As one of the "founders" of the new age and smooth jazz genres, pianist/composer Jim Chappell has had an international following for many years. I hadn't heard anything about him for quite some time when he popped up on Facebook in mid-2017. We did an interview in 1997, but had never met, so it has been great to reconnect! Jim will be playing his second house concert here on March 28, 2019, so we decided to do a new interview to bring everyone up-to-date. Enjoy!
KP: We did an interview on cassette tape for my "Pianotes" newsletter all the way back in November 1997. Weren't we both teenagers then? At that point, you had recorded eleven albums, three of them solo piano. What are those numbers up to now?
JC: I'm releasing a new one this Spring which will bring it up to 23, I believe.
KP: In 2017, you released The Best of Jim Chappell, new solo piano recordings of sixteen of your most popular pieces from ten of your previous albums plus two new pieces. I would imagine that a lot of fans from the earlier years were excited to see and hear your return to the music scene! I know I was!
Thanks Kathy.. I'm getting back out there touring again. I think people are happy to see that..
Click on album cover to go to Kathy's review.
KP: Tell us about your upcoming new release.
JC: It's another solo piano album. I'm still finalizing the title. I had over 200 song ideas that I looked over to find the ones that made the album. Hopefully there's some good material my fans can resonate with.
KP: I have no doubts about that! Your house concert here last August was the first time we'd actually met, but after all of the years of listening to and playing your music, you were no stranger. You will be playing here again next month. Will that concert feature mostly your new music?
JC: I always have some classic pieces of mine I play, but will be introducing several new ones too.
KP: It sounds like you have quite a concert tour lined up after you play here. Where will you be playing?
JC: As of now the list is Washington State, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, New York, Tennessee, N. Carolina, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
KP: Wow! I think one of those is a house concert with Greg Maroney. He and his wife, Linda, are super-great people, and Greg is one of my favorite pianist/composers! Is this your first major tour since your recent "come-back"?
JC: I went out last August for some dates, but this trip is about twice as many cities.
KP: You are considered to be one of the "founders" of the so-called new age and smooth jazz piano genres. Have you ever felt pressured to keep putting out the same kinds of music rather than letting your style evolve more organically?
JC: If anything I think I may have journeyed all over the map as they say:) I am trying to focus on what I feel I do the very best at this point in time.. so it's really honed in on the solo piano thing. I don't really know what to call it style-wise except for "Soothing and Inspiring" which I think is the way my sound affects people.
KP: Did you do much touring outside of the US before your "hiatus"?
JC: I've been fortunate to have made a few trips to Spain, also Indonesia/Bali, and The Philippines. I would like to perform more again outside of the US in the future; it was fun.
KP: It seemed like things were moving in all of the right directions for you and then you disappeared for a long time. What happened?
I took a very long vacation to spend most of my time with my only daughter who was born in 2003. I feel more comfortable going out of town for extended stays now that she's older.. I actually did a lot of composing for 'sound libraries' while at home with my daughter. My music has been used on quite a few shows; I seem to get the best response from females by mentioning my music is used a lot for "Say Yes To The Dress"! :)
Jim in Florence, OR 8/18
KP: Haha. I've never heard of "Say Yes to the Dress"!
Let's talk a bit about your history. Where were you born and where did you grow up?
JC: I was born just outside of Detroit, MI and grew up in a pretty rural area with lots of woods and lakes.. A great place for a kid.
KP: Are any of your family members musicians?
JC: They all love music very much. Most of them took lessons at some point, but I'm the only one who stuck with it. I have 3 brothers and a sister.
KP: When did you start playing the piano?
JC: I got the music bug big-time when I was in first grade. I felt like I knew I would "do" it when I grew up, even way back then.
KP: How long did you take lessons?
JC: I took until I was 14 or so and then began teaching. I was teaching throughout high school.
KP: When did you write your first piece?
JC: After my first girlfriend and I broke up; age 15.
KP: That seems to be a common inspiration! Were you encouraged to compose or improvise by your teacher(s)?
Funny story: I had this very eccentric teacher who was a local performer and only carried maybe 5 students. I had to audition to study with him. On the very first lesson, after watching me play something he said, "Have you ever heard a polka?" "Yes." "Good - I want you to write one for me for next week." "Write one? What do you mean?" "Do you know what a polka is!??" "Yes." "Then make up one for me for next week." "Just make it up?" "That's right- Just Make One Up." So that actually was my very first composition. He was pretty impressed later when I played what I had come up with for him. Not sure why he picked a polka though. :)
KP: That's a great story! I can't imagine asking a kid to write a polka!
