Artist: Stephen Peppos
It never fails to amaze me how many musicians who were around in 1964 cite seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show as being the inspiration for making music their life’s ambition. A budding young pianist named Stephen Peppos was one of them. As he tells it: “Seeing the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show was a watershed moment for me. I guess it was seeing how the audience reacted to them, but more so for me . . . it was the music. I was still in elementary school when that event took place and I bought everything most 60’s groups put out.” Rock and roll was coming of age back then and so was Stephen who, at only 6 years old, had learned to play the classic “Great Balls of Fire” by piano wild man Jerry Lee Lewis. As he grew into his teens, Stephen’s musical aspirations deepened and he put together a four-track recording studio in the garage and recorded original music he had created. His interests eventually expanded to jazz and today he includes Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Ramsey Lewis, Keith Jarrett and Jimmy Smith among his influences, along with later electronic music artists like Vangelis and Tangerine Dream.
In addition to playing keyboards and guitar in a variety of bands over the years, Stephen has developed some serious studio credentials, earning him a number of awards. According to his bio, “Stephen has produced over 2000 tracks for his original music libraries, composed national TV jingles, and worked with some of the best music library companies in the world. His music has been used in productions for MTV, 20/20, Access Hollywood, 48 Hours, and many more. In 2008, Stephen’s debut album Vertigo debuted at #3 on the World New Age Top 100 Chart and his next release, Follow The Mist was a 1st round GRAMMY ballot choice for Best New Age Album in 2009.
Stephen is a multi-faceted musician and his recordings can take many forms, from solo piano to Electronica, Nu Jazz, and New Age. His latest release, Still, as the title implies, is a long way from his early rock and roll star aspirations. Instead we have piano-based new age music with neo-classical influences that has more in common with George Winston than with Jerry Lee Lewis. The opening track, titled “To Watch a Pond,” features Stephen’s elegant piano with rich string orchestration that is absolutely gorgeous. The next piece, “Silhouette,” is a bit more stripped down and has a haunting wistful quality that I found quite emotionally evocative. This moving and emotive quality is a thread that is woven throughout Stephen’s music. The aptly named “Heart of the Matter” is a perfect example. Stephen has an impeccable ear for melodies that strike an emotional chord in the listener. He also has a well-honed sense of the use of space, such as the perfectly placed pauses between the delicate movements of a track called “Butterfly.”
It’s no surprise that a cinematic air pervades so much of Stephen’s music, given his extensive background in composing for film and TV. As I listened to a piece entitled “There’s Still Time,” I couldn’t help thinking that it felt like a soundtrack in search of a movie. While some of this album features solo piano, I was taken by the lush orchestration of the string section on the brief “Prelude Always” that leads into a longer track called “Always.” This is a wonderful showcase for Stephen’s skills as an arranger. The song goes through changes in mood and tempo, building to a powerful and dramatic climax. The interplay between piano and strings is exquisite and adds another dimension to the music heard on this recording. This composition created a real “wow” moment for me. Also enjoyable was the orchestral interaction in some of the later tracks such as “Boundless,” “Tranquility,” “and “Stillness (Quiet Joy).”
There is no doubt that Stephen Peppos is a consummate professional and his work compares favorably with the foremost artists of the genre. Interestingly, though, other recordings of his reveal different facets of his musical spectrum not reflected on Still. As mentioned, Stephen is equally adept at music that includes elements of jazz, fusion, electronic, and ambient, and I’m looking forward to future projects that venture into some of this diverse sonic terrain. But whatever musical style Stephen is working in, an element that is ever-present and informs whatever he does is his faith and spirituality. In his words: “The music I create is a labor of love, hopefully this passes to the listener too, but I know for sure it is a labor of love between me & God.” I appreciate this aspect of his creativity was aware of a passion for life and the expression of heartfelt inspiration as I listened to this recording. Still provides a wonderful listening experience and shines a spotlight on a stellar composer and instrumentalist who is well deserving of the recognition and accolades he has received for his numerous endeavors in music and the arts.
This is a music video from one of Stephen’s previous releases that gives an idea of his artistry and the style of music heard on Still: