“Solo Piano is a gorgeous collection of music. It’s beautifully laid out... a peace-inducing and meditative disc.... an album that gets better as you listen. You begin to hear cohesive threads where you thought there were none, and the silences and breaks gain as much significance as the notes.”
Karla Hayward, The Telegram newspaper, Newfoundland
ST JOHN’S, Newfoundland, Canada -- While the compelling album Solo Piano marks the first independent solo release for Newfoundland pianist Bill Brennan, his expertise as a musician, band member, composer and producer enriches dozens of CDs.
The delicate, enchanting sounds of Bill at the piano keys make a striking contrast to the rugged terrain pictured on his album cover. “My cover shows the wonderful barrens about a half-hour drive from St John’s,” he said. “I’ve always been fascinated by the emptiness there. Somehow, emptiness is pure, allowing for whatever enters to be appreciated. In some ways, I try to approach music with emptiness. I improvise and try to empty myself so that I can be as open as possible.”
Bill composed all 10 tracks on the 2005 album. With names like “Time Peace”, “Looking Glass”, “Friends” and “Passage Overseas”, the titles sound contemplative and soothing, like the music. He recorded at Memorial University’s D.F. Cook Recital Hall.
“The music is largely improvised. Six tracks are totally free. With no concept for those pieces, I just sat and played. Three other pieces have improvisatory elements. The album is meditative and soft, but I think it’s also interesting and reflective of atmosphere and emptiness. I don’t have a favorite track. I like the whole album through and through.”
Bill’s working on another solo-piano album for release soon. In July, he’ll lead his own trio at the Halifax Jazz Festival. He’ll direct an ensemble of Newfoundland-born musicians at the 2007 St John’s Jazz Festival.
My work’s probably difficult to classify,” said Bill, age 42. “I’m always exploring, always open to new ideas.” But he’s comfortable in the realm of contemporary classical, jazz, folk and world music.
For 20 years until 2002, Bill lived in Toronto. “There, I felt incredibly inspired by my musical friends. I played in so many genres. Moving to St John’s has been a huge change. But I’m also inspired by many people here. I appreciate the Atlantic Ocean, fresh air, slower pace of life and being closer to my family. Honestly, I don’t know if Newfoundland inspires me. But it influences me. The land and sea creep into my being and music.”
Other inspirations prevail too. Bill enjoys sounds from elsewhere: Indonesian gamelan music, Brazilian samba, West African drumming, Peruvian pan-pipes, Irish and Scottish tunes and Indian music.
“My inspirations also include great musical geniuses like John Taylor, Egberto Gismonti, Toots Thielemans, Peter Erskine, Ralph Towner and Bill Frisell, plus my musical friends Mark Duggan, Rob Power, Paul Bendsza, Pat Boyle, Andy McNeill, Katherine Wheatley, Russell Hartenberger, Don Wherry and many more,” Bill said.
Nominated for a 2007 East Coast Music Association (ECMA) Award in the instrumental album category, Bill continues to earn widening respect. “Canada has imaginative people everywhere,” he said. “But I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that there are more artists per capita in Atlantic Canada.
“I regard life in Atlantic Canada as conducive to musical creativity. Yet it depends on what you do creatively. I play piano and percussion, produce recordings for other people, arrange music, play as a session musician, teach a few students and help to direct the Sound Symposium. So I have a variety of things keeping me creative. Ultimately, one has to make things happen.”
In the nearby province of Prince Edward Island, Bill’s highly regarded for his past appearances with a music hero, the multiple-ECMA winner Teresa Doyle. “I’m good friends with Teresa, having played on a number of her albums, most recently Orrachan,” he said. “We performed together in St John’s last summer. She’s a fine singer, a brilliant person, a quality individual and very inspiring too. I hope we’ll work together again.”
Often Bill provides music for theatre productions, like The Way of the Sea by Kent Stetson, PEI’s most famous playwright. “Kent’s a true professional and artist,” he said.
Bill has recorded with Chesterfield Inlet, Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan and Vuja De, the bands with whom he regularly plays. He also performs on CDs by fellow Newfoundlanders Sandy Morris, Patrick Boyle and Barry Canning, by pop-rocker Andy Stochansky, guitarist Kevin Breit and folk singer Andrea Koziol. At times, he backed up the likes of Cab Calloway, Placido Domingo and Dizzy Gillespie.
Always in demand as a folk and jazz pianist, Bill performs with Oliver Schroer, marimbist Mika Yoshida and dancer Sarah Chase. He has appeared in Austria, Germany, France, Japan, Norway, the Czech Republic, England, Scotland, Portugal, Switzerland and the United States. In Canada, he played with the National Ballet and the Canadian Opera Company. His musical direction helped Vinyl Café, a popular Canadian Broadcasting Corporation show. He also composed for the popular TV show, The Nature of Things, starring scientist David Suzuki.
Bill composed and directed music for Building Jerusalem, an award-winning play by Michael Redhill. His performances grace film soundtracks for The Ice Storm (directed by Ang Lee) and Antwone Fisher (directed by Denzel Washington).
How does a musician find time for so much activity? “My wife Annemarie is very understanding,” Bill said. “Actually, I’m just as inspired as ever. My interest in creating and performing the music I love has never waned.”
For more information: www.billbrennan.ca.
Bill Brennan finds musical
motivation on all sides.
Bill in 'the barrens': fascinated by some of Newfoundland's empty,
PEI's Teresa Doyle sings as Bill plays.
Bill plans to release another piano CD.