David Paul Mesler: Press
"INTERVIEW WITH DAVID PAUL MESLER"
(Northwest Jazz Profile)
NWJP: What is your position at Seattle Central Community College and how long have you been a music instructor?
DAVID: I've been teaching music in one form or another for 25 years. I've been at Central, teaching piano, composition and voice for 10 years. I'm so grateful for my gig at Central. The school attracts such a colorful variety of musicians -- alternative, circus, electronica. I've had students go to Broadway, tour Europe, land scoring gigs for film and television, and continue their education at major conservatories. In opera! It's very gratifying.
NWJP: Tell us about your professional music career.
DAVID: I'm a proud hyphenate: pianist-vocalist-composer-bandleader. I've done a bit of everything including countless gigs, hundreds of concerts, and dozens of albums, festivals and films. Style-wise, I've always been creatively restless and straddled many artistic fences -- jazz, classical, avant and free form. Consequently, I'm a career mutt. But I like it that way! I've composed for theater and dance companies. I was nominated for an Emmy as a television composer. I've scored movies and now occasionally play for movies. Recently, on "The Grudge 2" I played the celesta part. I lead a jazz group that does 125+ dates a year. I've performed for Bill Clinton, Steven Speilberg, George W. Bush and Bill Gates, in addition to playing for historic events, international think tanks at Microsoft, the ceremonial delivery of new Boeing planes to other countries and visits by Scandinavian kings. I've been featured at openings of this and that -- Safeco Field, new buildings on the UW campus, Palisade. Years ago, I played for silent movies in LA, and at celebrity hangouts, then at a five-star hotel in South Korea. You know, you stay in the business long enough, and you have plenty of stories to tell.
NWJP: For instance?
DAVID: Oh, playing The Dating Game with the cast of "Saturday Night Live" in a comedy club, accompanying Julie Andrews on her return to singing, and accompanying Garrison Keillor in "America, the Beautiful" and having thousands of people join in. I had luggage fall open at the feet of Gene Kelly and actually had a one-on-one conversation with then-President Bill Clinton. I was in lockdown during President Bush's motorcade entrance. Things like that.
NWJP: How did you get gigs playing for the President of the United States in two different administrations?
DAVID: I happened to be talking with a local music contractor when he offered me the Clinton gig. It was a wonderful fluke of timing! Pure wonderful luck! I have since done many, many engagements for the Democratic Party -- for senators, governors, reps, for Gore's run in 2000, and Kerry's run in 2004. As for Bush, the couple that hosted his recent Seattle visit contacted me directly.
NWJP: Do you see teaching as an extension of your musical career?
DAVID: Absolutely, teaching has financially supported me, and I am enriched and inspired by the whole "giving back" thing. It nourishes me and makes me a better artist and a better person. Having led such a diverse artistic life, I'm in the unique position of knowing a lot of things first-hand, and I'm able to save budding musicians (potentially, anyway) years of tangential wanderings.
NWJP: Briefly describe the most important steps to starting a successful career as a bandleader.
DAVID: First, you have to be mixing it up with a lot of musicians, rehearsing, making friends, finding soul mates, playing out. School is a great conduit for this. Then, once you've "banded together," evaluate yourselves. Ask the hard questions, and be brutally honest in your answers. What's your sound? Who's your audience? What venues are you most appropriate for? Then prepare a three-to-five year business plan and lay everytyhing out on a calendar, devoting specific projects to specific months. Then generate your marketing materials and put together an attractive promotional package or press kit. Then (hugely important!) create a website that is eye-catching and ear-catching and that tells your unique story clearly. Approach venues and bookers. Start emailing and directing people to your website. Court your best contacts. Let them know every new development. Keep the short, punchy emails coming and things will start to snap-crackle-and-pop!
NWJP: Any other advice for people embarking on careers in music?
DAVID: Professionalism counts! Be equally courteous to everyone. Generate no enemies -- you never know where your next opportunity is going to come from. Virtually all successful musicians are entrepreneurs. You have to love it, and you have to hustle. It's a lot of work, but it's also one of the richest and most blessed ways to live your life.
"MOVIES BECKON, BUT MESLER IS PIANO MAN FOR NOW"
(The News Tribune)
The Holiday Inn at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport isn't really a piano bar, but on Monday and Tuesday nights David Mesler can handle any reasonable request -- and probably some unreasonable ones.
"I do my own arrangements," the talented 30-year-old pianist said recently, "And I do a considerable amount of improvising. So I can put a Gershwin, a Hank Williams, an Elvis and a Billy Holiday together and -- because of the arrangement and what I'm doing stylistically -- it makes sense as a set."
