Interview with Michael Silverman: Renaissance Man in the Age of Digital Music

The music industry is currently going through drastic changes that require a new mindset for today’s working musician, especially when it comes to things like distributing your music, getting gigs, going on tour or even having your recordings used in TV or movie soundtracks. Technology is screaming past many of us at a dizzying rate and, if seasoned musicians want to stay in the game, maybe even make a little money while they’re at it, then they need to embrace these new technologies and dive into the “new way” of doing things.

Michael Silverman’s musical success involves his ability to shift paradigms and his willingness to think “out-of-the-box.” He and his brother Rob, who is also Michael’s musical partner, stumbled into a “stream” of luck when they started distributing their music via online streaming services about a decade ago. Michael is a pianist and composer who, along with his brother, created the very successful touring band known as Bach to the Future, a fusion of well known classical tunes with jazz, rock and world rhythms. His new age and fusion recordings have found their way into the soundtracks of TV shows like “Two and a Half Men,” “The Good Wife,” HBO’s “The Leftovers” and “American Horror Story: Asylum.” There are also countless commercials.

Rob and Mike Silverman
Rob (left) and Mike Silverman, impresarios of the U. City and Chesterfield Jazz festivals.

The brothers have over 800 albums of music currently available on all of the major music streaming services, including Pandora and Spotify. Michael and Rob have also become organizers and promoters for several large annual events like the Chesterfield Wine Festival, the U City Jazz Festival, the Winter Jazz Festival at Grand Center, and they provide sponsorship for several other local festivals as well.

As if that wasn’t enough to keep the duo busy, Michael purchased the legendary Clayton Studios from Dick Ulett a few years back.

A musician myself, I was fascinated to learn the secrets that Michael knew about digital music distribution and his experiences with marketing his many projects. He had posted a comment on Facebook that caught my eye, about developing a meet-up place for artists of all types, painters, musicians, photographers, dancers, etc., who would convene on a regular basis to network and brainstorm with each other about the arts, marketing and collaboration.


Val: So, whatever became of the idea to unite artists for a coalition?

Michael: I’ve done a few things. As a starting point one night we did a “Jazz Career Night.” It was a free get together. I showed them things that I knew would be the obvious next step for a lot of people. I showed them how to distribute online and some of the other basic things an artist needs. You should have a CD, a video, a promotional picture, you should have a website, and probably a Facebook presence. That’s just a starting point.

If you want to be a touring artist, you need a technical rider. You need to have some other things like a bio that they can use in promotional materials for your upcoming concert. You need a stage plot. Once you have those things in place, when opportunity knocks you could actually go out and play a tour, or travel and play some big theaters. If you don’t have those things,theaters don’t know what to do with you. They don’t want to teach you how to do it.

I chose “Jazz” Career Night because I didn’t know if I could talk to everyone who was doing hip-hop and pop and reggae … I didn’t know … so I said let’s just start with the jazz musicians, but it turns out that it’s pretty much true across the board.

Another message I’m trying to get across to people is everyone thinks that streaming is the death of music, when it’s actually the best thing that ever happened for musicians. It’s an uphill battle to explain that to musicians, because they’re all sure that I’m wrong, but I’m sure that I’m right, because I make a living with streaming music. They just aren’t getting it that, sure you only get a fraction of a cent per play, but an album has a lot of plays on it. A person will often loop an album and you get paid forever for those listens.

Instead of selling an album and getting an initial splash and then those people own the record and listen to it whenever they want for the next 30 years, you keep getting tiny bits of money forever and ever for your recording, so that’s a good thing. It may not seem like you’re getting much, but people will keep listening and over time you’ll get paid forever.

When you started streaming, how long did it take to start seeing real revenue coming in?

Streaming has only become popular in the last three or four years. When the iPod came into being they opened the iTunes store and that was the first time 99 cent downloads were a thing, and Napster was over.

We didn’t really catch on to it for a while. We released some jazz fusion records that didn’t sell, because that’s what we really love. I also like to play solo piano music and that turns out to be more popular than jazz fusion. About 2007 we got into recording solo piano music and new age and relaxing titles, yoga music and so on.

At Christmas time, my Christmas records make a little bit every year, even the ones that I did ten years ago. It just builds up, like a little mountain slowly, cause the old titles are working and you record something new and it just sort of adds a tiny bit, and over time it becomes a living. Then you have more time to record and that’s when it kind of snowballs.

When I switched to streaming, I thought “this is probably over,” because how do you go from 99 cent downloads to a half cent a stream or less? It turned out very quickly that it was slightly more. Now that there are a lot more people streaming, it’s actually a lot more.  People are willing to discover music that they aren’t familiar with because they’re not paying anything. Very much like the way you’ll watch movies on Netflix that you wouldn’t have watched before. You wouldn’t have spent money on documentaries for instance. Suddenly documentaries are huge on Netflix.

Can you share some of your experiences and insights from being a festival promoter?

Music festivals are very popular and you can expose a lot of local artists to a lot of people very quickly. People won’t go and see your band on a Thursday night at a club downtown, maybe there’s a $5 cover or it’s hard to park. There are barriers to people coming to hear you.

We have wine and jazz festivals. Even if you aren’t there for the music, you have wine! The wine really brings most of the people, and then you get bands with 8000 listeners rather than 40. All of those local artists are getting a lot more exposure and having a great time, and all of the people that are there think it’s great.

So you have a free festival, lots of people come, and then you just call banks and people who want to sponsor that and want all of those eyeballs. They just want to put their name on the stage and it pays for everything. All of the biggest events in town, they’re always free, and that’s why.

