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Interview with Tom Ameen, December 2021
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One of the artists I reviewed for the first time (and second time and third time!) in 2021 is Tom Ameen, a wonderful pianist/composer now located in Southern CA. His albums (about 20 of them!) are a mix of original compositions and cover material that often includes music from various Disney productions. I have really enjoyed getting to know Tom and his music, and this interview will allow you to get to know him better, too! Enjoy!

KP: Hey Tom! Thanks for doing this interview! How are ya?

TA: I’m well, how are you? Thanks so much for having me back for MainlyPiano.com!

KP: We "met" earlier this year when you asked me to review Stories From the Sea, which is part of The Outlaw Ocean Music Project. How did you hear about the project?

TA: I was contacted by Ian Urbina, who is the author of The Outlaw Ocean book. He is a Pulitzer prize winning reporter who spent years on the open sea reporting on all the human and animal atrocities that go on there. Ian was gathering musicians from all around the globe to write music inspired by the stories in the book.

KP: There are more than 400 artists who have released music for the project. Are the artists invited to participate or do they apply or submit music? How does that process work?

TA: I’m actually not sure. I was contacted directly by Ian. But I have heard that some musicians applied to write for the project. I think as long as the music is good, it will help out the project, and allow more people to be exposed to this reporting, and what’s happening on our oceans.

KP: I hadn't heard of The Outlaw Ocean when you sent me your music, but your album and reading about the music project compelled me to get a copy of the book and read it. What an amazing book that is! The music project is equally amazing and includes artists from all over the world from virtually every genre of music you can think of. I've reviewed ten of the albums so far and plan to do several more as time allows. Do you know if there will be any concerts or live performances of this music?
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Click on album covers to
go to Kathy's reviews.

TA: I would love to do a live show with music I wrote for the project! There might be shows in different countries around the world, but I’m not aware of them. That’s not to say they aren’t happening. I hope to get back into live performing sometime next year. I think this music would be great to play for a live audience and see what their reactions would be to the material.

KP: I think so, too! More recently, you released an album, Hope Is In Your Hands, for The Noam Chomsky Music Project, also spearheaded by Ian Urbina. Tell us about that project.

TA: I actually really enjoyed working on this project. I had not heard of Noam Chomsky before this project. He is a popular philosopher that has been giving talks and lectures for over 50 years, I believe. Ian told us to listen to audio clips they had gathered that had Noam giving lectures about war, peace, hope, economics, human nature, and love to name a few! I listened to a lot of clips and based my songs of the lectures that inspired me the most. The five songs for this EP reflect the messages that inspired me.

KP: What inspired you to get involved with this project?

TA: I liked the challenge of it… to find philosophies and teachings that resonated with me, and then try to turn that into songs that convey those feelings. It was also kind of neat to go through those archives and listen to Noam’s lectures way back in the 60’s through the 80’s. It was fascinating stuff.

KP: How did you decide on themes for the music for that album?

TA: I let Noam’s words spark feelings and emotions in me, and then I tried to run with that. One of the themes was the toll that war takes on humanity. That one really resonated with me. I wanted to convey through music the heartache and grief that many people suffer as a result of war. It was a bit depressing at times, but also very hopeful and peaceful. I always try to put a feeling of hope into my music, even if it’s dealing with something that’s somber or serious.

KP: "Toll of War" is a very emotional piece and one that really resonates with me, too. The cello added to the piano makes it even more poignant.

Between those two albums, you released Magical Meditations, a collection of songs from the Disney catalog arranged for rest and relaxation. That one is solo piano and piano with light instrumental accompaniment and is quite a change in mood from the heavier messages of the two other albums! What was the idea behind that album and how did you choose the pieces?

TA: I thought it would be really fun to have a rest and relaxation album that had Disney themes in it! I especially wanted to take some of the faster songs like “Make A Man Out Of You” from Mulan, and “It’s A Small World” from the famous Disney attraction, and try to reimagine them as slow, beautiful, melodic pieces that could help you relax or even put you to sleep. I chose pieces that are near and dear to me, including the theme song from the 1977 Disney movie Freaky Friday, called “I’d Like To Be You For A Day.” And I’m a big fan of the Disney theme parks, so I included three park ride theme songs, including “It’s A Small World” and the “Horizons” theme song from the old 80’s attraction at Epcot.

KP: I really enjoyed reviewing that album, too! It was recorded with a felted piano. How did you "prepare" the piano?

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TA: I’ll tell you a little secret… the piano sound came from my computer! I don’t have a real piano in my place, so everything I do is on keyboards. I invested in this piano sound called “Noire,” which is an extremely detailed sampling of German pianist Nils Frahm’s personal grand piano. One of the samples is the ‘felt’ sound, where they put a piece of felt between the hammers and strings of the piano. It gives you a really beautiful soft, delicate, and somber tone when you play. That’s what I decided to use for the Disney album because it lends itself so well to that style of rest and relaxation.

KP: Noire is definitely one of the best piano sounds. I've reviewed a few other artists who use it and it's not easy to tell it from a "real" piano. Do you plan to record more albums with a felted piano?

TA: I would love to do another album of felted piano music. One idea I had was to do an 80’s themed album. I think it would be so fun to take 80’s hit songs and turn them into rest and relaxation pieces!

KP: That would be interesting!!!

What's your next musical project?

TA: I’m currently working on a very personal project. My mom passed away this past summer, so I’m currently writing an EP of five songs based on the five stages of grief. My mom was a grief counselor in her home town of Cleveland, Ohio, and helped write the Cleveland Hospice handbooks that the organization still uses today. I will dedicate this album to her memory once it gets released. And then after that, I’d like to work on a new Disney album. I can’t reveal those details yet, but it will be a good one!

KP: I'm so sorry to hear about your mom! What a wonderful tribute to her and her memory, though!

