Michael Kaeshammer at the St. Lawrence Centre's Jane Mallet Theatre (27 Front East), Saturday (February 28). $30. 416-366-7723. Rating: NNNNN
the novelty of being a teenage boogie-woogie piano prodigy from Victoria, BC, was enough to score the German-born Michael Kaeshammer some headlines and daytime chat show spots, but it's nothing to base a career on. Well, not this century anyway. The young Kaeshammer was sharp enough to realize that early on and has been working to broaden his scope as a performer and recording artist.
His latest release, Strut (Alma), still reveals a strong R&B inspiration, but our kid Kaeshammer is now dabbling with a Fender Rhodes electric piano - no doubt troubling for trad jazz purists rallying around Kaeshammer as a new champion of the old-school acoustic approach - and he's also crooning.
However, judging by his somewhat tenuous takes on Comes Love and the R&B classic Cry To Me, Norah Jones has nothing to worry about just yet.
"With this record I wanted to try some different things," explains Kaeshammer, who's been going to local clubs nightly since moving to Toronto. "I wasn't thinking about whether or not the people who bought my previous discs would like it. I just wanted to bring to the recording some of the stuff I've been doing at home.
"Lately, I've been spending a lot more time on my singing. I'm not a trained vocalist, so I'm still at the point where I need to find songs that suit my voice, which is why I chose Comes Love and Cry To Me."
He's also been working with some different keyboards at home for a while now - mostly the Fender Rhodes and a Wurlitzer.
"I've liked the sounds I've been getting. It just seemed to fit with the music I was doing on this new recording."
Kaeshammer proves himself as adept on the keyboards as he is pounding the piano, yet he still has some ground to cover in developing a singular recognizable style. Who really wants to be thought of as the next Harry Connick Jr.?
"There's no question that I still have a way to go toward finding my own sound, but I think with the songwriting and playing on this new record I'm one step closer to it."
As we've seen with a number of promising jazz piano players - from Norah Jones and Diana Krall all the way back to Nat King Cole - after initial success there's always commercial pressure to step up to the microphone. It probably wasn't Kaeshammer's goal to become an adult contemporary star, but the bottom line is that singers tend to make more money than jazz piano players.
"I'm not in the music business to make lots of money," insists Kaeshammer. "I don't sing because it makes for a greater crossover potential, and I can get bookings at different clubs. I sing because I like singing.
"Right now I only sing about four songs a night. But if I start singing all night long and maybe even decide to record an entire vocal album, it will be because it feels right and that's what I want to do."