Whatever you want to do in the arts, you have to think clearly about what people want and how people really operate, instead of just being a pure artist that is hoping people will discover you. You should make music or make art that is purely for your own enjoyment … the act of creation … but realistically, everybody that has ever made a living is trying to appeal to an audience. You have to think about how is the audience taking it in, how are they consuming music? You need to pay attention to that.

It’s addictive actually, to talk about this stuff, because a lot of musicians get excited, and when you have something to say that musicians are excited about hearing, you can’t wait to say it again.

Can you gIve us an idea of what your family was like and your introduction to music?

My father was in the Saint Louis Symphony until about ten years ago. A cellist. He did 42 years there, so I grew up around the Symphony. My mother also played cello, but not in the Symphony, and she played and taught piano for many years. They met because they had the same cello teacher as teenagers, and then they met again in college and eventually got married.

She had no interest in performing. She didn’t even particularly like being in the Symphony Hall, that was just sort of boring to her. She really hated to sit in there, but she loved music of course.

My brother and I, and my mother, all taught at Baton Music in the Loop back in the 1980s. I was a teenager and my brother was maybe 22 when we started. My mother was teaching there since we were kids. She did that for a long time, then she got tired of teaching music and started teaching GED up at the jail. She taught my daughter how to play cello.

I don’t play cello. My father scared us away from the cello. He made it seem too serious, too hard, too daunting to become cellists, but the piano is easy to bang on. My brother and I would make up things on the piano for years together. Lately we’ve been doing that in our show, my brother will come off of the drums and we’ll play something together and it gets pretty wild.

Was your mother your first piano teacher?

I guess so, but my brother (Rob) was probably the most important piano teacher. He’s four years older … he’s 50 and I’m 46. He figured out how to improvise with the blues scale, so he taught me how to do that and it was sort of the beginning of the craziness. We started playing duets and things when I was around six or seven.

Our biggest influence as kids was the band Rush. I had the Rush album “2112” and that’s the only album I listened to for many years. I was fascinated with science fiction, especially as a kid, so it was sort of a science fiction/progressive rock thing. It was a great influence for me.

What is it about Rush’s music that really grabs you?

I think that it’s really the drums. Neal Peart as a drummer. We learned everything about everything (from him). We learned odd time signatures! The other thing about him is, he is the only drummer I have ever heard that is a compositional drummer. You’ve probably seen people do air drums to Rush songs? They don’t do it to any other band ever!

We learned everything he did, and how he developed grooves throughout the song, how he developed them and built it up into solos at the end. That’s still how we think about music now. When we play with our group Bach to the Future, we take Bach tunes and turn them into Rush. Rob develops parts like Neal Peart and does it over classical music, and then we’ll do it in 7/8!

At some point I got a (Rush) book and it had the chords, that’s how I learned chords … from Rush tunes.

I was around music a lot. My neighborhood in U. City was highly unusual too, everybody played music and pretty much everyone played drums, but also played trumpet or piano or something like that. U. City was quite a place to grow up, and it was full of Symphony musicians! All of the Symphony kids lived there, so the level of musicianship was pretty high. Jeremy Davenport was in our age range and went to school with us. Peter Martin. Neal Caine who was with Harry Connick Jr.’s band, Chris Thomas who plays with Brian Blade … a whole lot of guys. It’s unbelievable how many people came out of there.

I played drums all the way through school because Rob had drums everywhere and I’d just learn what Rob was teaching me.

How does a drummer turn into a pianist?

Rob and I would bang on the piano, but he was really serious about drums. I think I chose the piano because we couldn’t play drums in the same band. When he was 19 and worked at Burger King he saved up his minimum wage money and bought me a keyboard to play in his band. He would always drag me along, so that was good. He’s really my biggest musical influence.

I went to a little bit of college and then I met my teacher at Forest Park Community College … my jazz teacher. Then I stopped going to school and would just take private lessons with him. I was playing so many gigs and things, I just stopped going.

Whenever I had a real strict teacher, I’d just quit. I don’t take direction well, but I have a good ear and I just kept figuring things out. If I had to I’d get a book out and I’d struggle through reading (the musical notation). I have a good sense of music theory. When I heard it, I could figure it out and I could understand it. I was always examining and breaking it down and being analytical about music.

These days you can learn from YouTube! Good lord! The things I’m learning now! I wanted to learn some gospel chords so I just typed in “Gospel Piano Chord.” When people tell me today that their kid is like I was, and say “We don’t want any strict teachers, he’s figuring it out,” I say just go to YouTube. Youtube will teach you so much more … you can rewind! If you don’t want to listen to that lesson, go to a different lesson. I think that’s where college is headed too.

My kids have so much access … my son has taught himself to draw magnificently … from YouTube. He’s eight years old and he just looks up how to draw whatever cartoon character, and there’s a very careful tutorial and an explanation by a real artist about these techniques, and he’s doing it, and he’s great at it! Now he’s into trampolining. There’s a tutorial for everything now. We had nothing!

Since Rob was older, did he go “pro” first?

Yes, he joined a Greek band when he was 15 and he learned how to play in 7/8  and 9/8 and all the odd little rhythms and timings. He learned a lot from that group. He really learned some very complex things and they really let him show off the whole time. He’s a real ham, so he developed his personality in that group too. We still do a lot of Middle Eastern rhythms, I think because of that.

How much time do you spend with your hands on the piano keys each day?

I hardly ever sit and play for long periods. I keep the piano in the living room at home and I’ll wander by and play for five minutes, probably eight or ten times a day.

When I got into writing jingles, 30 second commercials and things, that’s when I really learned about short term efficiency. There’s a reason that commercials are short. The music has to be succinct at the start, do it’s thing and … done!