When did you start playing professionally?
JC: Believe or not, I actually got paid for playing Christmas carols in the window of the music store I was taking lessons at when I was 6 years old. So I like to say that was my first gig. Other than that, weddings, wedding receptions, school dances etc. I put together a few different bands when I hit 16 years old.
KP: You released your first album, Tender Ritual, in 1985, which was still very early in the new age/ smooth jazz genres and before the internet was very common in homes. How did you market your music in those days?
JC: I was lucky enough to live in an area of CA near the coast with a lot of gift shops that would play instrumental music as background.. So I just went around opening up accounts with these people and restocking them when they sold through. It's not set up that way these days, though! :)
KP: No kidding! That was a really enterprising way to get started, though! Were you with any of the record labels?
JC: I was signed to a label called Music West, and then later to Real Music, and a short stay with Gallery Records. After that I broke off to do my own thing.
KP: When and why did you decide to become an independent artist?
JC: After Gallery Records disbanded I realized I would need to take more responsibility on myself; that was the mid/late 90's. I could have shopped the music around more, but I got antsy and wanted to keep the flow going. I ended up releasing things without much promotion; which isn't the greatest path, but I think I always knew there were people who might find something important in it for themselves, some way. I told myself I would get it out there one way or another. Now I'm finally learning more about what it takes to stay relevant out there with the zillion choices listeners have! You have to morph with the times as far as getting your stuff out there.
KP: Is a lot of your music on the various streaming sites now?
Yes. I believe most of my albums are.
In Florence, OR 8/18
KP: You spent some time in Nashville as a songwriter. When was that and how did that experience go?
JC: I moved there in my late 20's. I really enjoyed the experience.. I met some cool folks and liked the co-creating thing. Wrote some nice pieces.. What changed things is my roommate convinced me that my instrumental piano musings late at night (after pitching songs to publishers and things during the day and waiting tables at night) were much more enjoyable to listen to. He convinced me that, as an artist, there was more genuine-ness there and that I could do something unique and reach people in a different way. I sang some, but always had a limited appeal with that! :) So the instrumental thing was something I could relax into and just "express" easier once I accepted it might be a path I could explore. This was when George Winston was just starting to hit it big in the New Age thing.
KP: You, George Winston and David Lanz were kind of the "big 3" back then. Did you ever play with them or get to know them?
Not really..other than David and I exchanging some comments on Facebook :) I think I have maybe the most in common with David in general as he is a "melodic theme" type of composer like myself; less of a wandering sound and more sculpted statements. A producer friend of George's way back once told me "George said he likes your music a lot." So that was nice to hear..
KP: Have you done much film scoring?
JC: Very little. Early on, before my own career started to emerge, I worked pretty extensively with some professional Modern Dance choreographers. That was a lot of fun. It very much tended to be improvisational and spontaneous work in a live setting.
KP: When I was teaching in Hercules, CA, I had a large number of Filipino piano students, and they and their parents all seemed to be familiar with your music. Did you do quite a bit of touring in The Philippines as well as the US?
JC: I haven't played there in quite awhile, but have been over I think 4 or 5 times.
KP: Do you still consider "Gone" to be your "signature"piece?
JC: People still relate to it. I like it:)
KP: I do, too! What inspired "Gone"? It's such an emotional piece! I know I've told you how many of my piano students kind of turned a corner in playing with expression while learning that piece.
JC: I had been dealing with a sense of loss for awhile, and when the little kitten we had passed on very early in his life, I ended up sitting down at the piano the next day and it just sort of spilled out.
KP: The emotions in that piece are so vivid. It truly is a classic of the genre.
You mentioned a while back that you are transcribing more of your music for sheet music. How is that project coming?
JC: Very good, but it's a whole different thing for me as I have just played my piano pieces directly into the recording process.. I had all of my music memorized so why bother?! I have scored/arranged quite a bit for other players for my ensemble albums, but that is simple compared to notating both hands of the piano pieces at once! I'm getting better at it though..I will be releasing some sheet music this Spring also.
KP: Yay! Is there anything else you'd like to talk about?
JC: Yes.. tell your mom I said Hi.
KP: Okay - I just did! We'll see you soon!
Many thanks to Jim Chappell for taking the time to do this interview! To learn more about Jim and his music, visit his website
and his Artist Page