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IMPROVIJAZZATION Nation - Issue # 102
INTERVIEW with Jon Baroni
The piano Jon alludes to in the interview below is a true classic, and being able to walk right into a pizza palace & sit down (at his invitation) & play took me back to the "glory days" of Olympia... Jon is a great guy, a great player & someone you'll want to get to know! Pass the word on to others you know that you first heard about him here in IMPROVIJAZZATION NATION!
Zzaj: Your website (www.jonbaroni.com) is in it’s infancy, it looks like, ergo I couldn’t find a lot in the way of background; give us a brief bio sketch to tell us how you got all the way from Canada to Tenino, & what influences (family or elsewise) made you perform such upbeat music?
Jon: My Website is another story. I need to really sit and get it going but it is new and I am just learning the internet and it's great advertising capabilities, This spring I will find the time to spice it up a bit and also put all your wonderful links on it, you have a great thing going on Zzaj. Thanks for being on the net. My Background starts in Boston where I was born and moves to Chicago for awhile and then San-Francisco in the sixties, Then my mother remarried and we move to Canada in 1972 living of the land during the great Hippie movement. I lived in British Columbia for twenty-eight years, Then I decided to move back home to America, to see what I missed all those years in Canada. What I learned was Canada isn't much different the United States we are all the same people. I am proud to be American and I was proud to have lived in wonderful country like Canada. I had family living in Washington state so I ended up here and love it mild winters and trees just like Canada, Washington state is Beautiful, great place to write songs.. my upbeat music is in my character I am a Rocker at heart I grew up listening to Bryan Adams (Canadian Rocker) and platinum Blonde, Night Ranger, Rush and Neil Young ,Tom Cochrane and Red rider, so I have the best of both worlds, American Rocker with Canadian Rocker mixed.
Zzaj: You have quite a bit of rock-influenced music on one of the CD’s I reviewed from you, “Wake Up Calls”, yet you’ve got definite improvisation chops, as evidenced by my listen to “Improv At The Parlor”. Which style of music do you prefer? The improvised stuff, or music with a more thematic bent?
Jon: I prefer all of it Rock and Jazz some country and Folk, New age and Hip hop and trance, I like to keep my mind open to all types of Music, when I write I take the approach of just letting it all out and not putting it a category. I was a 80's rocker and a 90's rocker playing live shows with high energy, I would always slip a Blues tune in when I could must be the southern blood flowing through me. I tried really hard to not put my Art in a box, and label it. I prefer improv because I feel like I am running on the edge of a cliff it is a rush playing the notes and taking chances there are no mistakes when you improv because the second note follows the first. you can just keep on flowing. we go through life improving why not play music with the same theme, but don't get me wrong I do like a structure song that keeps you in line and you have to play the right notes that fit the right progression.
Zzaj: How “gear-oriented” are you? Some players I’ve worked with prefer to leave all the “tech to the techies”, others find enjoyment in digging down into the knob-twist level… which type of player are you? & if you do have a raft of gear, tell us what you enjoy the most in your tool stack.
Jon: My gear is a Old Piano here at the house it is a 1921 John Milton. I like to travel around and find some Dusty Old piano just screaming to be played and I play it. I love Korg and Kurzweill. I have modules and midi controllers with weighted keys, but there is nothing like the acoustic piano. Out of the synthetic piano's I prefer Korg. Also the vintage sounds such as the Rhodes and B3, Korg has it down in my books.
Zzaj: Your music has its own unique signature… I (personally) love some of the rhythmic switchbacks on tunes like “Cane Train”… do you actually write your compositions down in musical form, or do you just “play”?
Jon: when I create music I Record it in my mind and listen to it over and over again until i find it suitable to put out in to real time. Songs like Cane Train was played like I was riding a mountain bike throughout the cane fields on the Island of Maui. I would wake up in the Morning and ride into the Cane fields and hear the piano riffs while pedaling over to where the Sugar train would go by, I would stop and get a coconut chilled on Ice, smile at all the Japanese tourist. The rhythmic switchbacks are when I am coasting on the mountain Bike, gliding with the smell of the molasses and sea, my only form of transportation was my mountain Bike and I would cruise all over Maui living on the beach, when I write songs I try to be as real as possible and share moments in life that may make a difference or just make somebody feel an emotion that wants to come out. We are all only Human and we all go through similar situations. I want to share my experiance through a song or a piano riff, giving the gift of Love through Music.
Zzaj: Most players have a musical hero or two that inspired them to their own level of creativity… who are yours, or is that something important to you as an artist?