How did you get into writing jingles?

One of my piano students, his parents made commercials. They asked me to write music for some hospital commercials. I had also been writing music for Six Flags for their onstage shows when I was in my early twenties, so I did everything. With a keyboard you can do so many things, you can sound like so many things. If someone needs a little piece of big band music, you can fake it. If you want some jazz or some rock or whatever, reggae and Caribbean music, you can do it all on the keyboard. Drum machines and bass lines … you could mock up anything. I had lots of weird opportunities that came up and I would do any kind of music. That helped me a lot to learn all of the styles.

I idolized Jay Oliver. Jay left St. Louis and went to L.A. and became a big shot in jazz, but he also did a lot of production. I remember, way back, the website JayOliver.com. It had a quote that said “Learn everything! Learn every style of music you can, learn about production, about arranging, learn about recording, just learn everything.” Don’t limit yourself. I was in my mid-20s, but that was a really influential website.

I started coming in here (Clayton Studios) to do jingles, like 20 years ago. It was always very exciting to come into this studio … this is St. Louis’ oldest studio. I liked the people who were working here. Dick Ulett, the owner, he decided to sell it and thought I’d be a good fit, so here I am.

What is your tie to WSIE? Does it still exist?

It doesn’t anymore, because they switched formats. They were purely jazz and now they’re … not. Dick Ulett, who owned this studio, was the program director until last summer, but we used to do a radio show together. We’ve revamped a lot of the shows, and we’re still playing them on the classical station about once a month. It’s kind of nice because we still have a show, but we don’t have to do any work. We’ll dig up an old one, re-edit it and put it out.

I’m trying to figure out if I can be involved in having a jazz station. I’d like to have a small one, a small radio station that maybe only covers a few blocks, but I’d like it to be a physical, terrestrial station, and then be an internet station.

I don’t just generally listen to whatever all the time, I dial in what I want to hear because (musicians) have very specific interests in music. For a lot of people, they don’t really know what it is that they want to hear. They’ll think “I’m in the mood for jazz,” and that’s why I think the jazz festivals are popular. They don’t seem to care much who’s in it. Jazz musicians will go “Oh wow! The Wooten’s are coming!,”  but most people think if it’s quality jazz they’ll listen to local players just as much as they’ll listen to Wynton Marsalis, or whatever. That’s why Pandora is popular because people don’t really know what they want. They’ll think “I like Bob Dylan, I’ll put on a Bob Dylan station,” and that’s really worked. I don’t listen to it because it drives me crazy. It’s never the right song coming on next.

I have had to learn to think about how non-musicians think.

The other thing is that a lot of us, we’re working on stuff that takes incredible chops. Whether it’s a classical fancy piece, or a big scatting thing that’s really complex, that’s what we think is cool. Most people, they might enjoy it for a minute, but they don’t go home and listen to that. Virtuosity is still cool, especially live, but they’re not listening to it at home. People listen mostly to ballads and music they can chill out to.

How did you make the transition to New Age music?

My mother had a George Winston record when I was a teenager, and she would play that album “December,” it was very popular. I could understand it and once I started to do it, I got hooked on it. As far as our jazz fusion band, really I always think of it as Rob’s personality. Rob is really sort of hammy and a show-off, but that’s not my thing. I enjoy playing frantic music, especially with him, but the other side of my musical personality is really mellow.

The solo piano thing … I’ll play with as much space and as light as I can and that seems to be where I get the biggest audience. George Winston led me to another pianist named Philip Aaberg and others. There’s actually a very big world of chilled piano music that people don’t know.

Musicians will think, “Well Coltrane isn’t getting a lot of listens,” but if he’s on an album called “50 Best Jazz Songs of All Time,” he is, because people are not going to connect deeply with each player the way that you and I do. They just like jazz, and they like chill-out jazz, and they want to mellow out to jazz, but they may not be paying attention to who’s playing on the radio, or on Pandora particularly. We have to think in those terms that they do like the style, they just don’t really know the artist. They may not ever really figure out that they’re listening to Charlie Parker in their whole lives. They’ll think, “Oh, I like that one,” and then they never even figure out who it is or care again. If they hear it again they’ll think, ‘Yeah, that’s the kind of thing I like.”

It’s a very surface thing, but it’s the same way that I like Monet. I think I like art, but I don’t know anything about it. I like wine. I don’t know anything about wine, I’ll say “I like sweet wine! What’s the sweetest one you’ve got? Oh, and it’s pink … I’ll take it!”

If the audience is essentially not paying close attention, are you able to get a following?

Yes. I have developed a real following, which is nice. We’re streaming over 3 million tracks a day, but a lot of it is on compilations. If only a half a percent of those people ever looked me up, that’s tens of thousands of people who have looked me up every day. My brother does a lot of solo drum music, but really the vast majority is solo piano music. We also have Caribbean music and all kinds of things in our catalog. We have a thing called “Christmas Rocks,” which is like a heavy metal guitarist playing Christmas tunes.

When I started streaming in 2007 and it started to work, I thought I have to figure out how to dedicate more time to this. Jingles never paid all of the bills, so I had to keep teaching for 20 years and I had really had enough. I was teaching 7 days a week, 50 students a  week, mostly kids.

I figured out how to put out a record every week, and then I was putting out records every two days for a while. You just play, you record it and then you release it and it’s done and you go on to the next thing. I would keep a list of things that I wanted to record, whole albums of stuff. Jewish piano music. American folk songs … patriotic music. Then I started doing compilations, and that’s when it really took off. I have an album called “Thanksgiving,” it’s always in the top 2 or 3 on Thanksgiving Day on the New Age chart. For a day and a half it gets massive sales every year from I guess around 2009 till now. Sometimes it’s #1. It’s really just a compilation of music that would be nice background music for Thanksgiving, but there it is … every year I get a little paycheck from that.

