This is my second interview with Pete Calandra, an artist I started reviewing ten years ago. Pete is now the most-reviewed artist on MainlyPiano.com, due at least in part to his releasing at least two singles a month for the past couple of years under both his own name and as Pete Calandra and Straight Up. You'd think that with that kind of frequency, the singles would all start sounding alike, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. A musical jack-of-all-trades, Pete has played keyboards in some of the most famous Broadway shows, has composed music for films and television as well as advertising, and teaches at the college level. This interview focuses on Pete's new album, The Blue Light
, and some of his other current activities. For more information about his earlier life and career, be sure to check out our interview from 2018
. As a special treat, Pete included some of his scenic photos for the interview. Enjoy!
KP: Hey Pete! How are you doing and how are things on the East Coast?
Hi Kathy. Doing well. Enjoying the summer break from teaching.
Click on album covers
to go to Kathy's reviews.
KP: It's hard to believe it's been almost five years since we did our last interview! We have some catching up to do! Let's start with your new album, The Blue Light, your first full-length album since 2021's Ambient Tuesdays. Tell us a bit about the album.
PC: During the pandemic, I did quite a few live streams from my studio on Saturday evenings. Some of the music was ambient synthesizer-based electronic music and some of it was piano-based. The entire stream was improvised and I recorded all the performances into Pro Tools as the stream was happening. While many of these tracks were OK for a live, stream of consciousness performance, there were also many tracks that sounded like composed music. I went back to these and did some clean up editing. The Blue Light has some of the better tracks grouped into an album.
KP: Over the past few years, you have been releasing at least two singles a month in a wide-ranging variety of styles, genres and instrumentation - some solo and some with other instruments. Six of the tracks from The Blue Light, including the title track, have been released as singles this past year. How did you choose which tracks to be album-only and which ones to release as singles?
PC: For The Blue Light, I picked pieces of music that fit together into a compilation. There are singles I’ve released that are orchestral that were taken from some of the Photo Essay Films created for my YouTube channel and some of the Saturday Live Stream piano pieces are very Jazz and Blues oriented. These didn’t fit into the story I wanted to tell with the album.
KP: Ah, that makes sense!
You are now the most-reviewed artist on MainlyPiano.com with a current total of 43 albums and singles as a solo artist and another twelve singles as Pete Calandra and Straight Up. The vast majority of those releases have been in the past two years. Are you constantly creating new music?
PC: I have taken a bit of a break over the past couple of months, but in general, I would say yes.
KP: What does the title for The Blue Light refer to?
PC: Blue Light is the time of day between the darkness of night and the first or last rays of sunlight.
KP: Hmmm. I didn't know that! I love the dark, ambient feeling of mystery in "Lost Island." What was the inspiration for that piece?
The inspiration came from a piano library by a company called Westwood Instruments titled “Lost Piano”
. I took some time and tweaked the performance parameters to come up with the ambient sound with all the octave displaced echoes. I then improvised a piece with the aural feedback from the sound produced guiding my playing.
Click on album covers
to go to Kathy's reviews.
I really like the video for "Lost Island,"
too. I know you do a lot of incredible photography and videography, but did you do the artwork for the video, too?
PC: I would say that about 50% of the video consists of clips/photos I took and the other 50% from stock photos manipulated in Photoshop.
KP: "Morning Light" is almost the opposite of "Lost Island" in that it is very delicate and warm. Was it inspired by an early-morning walk?
PC: This is another improvised piece. Once I set up the ostinato on the Prophet 6 Synthesizer, I was led to create a simple piano figure that is gently uplifting and inspirational. Afterwards, it reminded me of that feeling one can get from an early morning walk out in nature.
KP: I think "Dark Starlight" is all electronic, and it's amazing how you created the feeling of vast darkness with flashes of light as well as a feeling of otherworldliness. Do you create pieces like that by layering in keyboard sounds?
PC: This piece was also created using the Westwood Lost Piano library. All the textures come from that instrument. It gives you great flexibility to add different tones and ambiences to one performance. The secret to making something like this work is to have patience when playing and let the music unfold and react to it. Let it lead you forward.
KP: What inspired "The Talking Poet"? It's so peaceful and relaxed!
PC: One thing with all the piano music on this album is that I wanted to be able to have each piece focus on the musical expression and not on flashy technique. I would actually postulate that playing fewer notes and working on voicing your performance so that the melody sings out in a “cantabile” style with the accompaniment providing the emotional underpinning is extremely difficult. It’s as if you are opening yourself up through the music to let the listener into your most intimate thoughts and feelings.