Okay, let's back up a bit. When did you release your first album?

TA: I released my first album way back in 1997. It was called Treasure The Gift, and was all original music.

KP: How many albums have you released?

TA: Oh gosh, I think as of this year, I’ve released more than 20 albums! It’s hard to believe.

KP: Wow! Where were you born and where did you grow up?

TA: I was born in Endicott, New York, but I grew up in Mentor, Ohio, which is just east of Cleveland.

KP: I understand that the guitar was your first instrument. When did you start playing that?

TA: I started playing guitar when I was 12. I was kind of a late bloomer to music, but once I started on guitar, I really felt a connection to music and definitely wanted to play all the time. 

KP: How old were you when you started playing the piano?

TA: I started at 12. I was taking guitar lessons for a while, and I really enjoyed it. But one day my parents took us to see the movie Superman II. All I remember is hearing John Williams’ theme for the first time, and I was blown away! I came home, and immediately started sounding it out on the piano. My parents asked me, “how are you doing that, you haven’t had any lessons on piano?” I couldn’t explain it, I could just hear the music and knew where to go on the piano. After that day, I gave up guitar and it was piano all the way!

KP: How long did you take lessons?

TA: I took lessons from the age of 12 to about 21 or so. During high school, I trained with an incredible pianist from The Cleveland Institute of Music, James Tannenbaum. He’s the main reason why I play the way I do today. He always drove home the technique of playing legato, legato, legato! That was from his classical training, of course, but he always told me, “if you are a pop pianist, and you can learn to play legato, it will help you out throughout your whole career.” And I think he was right. There’s just something about hearing a piano that’s being played legato, which means smooth and connected. It’s truly beautiful.

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KP: I agree! How old were you when you composed your first piece?

TA: I was around 12 or 13. A classmate of mine and I wrote a song for our school. I remember we even went downtown once and auditioned for a TV show called "Fantasy" (I think!), which was like a variety show at the time. We even got out school to go audition! That was fun.

KP: That's a really big deal for a 12-year-old!

Do you play other instruments, too?

TA: No. I tried flute and trumpet. I was not good at all. Piano is my thing, and that’s it!

KP: How did you meet Jim Brickman?

TA: I was playing at a restaurant in Cleveland at the time. I got a call from the owner one afternoon, and he told me Jim had booked a table at his restaurant, and he wanted me to come down and play that night. That’s how I met Jim. Jim’s hometown is Cleveland as well.

KP: I read you worked for Jim and did some of his arrangements. Tell us about that. 

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TA: I used to help Jim record his piano tracks for his albums, as well as some stuff for his radio shows. I did a few arrangements for him for a few of his albums, including one Christmas album. They were mostly arrangements of strings, some percussion, and bass. It was a lot of fun to do.

KP: How long did you work for him?

TA: I think total, I worked for Jim for 10 years! I also helped out with his radio promotions, and sometimes I would help him out with shows he did locally.

KP: Some of your albums have been exclusive to specific stores. How does that work?

TA: Sometimes a record label will give exclusivity to certain stores. I guess it’s supposed to help boost sales at those stores. I did a bunch of relaxation albums for a now defunct record label called Somerset Entertainment. Some of those albums were exclusives to Wal-Mart or Target. I had no say in it. I’m not a fan of exclusive things like that. I want music available everywhere, to everyone! But sometimes I don’t have a say in it.

KP: Did you choose the music for those albums or was it more of an "assignment"?

TA: The label was very cool and open about what I gave them. They gave me a theme they wanted and said "run with it!"

KP: How has the Covid pandemic affected your music career?

TA: It’s taken quite a toll. All of my normal gigs ended. And of course, there were no gigs coming in for the holidays. I’m slowly starting to see that change. So I’m hoping in 2022, I can land some new gigs and resident piano gigs at restaurants or hotels.

KP: Do you normally do much live performing? concerts?

TA: I would do a show once or twice a year at a supper club or jazz club. Most of my gigs are private events and resident piano playing at restaurants or hotels. Before the pandemic hit, I was playing at a French restaurant here in Los Angeles, called Café Beaujolais. It was great place to play and I got free food every night! You can’t beat that.

KP: Yum! What has been your most exciting musical moment or experience so far?

TA: One of my most exciting moments was when I was hired to play for a private party for movie producer JJ Abrams. Before the event, I didn’t know whose party it was, I was just hired by a company to provide piano entertainment for the evening. Once I got there, I realized the host was JJ Abrams, and he and his wife were having a holiday party for their family and friends. I’ve been a fan of JJ’s for a long time, so getting meet him was an absolute thrill. They loved my piano playing and were extremely gracious and hospitable the entire evening. I ended up playing for three more parties at his home. It was such a great experience - one I’ll never forget!

KP: Who are some of your favorite composers and performers?

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TA: My absolute favorite composer is John Williams. I’m also a big fan of Alan Menken, Elton John, and several Broadway writers, including Sondheim and Steven Schwartz. But I’d have to say John Williams is my #1!

KP: If you could have any three wishes, what would they be?

TA: Honestly, this might be totally out of left field, but I would wish for every animal rescued to be adopted to a family that loves them. I have a soft spot for cats and dogs, and I’m known to go onto YouTube from time to time and watch lots of animal rescue videos for hours on end. They get to me! I’d also wish for any kid in America that wants to learn an instrument, to be able to have access to that instrument and lessons. I feel music is very important for kids. It helps them grow, learn discipline, and improves their health and well being. I don’t know where I would have been without it!

KP: Not out of left field at all!

Thanks so much for chatting, Tom! I'm already looking forward to your next music projects!

For more information about Tom Ameen and his music, be sure to visit his website and his Artist Page here on MainlyPiano.com.
Kathy Parsons
December 2021