Do you produce anything that you have to pay royalties for, or is it all original?

Not much. At first it was all public domain or original music. I did a lot of classical favorites, which is weird because I didn’t grow up learning classical music, but as a piano teacher I learned all of the classics. I would just learn it with the kids and then I would have a repertoire, but I didn’t study it with any seriousness.

I don’t ever play any of them straight for the most part. I just do my own version of it, and then that’s kind of cool because then people want the sheet music of my version, so I have a sheet music store (online). I sell a few pieces a day, it’s nothing big, but that tells me that I have a fan base. I only have 40 pieces of music up, but I plan to have hundreds soon because people just keep asking for different titles.

I was saying the other day on Facebook that people should do cover songs. We did “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” because we always loved that music and we’ve been playing it every year for some event or another. The thing that really made us finally do it was that we play with this sax player, Eric Marienthal. We thought wouldn’t it be great if we did “Charlie Brown” and got Eric to play sax on it? So, we did the trio stuff here, leaving space for him, and he just filled it in (at his own home studio). It sounded like he was right here with us the whole time. I had to pay royalties on that, and that’s actually cheap. There’s nothing to it, it’s just a little bit of paperwork.

Do you pay royalties for pressings (physical CDs,) or just streaming (online)?

I hardly do any pressings. Once in awhile I’ll make a box of CDs of something, but of those 800 albums we’ve done, I bet we’ve done less than 20 of them as physical CDs. It’s all online.

That’s what I mean, you can release an album and … it’s an album! You don’t even have to think about it again. It’ll make money or it won’t. It’ll find an audience or it won’t, but move on to the next one. That’s how we operate.

Why aren’t you teaching? This info is amazing.

I want to do that, I want to talk about music marketing stuff. I don’t have any marketing background or anything, but I wrote a little e-book called “Music Marketing in the New Music Economy.” It’s 99 cents and 35 pages and it’s just all of the basic ideas that I talk about all of the time.

Now that we have (Clayton Studios) one of our goals is to not just be a recording studio, but have it be a place where artists can get all kinds of information. Also to help them get their music online, since some people just can’t seem to get from here to there. For $200 you can bring your CD in and we’ll put it in all of the (online) music stores for you. If they don’t have cover art, we can help hook you up with somebody who can make cover art. We hope to offer website services too, like basic websites, it doesn’t take much but many musicians don’t know where to begin. They don’t have a big budget and they think it’s too expensive.

A one page website with a little description and a picture and a link to a CD, contact information, maybe a YouTube video link all on one page. It doesn’t take long to put together and can be really useful. It’s the new business card. You don’t even need to have your gig calendar on there, send people to your Facebook page.

You have had your recordings used for HBO’s drama series “The Leftovers,” and your “Carol of the Bells” was prominently featured in the FX series “American Horror Story: Asylum.” How did you make that happen?

Music production supervisors will go look online and find music that they want to use. If you have a lot of music out there, you’re probably gonna end up being in some things. I get a lot of what are called “sync licensing,” which is great. They’ll say “can we use your music?,”’ and I’ll say “yes.”

Tunecore is the online distributor that I use, and they handle it all for you. They have a thing called Tunecore Publishing Administration, and for $50 you’re signed up forever. I did that and it’s paid off, so well. I’ve had so much of my music synced and they negotiate it all and I get quarterly checks from that. It’s really cool.

For “The Leftovers” I think it was a classical thing that I did. It wasn’t even an original piece, but I get a lot of my classical things placed in things. The Bach Air (“Bach on a G String”) was in “The Good Wife,” and my recording of “Fur Elise” has been in a lot of things. With “American Horror Story,” they basically scored a whole episode with my “Carol of the Bells.”

Did you know anything about the end product before you sat down and watched those episodes?

No, and they also don’t even guarantee that they’ll use it. They’ll make the whole deal, but they don’t guarantee anything. (My music) was going to be in the new “Despicable Me” movie and I was all excited about that one … but they couldn’t guarantee it. They kept saying “Yeah, it’s in there, it’s in there,” and then it came out and it wasn’t in there. They didn’t have to pay.

There are surprises too, like I won’t find out until something comes out. My brother got one in a Martin Scorsese movie called “Silence” that came out last December. They used two pieces, two solo drum things that he did. We didn’t know until I just happened to look on IMDb for my brother and I saw that the movie had just literally come out like that week! I hardly ever look at this thing, but I just looked him up to see if there were any credits and there it was, a Martin Scorsese movie. I was pretty psyched! And (Rob) was in a Ken Burns documentary, so he gets a lot of placement too. The funny thing is, his music was used in “The Leftovers,” his drum pieces were in there, and then the next season my music was in it.

Do you ever hear your music playing anywhere while you’re out?

I’ve had some funny experiences like that. Last year I was in Florida on the beach. We’re walking back into the hotel and there was a beach wedding. They were walking down the aisle, on the sand, and my “Canon in D Major” was playing. My kids were thrilled! I hear my stuff in commercials sometimes. There’s one in a Booking.com commercial, so yeah, it does happen.

I was in San Francisco and turned on PBS Kids and they were playing some of my music between shows on a PBS Kids promotion. It was funny, because I knew at the time that they hadn’t paid me. The other thing that I find surreal is that if I look my name up online there are people doing tutorials on how to play my original tunes.

Did you and Rob used to tour a lot?

