Album: When I Remember
Artist: Kevin Kern

when-i-remember-cover-600x600-e1471554437702I like the quote that accompanies pianist Kevin Kern’s photo on his new album release: “Our memories make us who we are. Mine are set to music.” These memories form the inspiration for the appropriately titled, When I Remember, which according to Kevin is his effort to “reach back to my roots and draw on the richly diverse influences that played such an important part in guiding the development of my musical voice.” And there have been many influences and memories over the years for this official Steinway Artist whose work has included classical, jazz, pop, new age, and more.


This year, 2016, marks the twentieth anniversary of his hugely successful album In The steinway-artistEnchanted Garden, which was his debut release in the new age genre. Other distinguishing accomplishments in his diverse career include 6 Billboard charting releases, an impressive list of international film and TV credits including NBC’s coverage of the 2000 Summer Olympics, Oprah, The Late Show with David Letterman, Live with Regis and Kelly, PBS, and commercials for companies including Mitsubishi and Blue Cross. Kevin’s performances have taken him through the US and Asia with performances in Korea, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China. In addition, sheet music of his compositions have been used in teaching programs around the world and have been played by students in Kevin Kern piano competitions sponsored in connection with his various tours.


While achievements like this would certainly be impressive for any musician, they are especially so for Kevin who has been legally blind since birth. Music and the piano in particular have been a part of his life from the earliest age, literally. In our interview Kevin shared a bit of his history: “I began to play the piano when I was eighteen months old. The first piece I played was Silent Night. It is said that, by the time I was two, I could play twenty Christmas carols with both hands. In fact, there’s a picture in my scrapbook of me in my highchair at the piano. I took my first piano lessons at four and, eventually, studied with my principal classical piano teacher, Mischa Kottler.”


George Shearing and young Kevin Kern

George Shearing and young Kevin Kern

He goes on to say: “When I was seven, I met and played for the late great British jazz pianist, Sir George Shearing, who, as it happens, was also blind from birth. Shearing became a life-long friend and mentor. Through him, I learned about the rich colors and dynamics of which the piano is capable. But more than that, Shearing’s shining example showed me a far more important lesson. Given the right mix of talent, opportunity and perseverance, a blind person could do far more than merely survive. They could truly succeed, both in music and in life.” Deeply inspired by this relationship, as well as his own innate love of the piano and of music in general, Kevin went on to continue his education at the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.


Kevin’s visual condition has given him a very different relationship to music than most fully sighted artists. Here, Kevin opens up about his perceptions on the topic: “While I am not totally blind and don’t live in a world of complete darkness, you wouldn’t want to give me the keys to your car.  Everything that I can see is quite blurry and lacks fine detail.  Even with the best glasses available, the world I see, while much clearer for me, would still be a far cry from normal for anyone else. This is why I use the piano to fill in what I can’t fully see, using my imagination through music to ‘paint a picture’ for myself, and my listeners.  Also, since the visual world, incomplete as it is for me, can be so confusing at times, I often find it easier, when composing, to turn off all the lights so I can concentrate on the sound and sensation of playing and not be distracted by a world that I simply can’t fully take in, while I search for that next idea.  I’ve even taken to doing this as part of my live show.  I’ll play one song with all the lights turned off so that the audience gets a chance to experience what I personally see as the best of my creative world first hand.  It’s become one of my favorite things to do in concert and people really seem to enjoy it.”


On another note, in recent years, computer technology has provided opportunities that were unimaginable for visually impaired composers a few short years ago. According to Kevin: “With modern adaptive tools like screen readers and notation software adapted for the blind, musicians like me are breaking down barriers that would once have ended or prevented careers.” However, he emphasizes: “I am acutely sensitive to anyone’s potential misperception that my visual problems could potentially be used as a promotional device designed to advance my career in ways that my music legitimately could not, on its own. For this reason, I make every effort to present this aspect of my life with extreme care, grace and dignity, when I do so at all.”


As mentioned above, this album is a look back at the diverse musical influences in Kevin’s life. img_9301-e1448668380220So lets take a trip down memory lane and explore the many paths Kevin has traversed. And, as a side note, I might add that between his comments in the album’s liner notes and his replies in our interview, Kevin is as eloquent in words as he is on the piano. That eloquence is illuminated right from the classically inspired opening track entitled “We Should Waltz.” It is also a perfect example of Kevin’s ability to paint pictures in sound, as it quite visually evocative to the mind’s eye. For me, this graceful song in 3/4 time conjured an inner vision of people in elegant garb from a bygone era gliding fluidly across the dance floor of a grand ballroom.


As I listened to the CD with my eyes closed, what came to mind as the next track evolved, was that the music had what I perceived as a “storytelling” quality to it. I had to smile when I opened my eyes after it was over and noticed that the title of the song was “Once Upon a Time.” I guess Kevin did a good job of conveying that quality in the music. Another of his influences is heard in a romantic jazz ballad entitled “Say You Love Me.” One thing I was noticing and appreciating at this point is that while some of Kevin’s playing can be elegantly understated, it is rich in nuance and emotional evocativeness. The album’s title track is a particularly good example in the depth of feeling its wistful melody conjures. And in the next track, an interesting contrast is drawn in the jazz-inflected “Rise and Shine,” which reveals a more light-hearted and playful side of Kevin’s musical spectrum.


Kevin and wife Pam while on tour.

Kevin and wife Pam while on tour.

A track called “Off to the Races (For Grampa Norm)” has an interesting and deeply personal meaning for Kevin, and was inspired by the relationship between Kevin’s principal piano teacher Mischa Kottler and Kevin’s grandfather Norman Gallagher. While the backgrounds of these two men couldn’t be more different, they became close friends and shared a love of horse racing. According to Kevin: “My wife suggested that I depict this relationship in a song. So, I figured I’d show what a Mozart sonata might sound like if it were considered in the context of the bugle call that precedes a horse race. The result was, ‘Off to the Races, (For Grampa Norm).’” The next track, however, “Chopin’s Touch” requires no explanation as to the source of inspiration, and is quite a lovely tribute to this great composer.


Kevin’s jazz roots run deep and can be heard in a gorgeous and elegant ballad entitled “A Walk in the Sun.” I was particularly taken by the song’s melodic flow and often-unexpected, yet always intriguing chord changes. The album concludes on a more serious and classically inspired note with “A Lonely Heart,” whose plaintive refrain exquisitely conveys the feeling of its title.


What I find most impressive about the music of Kevin Kern is its expressiveness. His ability to img_8619-e1448668603325imbue a composition with emotional insight and shadings of sentiment is remarkable. Even more so, that he is able to interpret this with characteristic subtlety, sophistication, and understated refinement. Kevin’s expertise in creating musically based descriptions of scenes, what he calls “Sound Painting,” is, I’m sure, both a gift he was born with as well as a skill he has developed and honed over a lifetime. It is impossible to underestimate the role that music has played in Kevin’s life, and in this regard I’ll leave the final words of this feature article to him: “Many musicians say that they couldn’t imagine life without music. In my case, that couldn’t be literally more true. When you begin playing an instrument, literally in infancy, the existence of music becomes foundational in ways that are simply unique to the experience of that central fact. I imagine the world as an ever-expanding soundscape just waiting to be turned into new musical ideas.”


Click the links below to hear samples and/or purchase this album:



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