre. A number of artists have helped me develop my skills and I greatly appreciate them for that! Again, it’s great to be in a position where I can give back.
Was it about a year ago that you “retired” from the restaurant business to work full time in music? How do you like the change?
JB: June 25th, 2010. I couldn’t be happier, Kathy. In my 25 years in the restaurant biz, I went from the bottom to the very top. Then, I was just done. My dreams shifted to those ebony and ivory keys. It’s been a big change. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate my time now, how nice it is to focus on my music and Piano Haven. On the flipside, it’s been a lifestyle change. Dropping a near six figure income requires some major adjustments. I sold my sports car (man do I miss it sometimes!). I did manage to stock up a nice amount of savings and get myself debt free. The timing was right, but it was still really hard to walk away from my work family and a company that was wonderful to me. I miss them all, but I wouldn’t change a thing : )
Joe & David
Piano Haven recordings have a distinctively clean, warm, and clear sound. How do you achieve that? What’s different about your recording process and other studios’?
JB: The right piano, the right gear, the right mic placement, and the right room - in that order. A little know-how helps, too. I listen to a great deal of solo piano music, and I know what recorded piano sounds move me and really add to the feel of the music.
When I listen, I want to hear clarity. I want the bass to be tight yet powerful, the mids to sing clearly, and the highs to sparkle. I also want to hear depth and dimension, as close to 3-D as two speakers can give me. My recording process involves very little processing and coloration. The raw recording is so balanced and clear that mastering is just a series of very small tweaks and adjustments. The Whisperings album has no EQ added whatsoever. It doesn’t need it - just a small touch of ambience and a little work with stereo spectral enhancement, then just a kiss of multi-band compression to tighten up the sound. That’s it! I owe about 75% of my sound to the piano itself. You can’t make a great recording on an average sounding instrument. It all starts with the source. I go to great lengths to keep my piano in tip-top shape. It’s tuned every two weeks, sometimes more. I get inundated with emails, many people asking me how they can make their digital piano, upright or low-grade baby grand piano sound like a Piano Haven recording. I can’t help these people. You can’t craft a fine wine from low quality grapes, you can’t make a fine meal from low quality ingredients. That’s the old restaurant guy in me chiming in!
The difference between Piano Haven and most studios? A true passion for piano music. I live and breathe piano music. My clients really appreciate the fact that I am a pianist myself. So many recording studios have fine pianos yet they do not know the “sound” of this genre and their recordings are, well, quite unremarkable for this reason. They have a tendency to make overly bright, thin and overly compressed recordings, the rock ‘n roll technique, which robs the sound of so many dynamics, overtones and harmonics that are inherent to a natural piano sound. My rates are quite competitive, lower than most studios with pianos here in Seattle. I know and love piano music. I’m not sure many studios have someone who can honestly say that.
Neil Patton, Scott D. Davis, and Joe
Joe, Greg Maroney, and Wayne Gratz
KP: Would you consider recording non-pianists?
JB: I have chosen to record only music that moves me. My time is valuable and I want to focus on the industry I love, and that’s piano music! I would never say never and do welcome all inquiries. I do some research on every artist that inquires with me. I need to be confident that we are both making the right decision. I am currently working with a pianist/vocalist whose music I think is fantastic. I have also worked with some local artists in Seattle, a few who have added other instruments to their piano music. I ran a full production studio for many years in the 90’s, so I am very comfortable recording all instruments. That said, I am done with rock ‘n’ roll bands! Piano Haven is a specialty studio based on the piano!
KP: I understand you even offer massage as part of the recording package! That’s a unique perk!
JB: Hey, it’s all about being relaxed. My girlfriend, Amy Janelle, who also happens to be a Whisperings artist herself, runs her own massage business right here in town, Keynote Massage. She comes into the studio to give massages before, during or after sessions, at a discounted rate. Recording can be stressful and massage can really take the edge off. Amy is amazing - she truly has healing hands!
Let’s talk about your in-home concert series and internet broadcasts.
JB: In 2007, I started the Whisperings Piano Haven Concert Series. About every four to six weeks, I bring in Whisperings artists to perform at Piano Haven. Usually two or three artists share the bill. I can fit about thirty people and we almost always play to a full house. We have had many of the big names perform: Lanz, Gratz, Nevue, Kater, Strickland, and also many lesser known but very deserving composers. The concerts are so intimate with the lights down low, candles lit, a little wine at intermission, amazing music, great stories from the artists. In May of 2010 I started broadcasting the concerts live on-line. Our online audience has been growing rapidly. Our first concert had thirteen viewers. Our weekend of Christmas concerts had almost 800! The online concerts are free and are supported by kind donations from our viewers. All the info on the concerts and broadcasts is at PianoHaven.com.
We might as well plug the fact that you and Amy Janelle will be performing at my house in Florence, Oregon on May 15th at 3:00 PM. There is a suggested donation of $10 at the door, and reservations are required by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org
. I can’t wait to see you both again!
JB: I think that will be my third concert at your place Kathy, one of my favorite stops! I love in-home concerts - so intimate. Let’s make this a yearly event! You have been so good to me over the years. Thank you for all your support, and most of all, for your friendship : )
KP: Thank YOU, Joe! And the annual event sounds good to me, too! See you in May!
Many thanks to Joe and David for chatting with us! For more information about Whisperings, click here