We really only had one really big year … in 2013 we went all over with Bach to the Future. We did like it, but everybody in the band has young kids, so that got us forming big events in St. Louis. We figured if we have festivals in St. Louis we wouldn’t have to travel.

At the time we thought the only way we could get a big crowd is if you can leave town and go to another city, it’s their only chance to see you, so they’ll show up. And every city thinks that their city doesn’t support music because people won’t come out to see your band over and over, but the math doesn’t work out. If you had 500 people at your concert and you play every week, what do you have to have? Like 25,000 local fans spread out over the year? That’s just not gonna happen. It’s not that your city doesn’t support you, it’s just that they can see you anytime.

We love playing in little small towns where, when you get there, there’s like posters of your band in the windows of the stores. Sometimes it’s on a billboard. It’s really amazing. You don’t have to be U2 to get that kind of reception in these small towns. You’re the big deal of the day in the whole city.

We don’t go to Chicago … we’ve never played in Chicago or New York. We played once in New York as a showcase. You should go to the small towns, they’re so happy to see you.

Are you doing any touring these days?

We just do little one-off things. Mostly things we can drive to because we have weird instruments that are hard to transport. There’s lots of theatres within two or three or four hours from here … all over Missouri and Illinois and Iowa. We’ll drive out somewhere, do a concert, and then also we’re getting ourselves into more jazz festivals. We’ll fly out for those because they’re fun, they’re worth it. I love jazz festivals!

We played at Clearwater Jazz Fest. That was a thrill. We opened for The Commodores. (The jazz festivals) are not all jazz anymore.

About Bach

I grew up listening to Bach. My father is really classical. He really likes Bach and Beethoven and Mozart. I thought it was really interesting for our band, because Bach’s music isn’t … when you think of most music it’s chord changes with a melody. Bach’s music is fugal, which means two or more parts (playing simultaneously,) individual parts. When we had our trio and were playing the jazz fusion stuff, the bass parts weren’t always just bass parts. They were counterpoint lines a lot of the time. So we thought it would be cool to work out these two complex lines, but there’s no chord.

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We realized we could do a whole album of just Bach’s music, and then we came up with the name Bach to the Future, it was just a laugh, and became immediately sort of popular. Everywhere we went with that we’d hear, ‘Oh, that’s great! We’d love to have that.’ So, it was really an easy thing to book, it was a lot of fun.

I don’t really like to perform solo piano in concert. I get bored being all by myself on-stage, so I like to have this group. It’s with my brother, and the bass player we grew up with since I was four years old. We just grew up on the same street and he just kind of understands us, so that trio has been playing music for all these years.

I think it’s kind of exciting live, but it doesn’t sell well on the internet. Live music is different than recorded music. Musicians have to understand that if they want to do well. Smooth jazz is a perfect example.

If you listen to a smooth jazz radio station it’ll put you to sleep. Go see any of those artists live and they will blow your mind. They know that they have to make a certain kind of record that fits in the smooth jazz, chill out background. They can’t do the exciting stuff on the radio. It just needs to be kind of a groove, kind of simple. That’s what people listen to at home, but on stage if you do that, they’ll be bored. They’re not there to chill out. They’re there to hear some exciting music, so what you get are fantastic musicians doing concert tours, but they know that when they make a record that it will not fly, so they make a completely different thing for the radio. It’s a totally different experience listening to them on record compared to listening to them in concert.

The most popular jazz record of all time is “Kind of Blue,” by Miles Davis. It was so chill, but he didn’t play like that in concert. He went completely to the moon, you know? So, I guess it has been like that for a long time.


Approximately one week after conducting this interview with Michael, my husband and I took a short trip to Arcola, Illinois to do some antiquing. Shop after shop had soft piano music playing in the background. Public domain Christmas Carols, sometimes with a mellow jazz edge to them. Was it Michael? I don’t know for sure, but it definitely proved the point that he is in tune with popular culture in a way that most of us are not.

For more information about Michael Silverman, visit www.michaelsilvermanpiano.com.

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Reader’s Delight! Jewish Book Festival Kicks Off November 5

Adreon-2 copyCool fall weather is a clear signal to go indoors and do indoorsy stuff—like reading a good book. If you’re looking for a great read, and some insight from the author him or herself, the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival will start on November 5.

The annual event has been introducing readers to noted Jewish authors for nearly forty years. All lectures by participating authors will be held in the heart of St. Louis County at the Jewish Community Center at 2 Millstone Campus Drive.

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Senator Barbara Boxer.

This year’s festival kicks off with Senator Barbara Boxer of California. Sen. Boxer will talk about her new memoir, The Art of Tough, which details her career.

On Monday, Nov. 6, local authors will be featured, including Korean War veteran Leonard Adreon. As a Marine corpsman, Adreon bore witness to the brutal horrors of war, detailed in his new book Hilltop Doc.

Another local author, Ron Kaplan, will discuss his book on “Hammerin” Hank Greenberg, one of three Jewish sluggers who have hit home runs in a World Series game. Trivia buffs—can you name the other three? See the end of this article to find out if you were correct.

Sepinwall-2 copy.jpgOn Sunday, Nov. 11, it’s TV Time with critics Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoiller Seitz, who will discuss their book entitled simply TV, chronicling vintage classics to modern masterpieces.

Jeff Rossen from The Today Show will appear on Saturday, Nov. 18 to discuss his new book Rossen to the Rescue.

Tickets to the festival and a complete schedule are available online at the Jewish Book Festival website. You can purchase tickets for individual lectures (most are about $20) or a complete festival Premier Pass for $99.