KP: I think that's very true. It's much easier to hide behind a whole lot of flashy technique than it is to keep it simple, open and honest.
The closing track, "The Seance," is almost nine minutes - much longer than any of the other pieces on the album. In my review, I said: "Suggesting the presence of an otherworldly being, it's a fascinating listening experience that I'm sure people will interpret in a variety of different ways." Tell us about that one.
I had a thought to set up an ethereal and moody atmosphere that could serve as the emotional underpinning for an improvised piece. Once happy with that sound, my intention was to perform a piece that would have an almost hymn-like quality, invoking the spiritual singing of Eastern Monks chanting in Sanskrit. I used a ‘felt piano’ program as my main piano sound and after the piece was improvised, took the recorded MIDI info and added the rest of the orchestration.
KP: You have also released a growing number of singles as Pete Calandra and Straight Up, which is sometimes just you and sometimes includes other musicians. Those singles are usually more jazzy and upbeat. Is that to allow yourself the freedom to go in a number of different directions without the fans of your more ambient music asking, "What's he doing now?" and vice-verse with the Straight Up fans?
PC: I look at it as if they are two imprints to release music with. I have done more than a fair share of jazz playing in my career. The urge to play uplifting and soulful music with funky grooves has led me to create that ‘ensemble.’
KP: Do you plan to release any full albums of Straight Up music?
PC: I am not sure about that right now.
Do you plan to continue to release a couple of singles each month?
Acadia National Park
Lake Worth Pier Storm
Pilings Brooklyn Waterfront
PC: I plan to start releasing music again in September and will release a piano based ambient track each month and as many Straight Up tracks as I can.
In our previous interview (9/2018)
, you were talking about how New York City has changed over recent years and how it is no longer the mecca for artistic creatives that it used to be. Has that changed much since the pandemic? Is it better or worse?
PC: It depends on where you live in the city. In some areas it is almost as it was pre-pandemic and other areas are really in bad shape. Sadly, places like the East Village have not come back and there are still many empty storefronts there.
KP: Didn't you and your wife move outside of NYC fairly recently?
PC: It was just 6 years that we moved up into the Mid Hudson Valley. We had a summer/weekend place in the Catskills for a decade and after we decided to leave NYC, this area had many of the things we were looking for. Plus it's only 75 minutes (with no traffic) to drive to the George Washington Bridge so we are not too far from the city. There are quite a few musicians that live up here. People like Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, Tony Levin, Steve Gorn.
KP: You have been doing a lot of really stunning photography. Is that a new passion or has it always been another creative outlet for you?
PC: It’s a function of taking phone photos and posting them on social media over the past 15 years developing into a desire to study and learn to improve my photo skills. It’s also helpful for creating content for my YouTube Channel.
KP: Are you still teaching at the college level?
PC: Yes, still teaching 6 credits a semester at the Aaron Copland School Of Music at Queens College, CUNY (quite a mouthful lol). In fact, I just signed a 3-year contract to keep teaching at that level. I teach Recording, MIDI, Film Scoring and Digital Composition Classes to both Graduate and Undergraduate students.
KP: Your students are very lucky!
Do you want to "talk" about some upcoming projects?
I have taken a break from film scoring for the past year. In fact, I turned down an ESPN documentary in late May. One reason is that I have joined a local working soul/funk/swing band called Soul Purpose
and had a ton of music to learn for gigs we have had over the past 2 months. We have 4-5 performances a month booked for this summer and there are also gigs coming up in the fall. They have been together for almost 20 years and it’s been fun to play with them. Completely out of the blue I know but, I have been wanting to play live again for the past 6 months or so and this just felt like a good situation.
KP: What a fun change of pace! The video clips you've posted on Facebook have been so much fun to watch! Having come from Oakland, CA, I was pretty much raised on soul and funk!
If you could have any three wishes, what would they be?
Peace, Love and Understanding (Nick Lowe was right!) Actually, my friend Annie Golden co-wrote a beautiful song with that title: Golden & Carillo - Three Wishes
KP: Is there anything else you'd like to "talk" about?
PC: Not right now but I would like to thank you for all your help with reviews and everything else you do for the independent music community.
It's always a pleasure, Pete!
Late Night in the Studio.
Many thanks to Pete Calandra for taking the time to do this interview! For more information about Pete and his music, be sure to visit his website
and his Artist Page
here on MainlyPiano.com. You can also visit the Pete Calandra and Straight Up Artist Page at: https://mainlypiano.com/artists/pete-calandra-and-straight-up