Whatever Mesler is doing, it does seem to make good musical sense. The Seattleite ("born and raised") won a regional Emmy for his soundtrack to a Longacres documentary and scored rave reviews for his recent blues recording "Blue Smoke." A sampling of critical adjectives includes "stunning," "passionate," "jazzy," "virtuosic," "frenzied" and (no two critics see things quite the same way) "smooth."
Mesler, who has degrees in piano performance and composition, has a strong classical background. ("My mother is an opera singer.") But at the Holiday Inn he plays more in the vein of Professor Longhair than one would expect of someone trained by professors of "longhair" music. A strong rhythmic drive added zest to some familiar tunes.
"I love to take, say, a Beatles song such as 'Can't Buy Me Love' and do it as a swing tune," Mesler said. "That goes over pretty well at Sea-Tac. Or 'Hound Dog' and do it as a ragtime. There's that wonderful moment of recognition. Sometimes it takes them halfway through the verse, but their curiosity is piqued."
But modern rock and pop, however he twists it, is not Mesler's speciality, and he likes to sing "jazz from the '20s to the '50s -- Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald -- the territory that Harry Connick Jr. and Natalie Cole cover right now."
Mesler has an appealing baritone voice, but he is, first and foremost, a pianist -- a fact he recognizes. "In a club setting like that I would be considered a stride pianist," he said. There's a strong rhythmic pulse created by the left hand, with the right hand improvising over it but with the melody still well outlined and delineated."
And Mesler's classical training brings something special to his synthesis of styles. "What's unique in my sound," he said, "is that it comes not only from a classical background but also a contemporary American piano sound -- Walter Piston, Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein . . . My harmonies are not just a chromatic series of chords. I use a lot of dissonance. You can get away with a lot, as long as the rhythm is chugging away."
Mesler, who said his life is "pretty much that of the itinerant musician," recently finished a stay in Seoul, South Korea, "doing six nights a week, four hours each night."
In about six months, however, he will return to school at the University of Southern California (his alma mater) as a graduate student in the school's prestigious film-scoring program. "I'll be sort of an apprentice and get to work with people such as John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and Elmer Benstein," Mesler said.
Meanwhile, he can be found at the Holiday Inn (and private parties, including one on New Year's Eve). "The Holiday Inn isn't really like a piano bar," Mesler said. "It's not request-heavy, not people gathered around the piano with slips of paper. It can become a pretty rambunctious party atmosphere, but it's more fine dining with live entertainment, with some people dropping in to listen and having just drinks or dessert. And the staff sings while I accompany them. I think it's the last bastion of singing waiters in the Northwest."
In the spring, Mesler will set jazz and popular music aside for a bit to work with his mother, Florence Mesler. "She'll be performing contemporary American and British arias in a solo concert," Mesler said, "and I'm going to accompany her."
"COMPOSER STRIKES RIGHT NOTE WITH KIDS"
(The Bainbridge Island Review)
Bill Covert's students don't hum just any old tune. The Wilkes fourth graders are creating their own song for a world premiere. "Making up music is fun. I like it," student Grace Campbell says. "I hope I get to hear them sing our song, but it's up to my parents."
Campbell and her classmates have been working with noted Seattle composer David Paul Mesler to craft a three-minute song as part of the year-long Bainbridge Island Arts Education Consortium. The three-minute tune will be debuted by the 100-voice Bainbridge Chorale at their upcoming spring concert.
Covert's class is meeting Mesler for the second of four sessions in the music classroom, but the song is already taking shape. "We could make our song in a major key or a minor key," Mesler tells the students. "Do you want the piece to be happy, to be celebrating something, or do you want it to be melancholy and downtrodden?"
Mesler demonstrates the difference, playing tunes on a piano and testing students at the end of his demonstration with a sneaky version of "Happy Birthday to You" played off-kilter in a minor key. When he is satisfied they know the difference, he asks for a show of hands. Emphatically waving hands denote that the song will be happy music in a medium-fast tempo.
Mesler refers all decision about the song construction to the 29 fourth graders arranged before him in a large horseshoe. "This is all about their ownership of the piece," Mesler says. "It's about their creativity."
In the first session, Mesler generated musical phrases from the letters in each child's name that corresponded to the letters denoting the musical scale. Now, he moves the children through the dizzying array of choices. They select a subject and a setting -- horses running on a beach. Mesler demonstrates possible musical motifs, from the grande mode of chorale music, to the complexity of counterpoint, to the standard-issue melody-and-accompaniment. Mesler is happy that the students decide not to stick to the familiar pop formula.