And for the sports trivia experts–the answer to the World Series home run derby, the names of the other three Jewish major leaguers to hit home runs in the series are:

  • Alex Bregman of the Houston Astros
  • Joc Pederson of the L.A. Dodgers
  • (St. Louisan) Ken Holtzman of the Oakland Athletics

Bregman and Pederson hit their first homers in the first two games of the 2017 World Series, followed up by one each in game four (both hit in the 9th inning).

Fair Trade Market: Holiday Shopping for a Cause

The Manchester United Methodist Church (UMC) will host its 15th Annual Fair Trade Market, the largest of its kind in the nation, over two weekends in November. The event will feature globally-crafted items, holiday gifts and international foods.

Fair Trade is a movement that provides farmers and artisans, most often from Third World countries, with a “living wage” for their products. To be considered for Fair Trade inclusion, products cannot be harmful to the environment and manufacturers cannot use child or forced labor, must promote gender equality and enforce safe working conditions.

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Edana Huse is a church member who has been heavily involved in the coordination of the event since 2002. When asked how the idea for the annual market was conceived, Edana relays “Kellie Sikes, who was a member of our church years ago, was very much into social justice. She knew the people at Plowsharing and talked to them about doing something. When it (the market) first started, it was just a table or two.”

Edana continues, “Then Kellie left, so I stepped up and co-chaired with Kimi Butler.” Edana has since relinquished her co-chair position, but still works as a liaison between the church and the market vendors. According to Edana, “quite a few thousand people come in for the two weekends.”

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Rich Howard-Willms, Executive Director of Plowsharing Crafts, has been involved with the market since its inception. Plowsharing Crafts was established in 1985 and for years operated out of a single shop on Delmar in the University City Loop. More recently, Rich has opened two volunteer-operated satellite stores in the heart of Kirkwood and in Town & Country. The organization is associated with the St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship and is a member of the Fair Trade Federation. Many of the products that they sell are made with sustainable and recycled materials.

Other vendors participating in this year’s market include Partners for Just Trade, selling items from Peru, and Roots-n-Streams, whose products come from Uganda and Cambodia.

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In addition, Heifer International will be onsite selling items and raising funds to send livestock to villages in Third World countries. The group maintains a global effort that works to end poverty and hunger through sustainable community development. They distribute cows, goats, bees, water buffalo and other animals to poverty-stricken nations.  Heifer is well known for going the extra mile in its efforts, as Edana confirms by pointing out “If they send a cow, they send one that is pregnant.”

The types of items offered at the market will feature over 3,500 square feet of handbags, baskets, jewelry, clothing, toys, musical instruments, textiles, coffee, chocolate and much, much more. All proceeds collected from this operation will help to supply food, education, clothing and medicine to orphans in Africa.

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Approximately 330 volunteers will be required to prepare and manage the market. Phil Wiseman, Director of Strategic Communications at Manchester UMC, advises that there are all kinds of activities to be completed, from unboxing items and cashiering to teardown. Anyone interested in volunteering is more than welcome and interested parties can sign up easily online.

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The Fair Trade Market will be held on the weekends before and after Thanksgiving, November 18-19 & November 24-26, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day. The Music Makers, a 4th and 5th grade music group from the church, will open the market with a performance at 11 a.m. on Saturday, November 18.

For more information visit www.manchesterumc.org/fair_trade_market.

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Vintage Market Days: Everything Old is New Again

Now in its third year, Vintage Market Days has become a favorite bi-annual event for thousands of area residents. Held each Spring and Fall in Chesterfield, this “upscale vintage-inspired indoor/outdoor market” features original artwork, antiques and vintage furniture, clothing, jewelry, crafts, home décor, outdoor furnishings, live music, a food court, plants and much more.

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This franchised pop-up market originated in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2011, and in six years has expanded to a staggering 60 cities across the U.S. The traveling bazaar of vendors, who are chosen for their shared affinity of nostalgia, offer a large selection of vintage inspired styles, ranging from steampunk to shabby-chic.

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A portion of the proceeds will benefit Tri-SAR, a search and rescue volunteer group dedicated to finding lost or injured persons.

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The festival runs October 20-22, with gates opening at 10 a.m. and closing Friday and Saturday at 5 p.m., and on Sunday at 4 p.m. Early-bird admission for Friday is $10, with Saturday and Sunday admissions at $5; children under 12 are free. Purchased tickets are good for the entire weekend.

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The event will be held at Chesterfield Mall near Sears. For more information, visit vintagemarketdays.com/market/st.-louis.

Chesterfield Valley Pumpkin Patch opens for first season

Each weekend in October, the Chesterfield Valley Pumpkin Patch celebrates the onset of autumn with a wonderland of activities for the whole family. The grounds feature a large display of mums, pumpkins and gourds, with sizes ranging from tiny to gargantuan.

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Since the early 1950s, Chesterfield Valley has been known as the go-to place for Fall and Halloween weekend activities. The renowned Rombach Farms hosted a large pumpkin patch each October for decades and became a yearly tradition for several generations of school children and their families. This past July, the owners announced that the farm would be shutting down and that there would be no pumpkin patch this year. In a Facebook posting, the owners expressed, “We want to thank everyone for all of these years of fun…. lots of great memories!”

Having been one of Rombach’s activity contractors for the past 20 years, Betty Miller was approached and asked to manage a new pumpkin patch, hosted by the City of Chesterfield.

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For $18 kids can get a wristband which entitles them to all activities for the day. Attractions include hayrides, pony rides, train rides, a duck pond and dozens of large, colorful Halloween inflatables. The fun doesn’t stop there however, as youngsters can participate in face and pumpkin painting, sand art, visit the petting zoo or play in a pit filled with corn kernels.