Jon: My musical hero was my father, my mother and him split up when I was two. He was going to Berklee in Boston at the time(1968) and was really involved in the Jazz scene, I was gifted with the Piano from him and by not spending life with him I practiced practiced and practiced just to have one chance to play the piano for him. Finally when I met him at the age of 34, he was diagnosed with Cancer, I was able to play piano with him at a Jazz club in Augusta Georgia where he was living at the time. He played some John Coltrane and I played some Thelonius Monk, I spent a lifetime for this moment I think that was my great Grammy award, just to spend a brief moment with my biological father, we had so much to talk about and we did it through a grand piano with a hundred and fifty people in the room. He passed away not long after that day. My relationship with my Dad was a acoustic piano and I spent numerous hours playing and learning more and more to try and understand why my Father was so into the piano. now I know what a wonderful craft to have, I couldn't have been more blessed with the gift of Music, Thanks Dad.
Zzaj: One of the things I found really cool after we met was the fact that you/your family do a “pizza/smokehouse” day gig… AND, that you have a vintage upright piano right in the restaurant. Give us a bit of history on where you got that keyboard & how music may “fit in” to your future plans for your restaurant (or not).
Jon: I had a great day sitting with you at the Restaurant, I meet all kinds of musicians in the Parlor, it is nice because we are all on this quest to learn more about our crafts, The Old Walter piano has been in Tenino for years it use to sit in a local bar way back in the day. I had some work done on it so it is more enjoyable to play.. it is like a friend I meet everyday for a cup a coffee, my relationship with that piano is a very old friendship, we are kindred spirits, it will sit there waiting for me to play it and I will pace all day waiting to sit down and play it. I guess you could say we have a relationship. all the piano's I have had in my life ended up being my true friends. When I play music in the restaurant the old Walter piano has seen so much more than I it is almost like it tells me what to play and I play it to fit the mood of the people enjoying the great food and the wonderful town of Tenino Washington. You know Dick I used to think making it in the music industry was about playing for thousands of people well I have been Humbled, it is about playing music for yourself and whoever is listening, what a definite lesson I have been given.
Zzaj: Another part of your musical aura that really impressed me was your ability to vocalize. Where did that come from? Did you take singing lessons, or was that something that came natural to you?
Jon: Singing started at a early age with my mother back in the Hippie days, We drove from San-Francisco after living in Haight-Ashbury in the late 60's my stepfather and mother decided to cruise up to Canada to live off the land, we would listen to Crosby Stills and Nash and James Taylor and Carol King. My Mother and I would sing all the time in our old Chevy truck named Blue. being a part of the Hippie revolution I was Blessed to be around some great classic rock music that has stood the test of time, when I write songs I put enough thought in them, so when I am Dead and buried I would hope the songs I wrote would still be playing for generations to come. Throughout my life I would end up the lead singer in the Bands because of all those years rolling down the Highway singing at the top of my lungs. I love to sing it feels so natural for me. I guess you could say I was born to sing.
Zzaj: A question that must be asked in today’s digital environment – how has the Internet influenced your music, or the distribution of it anyway? Are you moving more in that direction, or are you more inclined towards a “personal touch”?
Jon: The Internet has given us all of a chance to market and distribute our music without the grip of the big four (record companies), we Artists actually have a small chance of getting our music to the world without being signed and owned by the hands of huge corporation I am an Independent Artist and will always stay that way.. I have no reason to play music to survive I never quit my day Job, I can play music because I choose to when I want and I can be myself and not be controlled by the monster...therefore I will stay true to myself as a composer and artist...
Zzaj: What musical projects do you have coming up? More CD’s coming, or are you more inclined these days to live performing? Our readers like to be “ahead of the power curve”, so give us a little “inside scoop” on Jon Baroni’s musical future.
Jon: I have a CD that I want to complete called Tribute. This CD is a collection of songs I recorded in the past and some new songs, The songs that are on this CD have special thoughts to people who I have met along my road of learning and experience, childhood friends and family, things and events that have had a impact on my life, we learn from everyone and everything we encounter in our lifetime. My musical future is unknown to me, I love to play the piano and sing and write new songs, playing live shows I enjoy so much because I have spent my life rehearsing to sit up on a stage and give all of my gift to all who listens, Music was created to share not to horde.
Zzaj: There are lots of folks who read our magazine who aspire towards a “musical career” (whatever that is). In these days of online distribution, is it worth all the effort required to become a musical gypsy, or is it more artistically productive to just make one’s own interpretations and trade them digitally?