"You are a very sophisticated class," he tells them. "So, is this getting you closer to what the subject of the song is?" All Mesler's gentle direction nudges students to more specific choices that focus the creative process.
The only sticking point is "Sparky, the Fire Resue Dog," an image that a vocal contingent wants to include in the song, and which Mesler clearly wants to excise. He asks pointed questions about the choice until support for Sparky wanes, as students realize that other images will work better.
"So if there's horses running on the beach, what do you see," Mesler asks. Students eagerly put forward suggestions. After about 10 minutes, "horses running on the beach" is "wild horses running at sunset on the beach with waves crashing, and getting lost in the woods." As the second session wraps, Mesler asks students to bring in phrases that will become lyrics for session three.
"We've done a lot today," Mesler says. "We've selected tempo, mood, motives and subject matter. We have a real sense of where this song is going."
Almost ready for the Bainbridge Chorale.
"A SONG CYCLE OF AMERICAN VERSE"
(Bainbridge Island Review)
They make beautiful music together. No metaphor, the phrase precisely describes the collaboration of Seattle composer David Paul Mesler and island vocalist Barbara Hume. Mesler composed a song cycle set to poetry by W.H. Auden, Carl Sandburg, e.e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost and Walt Whitman with Hume's voice in mind, songs the two will perform here April 8.
They met in 2000, when Hume sang a solo for the Bainbridge Chorale of a setting of the 23rd Psalm that Mesler had written for the group. "I went up to him and said, 'I want to work with you,'" Hume recalls.
Mesler had already penned the beginnings of a song cycle featuring text by American poets, but many of the more than 600 songs from which Mesler culled for the upcoming concert were composed over the past year. "I've been writing a lot, and many with Barbara in mind," he said, "because I like her voice and I like her style, and I like what she brings to the text."
Hume teaches English at Bainbridge High School and Mesler writes poetry, so both were already familiar with the texts, an ease that has enriched both composition and vocal interpretation. "I think that we are both mature as artists," Mesler said. "We just have a lot of life to bring to the table, a lot of artistic life to bring."
The accomplishments of these two musicians cover an intimidatingly large swath of cultural turf. Hume's solo concerts have included opera, art song, jazz and traditional spirituals for concerts in Seattle, St. Louis, New York and Los Angeles and, most recently, at Benaroya Hall, Seattle's Asian Art Museum and KING FM to debut Mesler's songs. Also trained in dance, she has performed and choreographed with companies in Salt Lake City, St. Louis, Los Angeles and New York, and has performed in musical theater revues in New York and Boston.
Emmy-nominated Mesler combines composition and piano performance. Leader of both a jazz group and a classical trio, he has pereformed for luminaries ranging from Bill Clinton to Bill Gates; composed scores for 17 films; and had his music played by Kronos Quartet, Metropolitan String Quartet and Four Winds Quartet, among others. Composer-in-residence with the Bainbridge Chorale and the Northwest Symphony Orchestra, he teaches at Seattle Central Community College.
Although classically trained, Mesler feels free to combine idioms. for the current song cycle, he defined "Americana" to include folk, blues, jazz and gospel, creating works that are melodic while astringent and challenging. "That's all American material appropriate to American poets," he said. "We present them in a different light than they are sometimes viewed."
Mesler explores the lyrical, romantic side of Walt Whitman, a poet perhaps best-known for the robust Americana of "Leaves of Grass," in songs like "O You Whom I Often and Silently Come."
Although "sexy" might not be the first word that leaps to mind when one things of contemporary composition, the adjective surely fits the sinuous twining of voice and piano around Whitman's lines:
"O you whom I often and silently come
where you are that I may be with you,
As I walk by your side or sit near,
or remain in the same room with you,
Little you know the subtle electric fire
that for your sake is playing within me."
Hume's clear mezzo builds to the unmistakable passion of the poem's close, a climax all the more effective for the restraint and subtlety that characterize her voice overall.
While listeners might anticipate Hume's nuanced interpretation of Mesler's songs set to Emily Dickinson's poetry, one is ambushed by her earthy rendition of e.e. cummings preference for naked women over statues -- for life over art -- in the song "mr youse needn't be so spry."
"This music allows you to discover every nuance in your voice," Hume said. "It doesn't typecast you in any way." While she has had to stretch to master music that includes "these incredible arpeggios from high A's to low G's," the partnership supports that growth.
"There's a connection I make to the diverse style (Mesler) creates that allows me to go there vocally," she said. "I'm not fighting the music -- it fits where my instrument is going right now."