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Admission is free for adults, for whom the facility provides a wine and beer garden with craft beers and live music. Fall foods are available for everyone and will include favorites like caramel apples, kettle corn, funnel cakes, nachos, turkey legs, chili, apple cider, hot chocolate and much more.

The Pumpkin Patch is located on 9 acres next to the St. Louis Premium Outlet Mall on Olive Street Road. They are open 7 days a week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. thru October 31, but please note that activities are only scheduled for Saturdays and Sundays. There is plenty of free parking and free shuttle service available. Special packages are available for birthday parties and corporate events.

For more information, visit: chesterfieldvalleypumpkinpatch.com.

Trains, Jazz, Blues: Old Webster Festival Has It All

21573150885_7ae72820da_o.jpgOne of the more unusual aspects of the Old Webster Jazz & Blues Festival has got to be the trains.

Amtrak passenger trains—and freight trains—chug through Webster Groves with some regularity. The tracks are mere feet from the back of the stages, but neither the performers nor the audience seem to mind. It’s just another quirk of this longstanding late summer music festival.

On Saturday, September 16, Old Webster Groves will be hosting the festival for the 18th year. The line-up features some of the best local jazz, blues, funk, rock, and soul musicians.

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Miss Jubilee and the Humdingers.

Perennial favorite Miss Jubilee and the Humdingers will play at 1:20 p.m. on the Webster University Stage on Gore Avenue. The Grooveliners, Marquise Knox and the Webster University Faculty Band follow.

“Our fans have been vocal about their favorite performers from previous years,” said Brian Ward, musical director for the festival.“We’re bringing a few back, showcasing some new acts, and giving an authentic sample of our region’s original musical artform.

“We’ll finish with one of our favorite party bands: The Funky Butt Brass Band,” Ward said.

The festival offers two stages, just a block apart. That’s enough separation to avoid noise bleed. It also gives the audience a chance to choose the acts that appeal most to them.

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CarolBeth True will offer tips to music students at a free workshop preceding this year’s festival.

Another feature of this year’s festival is unique: There will be a free music workshop from 9 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. at the Webster Groves Concert Hall, 103 E. Lockwood Ave. Students of all ages will receive instruction and musical inspiration from three Webster Groves music scholars: Willem von Hombracht, CarolBeth True and Debbie Lennon.

St. Louis Scottish Games and Cultural Festival

You’ve just got to love a festival where the scotch tasting begins at 9:30 am. Maybe that’s just me. But if you too like a full-day of whisky and log throwing, we have the place for you.

bagpipesThe Scottish Games and Cultural Festival will be held again in Chesterfield, close to the Spirit of St. Louis Airport, on September 29 and 30. The festival kicks off Friday at 4 p.m. and there’s a rush to get into the thick of things with a sheepdog demonstration at 4:15 p.m.! Dusk brings the Torchlight Ceremony and the calling of the clans; I looked at the represented clans for 2016 and did not find a listing or tartan for Edwards, but I’ll fall in with Clan Murray of Athole, just on principle.

oxHonestly, I’m in the dark about many of the activities but will list them here in case your knowledge of Scottish games and fun surpasses mine.

Friday – Sept. 29, 2017

  • 4pm: Gates Open to the Public
  • 4:15pm: Sheepdog Demonstration (Not sure what they’re demonstrating, but it’s at least possible that it’s cooking utensils)
  • 4-5:30pm: Athletics Demonstrations (Somebody’s going to throw a huge log, you can bet.)
  • 5:40pm: Opening Ceremonies Begin
  • 5:45pm: Folk Concert with Jil Chambless, Scooter Muse & John Taylor
  • Dusk: Torchlight Ceremony
  • 8pm: Laphroaig Celtic Rock Concert
  • ~10pm: Friday events end

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Saturday – Sept. 30, 2017

Throughout Saturday

  • Scottish athletic competitions including the world-famous caber toss (Oh yeah!)
  • Highland dancing demonstrations
  • Scotch tasting
  • Piping, drumming and massed pipebands
  • Folk music
  • Celtic rock music
  • Sheep herding demonstrations
  • Scottish and American food and beverages (No word from the Haggis Tent thus far)
  • Children’s Activities (Does NOT include scotch)

I just don’t see how this day can be missed! It has everything!

If you agree, the tickets are available online at Scottish Festival Tickets or at the gate. For more information visit www.stlouis-scottishgames.com.

Photos courtesy of Mark Sutherland.

Gesher Music Festival Opens Season #7 With ‘War & Peace’ Theme

GF_081516_016One of St. Louis County’s most unique music festivals returns this week for its seventh season. The Gesher Music Festival brings professional musicians to St. Louis to perform chamber music with a Jewish inflection.

The theme of the Gesher 2017 is “War & Peace” and explores music and stories that reflect the Jewish experience. It also illuminates our common humanity that never wavers, even in times of conflict.

In “Prayers for Peace” Gesher tells the painful stories of war and conflict through music. It will be held Saturday, August 19, at the 560 Music Center in University City. On Sunday, August 20, “Transcending Borders” will be held at the Jewish Community Center’s Wool Studio Theatre at 2 Millstone Campus Dr.

The Arts Blog asked Gesher organizers if Gesher is unique in its mission in scope. The answer is that Gesher is a one-of-a-kind music festival. Most festivals with a Jewish theme tend to offer primarily Klezmer or Jewish folk music rather than classical chamber music.

GF_081516_232Gesher has been a definite success, with audiences growing substantially through its seven-year history.

“We have developed quite a strong following and have very large crowds at our primary events,” said Marla Stoker from Marquee Media.

