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Interview with Spencer Brewer, August 2008
Interview with Spencer Brewer, image 1
KP: It’s been sixteen years since your last solo release. What have you been up to all these years?

Brewer: I opened Ukiah Music Center five years ago (ukiahmusic.com), and with the help of great employees, have built it into a cultural and community musical hub.

KP: Do you just sell pianos there?

Brewer: It is a full brick-and-mortar music store. We are the only piano store in four counties and have a fairly good reputation for rebuilt and restored pianos. We also sell all other instruments as well as renting about anything anyone would want. We are also a Yamaha dealer. We have a full rebuilding shop, as well as a spray booth. Over the next two months we will be opening a music lesson center as well as a small performance venue.

KP: Wow! What else have you been doing?

Brewer: We built and run Rock Camp, Acoustic Café, BandSlam, produce Ukiah's Sunday in the Park series (now in our seventeenth year), and support many local schools and causes. We are still building toward the success of HighWired (highwiredinc.com), a high tech company I founded eleven years ago.

I also just completed “Cinematic” after twelve years of working on it off and on. It is dedicated to my grandson, Gabe, and is a two-CD set made for the film and TV markets. I was very blessed with the array of stellar award-winning artists who performed on it.

KP: Let’s talk about some of them.

Brewer: The main musician throughout the CD is world-famous wind man Paul McCandless, who is also a member of the group, Oregon. He helped on many tracks as arranger and of course as player. We also had some great bass players like Steve Rodby (from Pat Methany's group), renowned multi-Grammy winning producer and upright bass player Todd Phillips, and Kai Eckhart. Quartet San Francisco, led by Jeremy Cohen, did the string parts, and Norton Buffalo, Alex de Grassi, Joe Craven, Mark Walker, and a host of other artists performed on other tracks.

KP: It’s an incredible lineup! So, what else have you been doing with all of your free time? [laughs!]

Brewer: I’ve also been working steadily on my Italian cooking skills, and am creating Black Rock Bird Houses, which is a creative sculpting outlet of birdhouses made out of junk and bizarre stuff.

KP: No one can ever say you have a one-track mind! Where does the title for your new double CD, “Cinematic,” come from?

Brewer: I have always seen visuals with my music. I studied the many great film composers, their music and their lives, and have been influenced by them since I was a kid listening to Bernard Hermann in the 1950's. Over my career, many people have written or spoken about the dramatic flavor and visual landscapes they see while listening to my music. We also learned of many films and TV programs, globally, that have used my work, hence my focus on making this recording “Cinematic.”

KP: You’ve had a couple of solo piano pieces on various albums, but not many. What made you decide to do one of the two discs a solo piano CD this time? I love it, by the way!

Brewer: In many concerts, folks have heard my work solo for the first time and asked about where to get it. The core of my work is solo - it is what I hear first, then the arrangements hit me afterwards. I felt that after a sixteen-year hiatus since releasing a personal CD, that the pieces should have a life of their own, with “Black & White” being solo and the “Technicolor” CD having the orchestrated and arranged pieces. The “Technicolor” CD offers a broad landscape into the life and evolution of a piece of music after hearing the solo version.

KP: Were the tracks recorded over a period of time, or all at once?

Brewer: About 90% of the tracks were recorded in my studio, Laughing Coyote Productions. We did some work at OTR, Cookie Marenco's place, and some tracks in Chicago to get Pat Methany's rhythm players on it. Some tracks were done with two to four musicians at once and others were done one player at a time because we really wanted to focus on their takes. Some parts were very difficult, so we wanted to allow the time to get them right. We recorded the album over a period of twelve years. The solo tracks were mostly recorded over a couple of months.

KP: How long have you been running Laughing Coyote? Do you do mostly piano recordings, or a little bit of everything?

Brewer: Laughing Coyote was built in 1996. Since then, we have recorded more than two hundred CDs, numerous works for film, built the HighWired Audio library, and too many commercials to count. The Yamaha C7 here has quite a reputation with pianists. It came crated from Tokyo in 1985 to my driveway. I am a lifelong piano technician, a member of the Piano Technicians Guild, a restorer and piano dealer, so this piano has gotten concerted and diligent technical care over its years in the studio. We have been lucky to have many pianists come here from across the country for the piano and the sound we get. Between the instrument, the mics, the mic placement and the signal path, the piano and sound we get is like driving a finely-tuned Porsche. Bobby Cochran has been the main engineer here for about six years, and he does a stellar job.

Interview with Spencer Brewer, image 2
KP: I’ve always felt your older recordings, although great records, lacked the spark and spirit of your live performances, but “Cinematic” captures both incredibly well. Do you have any idea of why that is?

Brewer: Because of various contractual and business constraints, the last time I made a recording the way I wanted to was in 1984 . I took my time with “Cinematic,” waited until each part worked out, and produced it to hopefully complete some of what I hear.

