Six provinces. Twenty-three cities. Twenty-four shows. Twenty-seven days. Thousands of kilometres.
Those are the broad coordinates of Michael Kaeshammer’s current cross-country national tour that opened with a show in Pictou, NS on Nov. 9 before wrapping up with two shows at Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre Dec. 5-6.
So how much is the North Saanich resident, who has developed a global audience thanks to extensive touring and being featured on American television among other forums, looking forward to sleeping in his own bed?
“We are counting down the days, maybe even the hours,” he says with a chuckle. “We had a great time, but it was on purpose that we wanted to finish it in Sidney with a couple of shows. I love travelling across Canada, or even to other countries (but) I love the community so much. This is the pinnacle for us, the best for last. That is how we booked it, and yes, I’m very much looking forward to sleeping in my own bed.”
But as much as Kaeshammer looks forward to the comforts of home, the current cross-country tour has been revealing as well. While some stops along the tour did not offer opportunities to see anything other than airports, concert halls and hotel rooms, this was not the case in Nova Scotia. “Besides Halifax, we played a couple of smaller communities and we were able to drive there,” he said. “These areas I was not familiar with, ” he said.
They included Church Point. “The Acadian community is prominent there,” he said. “I don’t really speak French, but it was interesting to hear the way the Acadian community speaks there, because it is so different,” he said. “And it looks so quaint, so beautiful as well, just like it is on the West Coast, but different. That was for me the highlight, to experience something outside the show and travelling. I’m really glad I did and that is a memory that will stick with me for a long time.”
Among Canada’s many regions, Acadia holds a special mythical place, in part because of its historical, ethno-linguistic and musical ties to Louisiana, itself a deep well of musical traditions, many of them flowing through Kaeshammer’s own music. So did Kaeshammer have any chance to sample local musical traditions? “I try to do that whenever I can, but on this tour it was not really possible because of the schedule,” he said.
While Kaeshammer seeks out local musicians whenever possible when on tour, he also wants to chart his own course. “It is very important to stay current and bring something of your own,” he said. “Most of the music that we play is original that I wrote, but it is influenced by those different music styles — jazz, blues, boogie-woogie, pop music, gospel. But I think it is important that you write your own music as an artist.”
Kaeshammer does not want to be pigeonholed as a jazz musician but rather sees himself as a pianist unbounded by rigid musical categories. “I don’t get influenced by listening to music but more nowadays by stuff that happens in my life or how I feel about a certain subject,” he said. “The way it sounds, it just happens to be very much jazz influenced because that is how I play the piano. But I don’t see myself as a jazz musician. It’s very upbeat music and the best compliment I always get from people is, ‘I actually don’t like jazz, but I like that show.’”
So what is on Kaeshammer’s life these days that has found its way into his music? On his new recorded album due to be released in March 2023, he pays tribute to his late aunt, who passed away just before the pandemic. “She was a huge supporter of me playing when I was a kid,” he said. “I was very close with her in Germany.” The COVID-19 pandemic further underscored the importance of family, something that found its way into his music. “I’ve always known that it was important but I have never really written about it,” he said. “It’s definitely something that I feel strongly about, because life is short. It’s based on where you come from. In my mind and to my dad, I’m still this 10-year-old kid.”
But boy, can that kid play now and Kaeshammer promises something special.
“The band is very tight, it’s very good. We are having a great time, not just playing music but also hanging out,” he said. “And over the last few shows, there are always things that are happening in the moment that might not have happened the day before.”
“We are all coming from different places. I’m from North Saanich. The sax player is from Vancouver. The bass player is from Hamburg, Germany, the drummer is from New Orleans. And after these two shows, everybody is going home. In the back of your mind, you know these are the last couple of shows we get to play and hang out together… and I think everybody is just going to bring their A-game to the table.”
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