The War & Peace theme was part of Gesher’s artistic vision of remembering history, she said.

“The first year it was “Music of the Degenerates” in keeping with the Missouri History Museum exhibit of Propaganda and Degenerate Art in Nazi Germany. Last year, we took our theme from the “Route 66” exhibit with our “American Dreams” programs featuring music of American immigrants. This year’s theme of “War & Peace” is built on the museum’s World War I exhibit.”

GF_081516_264The 2017 Gesher festival has two local connections: Eva Kozma, assistant principal second violin from the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, and Peter Myers, cellist, son of Dana Myers, first violin SLSO and Timothy Myers, Principal Trumpet.

More information on Gesher is available at www.geshermusicfestival.org.

Music and Craft Beer Festival Comes to Historic Jefferson Barracks

We know what you’re thinking: where can I find that combination of military history, gravestones, tame deer, music, craft beer and hipsters that mid-August just cries out for? Well, the St. Louis Arts Blog has got you covered!

To say that Jefferson Barracks has history is a gross understatement. Started as a military post in 1826, it was named after one Thomas Jefferson, the ginger US President and Louisiana Purchaser who had just died the year before. The location on the banks of the Mississippi River had supreme geographic importance at a time when St. Louis was truly a gateway to westward expansion. The post was the army’s first permanent post west of the Mississippi and, by the 1840s, it became the largest military post in the country.

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During the Civil War, the post became a training ground for Union forces and featured a hospital for its sick and wounded. The Civil War also posed a new issue for the country: what to do with the vast number of corpses the unimaginably brutal war was creating. In 1862, Congress established a bill authorizing the President “to purchase cemetery grounds, and cause them to be securely enclosed, to be used as a national cemetery for the soldiers who shall have died in the service of the country.” Jefferson Barracks was established as such in 1866.

Gravestones? Jefferson Barracks has plenty. The old cemetery has over 20,000, including over 1,000 Confederate dead and Union soldiers who are arranged, as best could be determined, by the State of their regiments. Today, the Barracks covers 331 acres and holds over 188,000 graves.

IMG_9534While no interments could surpass the fame and honor we should bestow on our nation’s veterans, including two Medal of Honor recipients and three Revolutionary War veterans, there are some noteworthy individuals buried in Jefferson Barracks too, including, somewhat oddly, several musicians. Individuals of note include: sports announcer extraordinaire Jack Buck, nine-decade-recording artist and bluesman Henry Townsend, opera singer Robert McFerrin Sr. and legendary pianist and Chuck Berry cohort Johnnie Johnson.

So where are we? Ah, yes, music!

MojoFinal_1000_01The Mojo Craft Beer and Music Festival, featuring and initiated by local music heroes, Story of the Year, will make its debut this August 19th at the Jefferson Barracks Park. In addition to Story of the Year, other acts include P.O.D., Unwritten Law, The Orwells, Lucky Boys Confusion and Joe Dirt and the Dirt Boys Band. That last group seems quite apropos.

The all-day event will feature over 80 craft beers on tap, including a special, one-day-only concoction by 4 Hands called, rather cleverly, Story of the Beer. Tickets for the festival range from $40 to $199 and can be found by visiting the festival’s Facebook page.

So we have military history, gravestones, music and craft beer, which just leaves us wanting the tame deer and hipsters. But, as the photos show, the tame deer will find you and, with all the other components in place, we believe the hipsters will too.

You’re welcome!

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The Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery is located at 2900 Sheridan Road in St. Louis and is adjacent to the Jefferson Barracks Park, located at 345 North Road. The Park includes the Old Ordnance Museum, the Powder Magazine Museum, the Laborer’s House and Ordnance Stable, the Missouri Civil War Museum, the Jefferson Barracks Telephone Museum and a Visitors Center.

Jazz On Tap With Festivals In U. City and Chesterfield

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Ptah Williams will be a featured performer at the Chesterfield Wine & Jazz Festival.

New Orleans was the birthplace of jazz music, but St. Louis had a notable jazz scene as far back as the 1920s. The St. Louis region has also produced significant jazz artists, including trumpeter Clark Terry, bandleader Lester Bowie, and of course, Miles Davis.

Jazz remains a prominent part of the St. Louis music scene. Jazz fans who live in St. Louis County have a couple of great options for free music festivals in June. They are the University City Jazz Festival on June 10 and the Chesterfield Wine & Jazz Festival on June 24.

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Rob (left) and Mike Silverman, impresarios of the U. City and Chesterfield Jazz festivals.

The Silverman brothers—Mike (keyboards) and Rob (percussion and drums)—created both the U. City and Chesterfield events. They also perform as Bach To The Future. Their band and its unique mashup of classical and jazz will perform at both festivals. They’ll be joined by the master of the electric violin, Tracy Silverman.

Mike and Rob are U. City natives and although they tour and record nationally, St. Louis County remains their home base.

The U. City Jazz Festival begins at 2 p.m. and also will feature the Demarius Hicks Quartet, Tracer, Dave Black and the STL Avant Garde Ensemble. It will take place at the southwest corner of Heman Park, in conjunction with Fair U. City.

The Chesterfield Wine & Jazz Festival will be held at the Chesterfield Amphitheater, 631 Veteran’s Place Drive from 3 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. It will feature the Wooten Brothers, Anita Jackson with keyboard master Ptah Williams and bassist Darrell Mixon, Kim Fuller & Maurice Carnes, and Bach to the Future with Tracy Silverman.

University City Jazz Festival at Heman Park
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Chesterfield Wine & Jazz Festival at Chesterfield Amphitheater
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