KP: You also have several of your faster, jazzier, and bluesier pieces on “Cinematic.” This really shows what a versatile artist you are. Do you think some of your older fans will be shocked - especially those who have never seen you play live?

Brewer: No, I don't think so. Blues, boogie, honky-tonk - they all have a general universal appeal no matter who hears it. It’s music that brings smiles to our faces. My grandmother taught me as a kid the rudiments of Southern blues and I have played that style the longest, although I have never released any of it until now. The few pieces on “Cinematic” that are of that ilk were some I have always wanted to release. Maybe a totally bluesy, novelty, funky CD will appear in the future.

KP: I’d really love that! How did you secure the Salvador Dali artwork for your cover and liner notes?

Brewer: My wife knows that I love Dali and gave me one of his calendars last year. I think the cover painting (“Three Young Surrealist Women Holding in Their Arms the Skins of an Orchestra” 1936) was the painting for March or April. I saw it and knew it was the one. We found out who administered the rights, worked the paperwork out, and got the limited rights to use it as the cover. I feel very blessed about having a Dali on the cover. I also absolutely bow down to the brilliant graphic artist, Karen Adair, who did the design.

KP: There is also a painting inside the liner notes called “The Edge” by Janet Rayner. When did you pose for that? It’s amazing!

Brewer: About twenty years ago, a woman called me up saying she was Janet Rayner and wanted me to pose for a photo session. She said she had this picture of a painting in her mind and wanted me as the subject. I didn’t know who she was, although a few friends told me her work was incredible. I agreed to do the session and then forgot about it. Some ten years later, I got the first artist proof in the mail from her and it is “The Edge” with me as the subject. I had totally forgotten about it! It was amazing as those are my hands, exactly. We got the rights from Janet to use the painting and I feel lucky to have her work on the CD, as well as Vaclav Vaca's, who did my second CD cover, “Shadow Dancer.”

KP: Is “Cinematic” going to be an independent release, or are you seeking a label?

Brewer: Yes, no, yes, no, maybe, never, who knows, we'll see. I owned a label in the late ‘70's to the mid-’80's and learned a few things then about the biz - good, bad, and ugly. For now, Willow Rose, my old label, will release it, but who knows who lurks behind door #3? It is not on my mind really, though strange things happen everyday.

KP: You’ve worked on a lot of different pianos over the years. Do you have any favorites?

Brewer: This is a hard question. I have been so lucky to have been around so many wonderful, unusual, and unique pianos. My bookkeeper estimates that I have tuned around 10,000 pianos. I’ve worked on Erard, Steinway, Bluthner, Beckstein, Mason and Hamlin, Fazioli, Yamaha, Broadwood, Bosendorfer and hundreds of others. Each piano has taught me something, and surprisingly enough, some old offbeat unknown brands made some wonderful instruments in their day that still put a smile on my face each time I encounter one. Lyle Mays’ Hamburg Steinway is one the finest pianos I have ever worked on and played. A Mark Allen piano - a couple dozen or so exist, with Chick Corea having one - is incredible. There are so many, it is hard to answer this question definitively. Fazioli’s are astounding instruments. I love my Yamaha C7, of course.

KP: Do you still consider “Quintessence” and “Dreamgift” as your “signature” pieces?

Brewer: It is not so much that I consider them to be my signature pieces, but that so many folks over the years have expressed their relationships with these pieces. Because of that, I decided to redo them both to see what else was in there. I have always heard “Dreamgift” with an orchestral harp performing it, so I lucked out and a truly gifted up-and-coming harpist, Jessica Schaeffer, who was living around here for the last two years, did a stellar job with the piece.

Interview with Spencer Brewer, image 3
KP: “Ode For Patricia” is one of the saddest pieces I’ve heard you play. Is there a story behind the piece?

Brewer: It is a dirge and a memorial piece I wrote for a woman I worked with on a few boards and got close to. Pat Denny was her name. I played this piece for the first time at her memorial service, and the opening drone sound in the piece is the sound of the large 1888 Mason & Hamlin pump organ that is in my living room. It seemed appropriate for this piece, which conjures up memories of old. The organ has places for candles on the front, for the music, and handles on the side, where they used to carry it to weddings, funerals, fields, churches for ceremonies of all kinds. It has a great sound and the carvings are wonderful.

KP: How about “Blueberry Street’? That piece is so representative of what you do live. Is there a story behind this one?

Brewer: No story, it’s just a fun piano piece to play. It has a little of the different bluesy styles I have done over the years. I wish there was some deep tale behind it, but there is not. I am waiting for the warm, bluesy female singer to come along and make it her own.

KP: What’s up next for you? Do you plan to tour or concertize to promote “Cinematic”?

Brewer: We are doing some concerts to help promote it and there are several folks doing work on PR as well. We will be sending out packages to the film and TV music editors/publishers and Craig Anderton is doing two articles for Keyboard and EQ Magazines.

KP: This is one of my favorite albums ever, and I hope it brings you back into the musical spotlight. Good luck with everything!
Kathy Parsons
August 2008